59th International Art Exhibition of
la Biennale di Venezia

The Johnson Collection was represented in the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia with the 1935 oil painting, Africa, by distinguished artist-educator Loïs Mailou Jones. Curated by Cecilia Alemani, the main exhibition, titled The Milk of Dreams, was on view from April 23 to November 27, 2022, in Venice, Italy.


jones_lois_africa_reg.jpgART WORLD OLYMPICS

Often referred to as the “Olympics of the art world,” the Biennale Arte has been held every two years since 1895. Originally slated for 2021, the 59th International Art Exhibition was postponed until the spring of 2022 due to COVID-19. The much-anticipated main exhibition highlighted objects by 213 artists from 58 countries. For the first time in the Biennale Arte’s history, women—many of color—made up 90% of the artist list, a striking divergence from the traditionally male-dominated roster. What emerges, Alemani believes, is a historical narrative rooted in “solidarity and sisterhood.” Working in the mid-twentieth century, Loïs Jones confronted both gender and racial discrimination, obstacles she termed “the double handicap: being a woman and being a woman of color." 

Works by other female artists represented in the Johnson Collection were also showcased in the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia: Ruth AsawaMinnie EvansSister Gertrude MorganAugusta Savage, and Laura Waring. In addition to the main exhibition installed at the Central Pavilion of the Giardini della Biennale, 80 participating nations hosted separate exhibitions in the additional pavilions in the Giardini and in the Arsenale, as well as other venues throughout Venice. An array of diverse collateral events—performing and fine arts, educational, and philanthropic—took place over the Biennale Arte’s duration.

Loïs Mailou Jones (1905–1998)

Born in Boston, Loïs Mailou Jones studied at the acclaimed School of the Museum of Fine Arts in her hometown. Denied a teaching position at her alma mater because of her race, Jones soon thereafter joined the art faculty of Howard University in Washington, DC, where she taught for 47 years. In addition to her responsibilities at Howard, Jones pursued her own creative explorations, which included painting and illustration.

Her deep interest in ancestral legacy informs Africa, a canvas depicting three sharply defined figures with chiseled features. Executed in vibrant jewel-like hues, the trio’s symmetrical, elongated features and expressionless eyes recall similar visages found in African masks, a recurrent aesthetic component in Jones’s oeuvre. In both subject and style, Africa is a powerful elucidation of one of The Milk of Dreams’ three thematic inquiries: “the representation of bodies and their metamorphosis.”


Since 2012, TJC has produced four significant scholarly books, including its 2018 volume, Central to Their Lives: Women Artists in the Johnson Collection, which featured Loïs Mailou Jones’s Africa in its pages as well as its traveling companion exhibition. More recently, the collection lent Africa to two national presentations: Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition (The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, 2020) and Afro-Atlantic Histories (The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 2021).

Biennale Arte 2022 in figures

213 artists invited to the Exhibition
58 countries of origin of the artists
180 first participations at the Biennale
1500+ artworks
80 National Participations
27 National Participations in the historical Pavilions of Giardini
26 National Participations in the Arsenale (including Italy)
27 National Participations around the city of Venice
5 +3 National Participations participating for the first time
30 Collateral Events
Over 800,000 tickets sold 
4,062 average visitors per day