The United States Pavilion at the XXVII Venice Biennale, 1954.

The United States Pavilion at the 1954 Venice Biennale. MoMA privately purchased and refurbished the building to host the American exhibits.

A fundamental way nations exhibit their art to international audiences is through Biennials; art festivals meant to showcase the modern art of participating countries. Two of the most significant Biennials are hosted in Venice and Sao Paulo. Even before the inception of the International Program and Council, MoMA privately organized U.S. representation at both events until 1964. At the 1953 Sao Paulo Biennial the U.S. was the only major power not to support its nation’s representation and a year later at the 1954 Venice Biennial, the International Program hosted the only privately facilitated exhibit among twenty nations. Controversial artists such as Ben Shahn, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Yasuo Kuniyoshi were featured at the Biennials throughout the 1950s. The extent of State Department support for the Biennials typically took the form of official presence of the host country Ambassador to the opening ceremony of the exhibit.