Geoffrey Farmer to represent Canada at Venice Biennale

Contemporary artist Geoffrey Farmer will represent Canada at the next edition of the prestigious Venice Biennale international art fair.

Vancouver artist known for impressive multimedia installations

Vancouver artist Geoffrey Farmer will head up the Canadian contingent headed to the Venice Biennale art fair in 2017. (Isabel Mahns-Techau )

Contemporary artist Geoffrey Farmer will represent Canada at the next edition of the prestigious Venice Biennale international art fair.

The National Gallery of Canada, which is in charge of the Canada Pavilion at the Italian visual arts fair, announced West Coast installation artist Farmer as its pick for the 2017 edition.

"Obviously it's an amazing opportunity to participate in an exhibition that's over 120 years old and also to participate in the history of the Canadian artists who have exhibited in Venice and to be part of that community and conversation," Farmer told CBC News in an interview from his studio in Vancouver on Friday.

Vancouver-born Farmer, who studied at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design and remains based in his hometown, is known for creating rich, layered multimedia installations and sculptures that blend different elements, such as images and sounds. Some of his works transform and change with time. 

His monumental Leaves of Grass, for instance, was a hit of the dOCUMENTA contemporary art showcase in Germany in 2012 and was a show-stopper when it was displayed at the National Gallery in Ottawa, the collection in which it now resides. 

Farmer's monumental Leaves of Grass comprises more than 17,000 images cut from issues of Life magazine, speared onto blades of grass and displayed chronologically. It dazzled at the 2012 dOCUMENTA festival in Germany and also at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. (Geoffrey Farmer/National Gallery of Canada)

The piece comprises more than 17,000 individual images cut from issues of Life magazine — each clipping mounted on a dried blade of grass — and displayed chronologically. Leaves of Grass is a vivid reflection of politics, food, fashion, entertainment and news over decades of the magazine's lifetime.

Farmer, who spent time in Venice last year and toured the site of Canada's pavilion at the Biennale, says he already has some idea of what his upcoming exhibit might be.

"I'm sure there will be probably be a continuation of the encyclopedic, or the inventory, and the assemblage — I think that will be an aspect of it, because this seems to be the structure of the way I'm thinking."

Other Farmer works have been displayed at the Louvre in Paris, London's Tate Modern, Toronto's Luminato arts and culture festival, and in other international art collections as well as in art museums across Canada, including the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Alberta, the AGO and the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal.

"Some of the most complex and extraordinary works to emerge on the Canadian scene over the last ten years were made by Geoffrey Farmer, especially Leaves of Grass, a work that cemented [his] international reputation," National Gallery CEO Marc Mayer said in a statement Friday.  

"We are privileged that it is now part of our national collection."

Farmer has chosen two curators to help him build the Canada pavilion in Venice for 2017: modern and contemporary art curator Kitty Scott of the Art Gallery of Ontario and Josée Drouin-Brisebois, senior curator of contemporary art at the National Gallery.

With files from Sandra Abma

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