We at My Art Guides have selected our Top 15 Highlights during the 58th Art Biennale, May You Live in Interesting Times, here on our home turf in Venice. We’ve included the artists to look out for, the pavilions that tick all the right boxes and the exhibitions that get our seal of approval.
France (national pavilion)
Laure Prouvost’s installation “Deep See Blue Surrounding You” curated by Martha Kirszenbaum. The anchor piece of this fluid and tentacular universe of a pavilion, is the artist’s new film following a group of 12 characters of different ages and backgrounds on a road trip from Croix, where she was born, to Venice. Laure describes her vision of this journey as “a trip to our unconscious. With the help of our brains in our tentacles, we dig tunnels to the past and the future towards Venice. Let’s follow the light.”
Pittura/Panorama – Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, 1952–1992 (exhibition)
Curated by John Elderfield, Pittura/Panorama at Palazzo Grimani features fourteen paintings covering a forty-year span of Helen Frankenthaler’s career. The exhibition focuses on the relationship in the artist’s development of the pittura (painting) and the panorama: the interplay of works like easel painting, although made on the floor, and large, horizontal paintings that open onto shallow but expansive spaces.
Belgium (national pavilion)
MONDO CANE by Jos De Gruyter and Harald Thys, presents itself as a local folkloric museum that presents a number of silent, pale and frightened characters, stuck in a loop of formal activity that the visitor perceives as odd and out of touch with contemporary reality. Some are behind bars, as if the pavilion, and perhaps alluding to Belgium itself, is a 19th-century asylum.
Faurschou Foundation presents the group exhibition Entropy Grasping the dynamics of today’s Chinese art scene, Entropy explores the works of seven internationally recognised Chinese contemporary artists: He An, Liu Wei, Yang Fudong, Zhao Zhao, Sun Xun, Yu Ji, and Chen Tianzhuo.
Arthur Jafa (artist)
Jafa was awarded a Golden Lion for the Best Participant in the International Exhibition May You Live In Interesting Times with his new film, The White Album (2019), which according to the jury, “critiques a moment fraught with violence, in tenderly portraying the artist’s friends and family, it also speaks to our capacity for love.”
Ryoji Ikeda (artist)
In the Arsenale electronic composer and visual artist Ryoji Ikeda presents ‘data-verse’, an audio-visual trilogy supported by Audemars Piguet, the artist immerses the viewer in the vast data universe in which we live. Data sets have been processed, transcribed, converted, transformed, and orchestrated to visualise and sonify the different dimensions co-existing in our world, from the microscopic, to the human, to the macroscopic.
Jannis Kounellis (exhibition)
Curated by Germano Celant at Fondazione Prada, the exhibition is the first vast retrospective dedicated to the artist after his death in 2017. The project brings together 70 works from 1958 to 2016, reconstructing the artistic and exhibition history of Kounellis (Piraeus 1936 – Rome 2017) establishing a dialogue between the eighteenth-century works and spaces of Ca’ Corner della Regina.
Lithuania (national pavilion)
Sun & Sea (Marina) – Rugile Barzdziukaite, Vaiva Grainyte, and Lina Lapelyte make an operatic critique of leisure and of our times as sung by a cast of performers and volunteers portraying everyday people. Awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation. The jury was impressed with the inventive use of the venue to present a Brechtian opera as well as the Pavilion’s engagement with the city of Venice and its inhabitants.
Ghana (national pavilion)
Ghana’s first pavilion at Venice features paintings by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, films by John Akomfrah, El Anatsui’s bottle-top hangings and black-and-white portraits from the 1960s by Felicia Abban, Ghana’s first professional female photographer.
The Spark is You (collateral event)
“THE SPARK IS YOU: Parasol unit in Venice” Presented by: Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, London is an exhibition of paintings, sculptures, installations, multi-media and film brings together Iranian artists of different ages, who now live and work either in or outside of Iran. Having had a similar early education and grounding in classical Persian poetry they have all benefited from thought processes that are rooted in concepts such as the use of metaphor, openness, dialogue and figurative thinking.
Lara Favaretto (artist)
Thinking Head (2017–19) implicitly mirrors the functioning of the human brain. Favaretto has installed vapour-producing machinery on the roof of the Central Pavilion, so that a constant mist obscures its façade, as if dissolving its cultural authority. In a far less visible part of this work, the artist and a group of thinkers will periodically gather during the Biennale for clandestine discussions in order to reflect on a number of key words inside a specially built bunker in the grounds of the giardini.
Sun Yuan and Peng Yu (artist duo)
Within the central pavilion at the Giardini sun yuan and peng yu’s ‘can’t help myself’, an industrial robot turns and flexes restlessly, programmed to ensure that a thick, deep red liquid stays within a predetermined area, the robot is placed within a transparent ‘cage’, like a captured create and put on display.
Isreal (national pavilion)
Artist Aya Ben Ron presents “Field Hospital X” (FHX). A sanitary structure is re-created inside the Pavilion to investigate the role of art in dealing with abuses and injustices of contemporary society. In this protected environment, the artist projects “No Body”, a video work which tells of her personal experience of abuses with the aim to shed a light also on other silent voices and stories of suffered mistreatments.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby (artist)
Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s powerful works are composed of collage and photo-transfers, she examines the intimacy of home, in both her native Nigeria and Los Angeles, where she currently resides using her very own unique visual language which nods to the past whilst looking forward.
Carpenters Workshop Gallery present Dysfunctional, at Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’d’Oro, the exhibition includes works by established and rising artists who break the boundaries between art, architecture and design by initiating a dialogue between with the architecture of Ca’d’Oro. Artisits includeAtelier Van Lieshout, Studio Drift, Maarten Baas, Nacho Carbonell, Vincent Dubourg, Verhoeven Twins and Virgil Abloh.
- Still from Deep See Blue Surrounding You (French Pavilion)
- Helen Frankenthaler, Riverhead, 1963, acrilico su tela, 208.9x363.2 cm.
- Belgian Pavilion, Mondo Cane
- Zhao Zhao, Jade-Constellations, 2018 - Entropy
- Arthur Jafa, The White Album (2018). Image courtesy Ben Davis.
- Ryoji Ikeda - Data-verse
- Jannis Kounellis, Installation view, Fondazione Prada, 2019
- Lithuanian Pavilion
- Still from film by John Akomfrah at the Ghana pavilion
- Y.Z. Kami.The Spark Is You: Parasol unit in Venice
- Lara Favaretto 'Thinking Head'.
- Sun Yuan e Peng Yu
- Israeli Pavilion, Israel at Venice Biennale of Art
- Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 5 Umezebi Street, New Haven, Enugu, 2012.
- Studio Drift, Fragile Future 3 (2019).