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What to Catch at the Venice Biennale 2024: Insider Tips for the Artfully Curious
Spotlight on Unmissable Exhibitions, National Representation, and Essential Visitor Insights.
Art Stuff 12 Apr 2024

Claire Fontaine, Foreigners Everywhere – Spanish, 2007, installation view “The Traveling Show,” curated by Adriano Pedrosa, La Colección Jumex, Mexico. Photo Studio Claire Fontaine / © Studio Claire Fontaine / Courtesy Claire Fontaine and Mennour, Paris.

Mark your calendars, art aficionados, and culture vultures! The 60th edition of La Biennale di Venezia is about to unfurl its canvas of wonders starting April 20, 2024. For the insiders and art professionals, the curtain rises a tad earlier, April 17. Imagine the Olympics of the art world—less sprinting, more pondering, and Champagne in place of sports beverages. This year’s curator, the esteemed Adriano Pedrosa of Latin American origin (a first for the Biennale), unveils “Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere.” It’s a profound exploration into the essence of being a stranger, aiming to illuminate the narratives of those often left in the shadows. Embarking on this year’s theme, Pedrosa draws inspiration from the thought-provoking work of the Paris-born, Palermo-based collective Claire Fontaine, known since 2004 for their neon sculptures that spell out “Foreigners Everywhere” in a kaleidoscope of languages. This vibrant homage is not just artistic flair; it echoes the sentiments of the Turin collective Stranieri Ovunque, warriors against racism and xenophobia in the early 2000s. With a list of 332 participants, alongside the Central Exhibition and the National Pavilions, additional displays and events will emerge, overtaking historic locations across the Venetian canals.

Venture into the heart of the action at the Central Pavilion (Giardini) and the Arsenale, where the tale of two “Nucleos” unfolds. The Nucleo Contemporaneo (“Contemporary Nucleus”) is where identities collide and mingle. It’s a shout-out to the queers, the outsiders, the self-taught geniuses, and indigenous artists—basically, the cool kids of the art school who never got their due. Here, disobedience isn’t just tolerated; it’s exhibited, dissected, and celebrated through Marco Scotini’s “Disobedience Archive.” Get ready for a trip down rebellion lane with a side of gender and diaspora activism. Meanwhile, the Nucleo Storico (“Historical Nucleus”) is like time-traveling with a paintbrush, spotlighting “global modernisms” and the artistic diaspora that sprinkled a little bit of the Global South everywhere, from the tropics to the tundras. This segment tells tales of abstraction, representation, and those Italian artists who found muses in far-off lands. It’s a history lesson without homework, featuring artworks that span almost a century and a geography quiz’s worth of countries.

Practical Tips for the Venice Biennale Journey:

Facade of the Central Exhibition at Giardini, The 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia 2022, captured by Maria Nitulescu.

Before we delve into the art, let’s talk survival tips for navigating the Biennale like a pro. Firstly, if your lodging isn’t booked, get on it—Venice becomes a whirlwind of art tourists and Aperol Spritz during the Biennale. European travelers, consider the Nightjet for a green, overnight journey straight to the heart of Venice. Pack light (seriously, those bridges weren’t made for heavy luggage) and dress in layers. April in Venice is as unpredictable as a contemporary art piece; one minute it’s sunny, and the next, you’re buying those neon-colored boot covers sold on every corner.

Photo courtesy of The Corner Pub, Venice.

Now, for dining recommendations: The Corner Pub, an excellent bacaro located near the Guggenheim, offers delicious cicchetti and panini. Grancaffè Quadri in Piazza San Marco is a classic spot for breakfast. For great coffee, try Torrefazione Cannaregio. Wine enthusiasts should visit Vino Vero for biodynamic wines. And Hostaria Castello offers a gastronomic journey with traditional Venetian dishes, conveniently located not far from the Biennale sites of Arsenale and Giardini.

Must-See Exhibitions and Pavilions:

Art around Venice

Eva Jospin, exhibition “Selva” at Palazzo Fortuny; Curated by Chiara Squarcina, Pier Paolo Pancotto In collaboration with GALLERIA CONTINUA.

After the impressive exhibition “Human Brains” in 2018, this year Fondazione Prada is presenting Christoph Büchel‘s “Monte di Pietà,” a thought-provoking installation that delves into the intricate web of societal debt and power dynamics. Meanwhile, Pierre Huyghe captivates audiences at Punta della Dogana with “Liminal,” a solo exhibition weaving new creations with select works of the past decade. Here, Huyghe challenges our perceptions of the human and non-human through speculative fictions that invite otherworldly contemplations. Gallerie dell’Accademia offers a nostalgic journey through Willem de Kooning‘s illustrious career, highlighting the profound influence of his Italian sojourns on his abstract expressionism. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection brings to light Jean Cocteau‘s multifaceted genius in “The Juggler’s Revenge,” marking the first major retrospective of Cocteau in Italy and showcasing his prowess beyond the poetic.

In a bold move against the traditionally male-dominated art narrative, “Unapologetic WomXn, the dream is the truth” at Palazzo Bembo unites 33 female artists in a powerful exhibition curated by Destinee Ross-Sutton. This show promises a visceral exploration of female sexuality, identity, and resilience through the lens of female artists who dare to dream and define their truth beyond societal constraints.
At the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, “In Nebula” presents an extensive retrospective of Chu Teh-Chun, curated by Matthieu Poirier. This exhibition spotlights Teh-Chun’s pivotal role in abstract art, alongside other influential figures such as Hans Hartung and Helen Frankenthaler, through a collection that spans decades and dialogues with the nature of abstraction itself.

Don’t miss Eva Jospin‘s mesmerizing exhibition at the Fortuny Museum, where her ethereal creations inspired by natural landscapes are juxtaposed against the opulent backdrop of Mariano Fortuny’s historic residence. This exhibition is a poetic exploration of the fragile interplay between art and nature, inviting visitors to contemplate the transient beauty of our surroundings.

Navigating the Pavilions: A Global Journey

Queue at the Greek Pavilion, 59th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia 2022 – Captured by Maria Nitulescu.

Organizing a national pavilion at the Venice Biennale is a multifaceted challenge. Curators navigate the intricacies of historic Venetian architecture while grappling with the concept of national representation. This year’s theme, “Foreigners Everywhere,” prompts a reevaluation of nationalism, encouraging a dialogue on global belonging. Let’s embark on a curated tour of select national pavilions, each offering a unique lens on the Biennale’s overarching narrative.

German Pavilion 2024, 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di
Venezia, artists: Ersan Mondtag, Yael Bartana, Jan St. Werner, Robert Lippok, Michael Akstaller, Nicole L’Huillier; Photo: Andrea Rossetti (Mondtag, Bartana), Nick Ash (Werner, Lippok, Akstaller,

German Pavilion – “Thresholds”
Curated by Çağla Ilk, with works by Yael Bartana, Ersan Mondtag, Michael Akstaller, Nicole L’Huillier, Robert Lippok, and Jan St. Werner, “Thresholds” explores the liminal spaces between histories and futures. The pavilion serves as a metaphorical and physical threshold, extending to La Certosa island, where the artworks invite contemplation on migration, belonging, and the transient nature of the present. This exhibition underscores Germany’s multicultural landscape, challenging the traditional bounds of national identity

From left: Lap-See Lam (Sweden), curator Asrin Haidari (Sweden), Kholod Hawash (Finland), Tze Yeung Ho (Norway). Photo: Robert Schittko.

Nordic Pavilion – “Nordic Gesamtkunstwerk”
Featuring works by Lap-See Lam, Kholod Hawash, and Tze Yeung Ho, and curated by Asrin Haidari, this pavilion redefines the Nordic identity through an experimental musical installation inspired by Cantonese opera. The collaborative effort mirrors the Nordic spirit of unity and diversity, bringing together video, music, sculpture, and textiles to tell the story of Lo Ting, a mythological figure navigating a world of change. The pavilion becomes a vessel for exploration, not just of the Nordic countries but of the universal themes of exile, hybridity, and belonging.

Koo Jeong A, portrait by Kim Je Won, Courtesy of PKM Gallery.

South Korean Pavilion – “Odorama Cities”
Koo Jeong A, curated by Jacob Fabricius and Seolhui Lee, presents “Odorama Cities,” an innovative sensory journey through scent, challenging the visually dominant nature of art. Over 600 individuals contributed their scent memories of Korea, culminating in an immersive experience that maps the Korean peninsula through olfactory landscapes. This pavilion breaks boundaries, offering a poignant reflection on memory, identity, and the intangible threads that connect us across borders.

John Akomfrah © Photographer: Christian Cassiel © John Akomfrah; Courtesy Lisson Gallery.

Great Britain – John Akomfrah
Knighted for his contributions to the arts, John Akomfrah represents Great Britain with a powerful narrative on colonialism, racial injustice, and migration. Akomfrah’s video installations and films, known for their deep contemplation on diasporic identities and the legacy of colonialism, provide a critical examination of British history and its global impact. This participation underscores the UK’s complex relationship with its past and present, inviting viewers into a dialogue on reconciliation and understanding.

F.l.t.r. Ced’art Tamasala, Matthieu Kasiama Kilapi, Renzo Martens, Hicham Khalidi, Lisette Mbuku Kimpala. ©Koos Breukel, 2023

Dutch Pavilion – “The International Celebration of Blasphemy and the Sacred”
The Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (CATPC), in collaboration with Renzo Martens and curated by Hicham Khalidi, presents a bold examination of spirituality, ethics, and the economics of freedom. This pavilion highlights the ongoing struggle for the liberation and regeneration of the Lusanga plantation into sacred forests. By focusing on a specific locale’s historical and ethical context, the Dutch Pavilion engages with broader themes of restitution, cultural identity, and collective memory, challenging viewers to reconsider the narratives of history and the power of sacred spaces in shaping our understanding of the world.

The Venice Biennale offers a vibrant showcase with 90 participating countries and 30 Collateral Events, marking a rich intersection between the arts and societal evolution. This year, first-time entries from Benin, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Timor Leste, as well as Nicaragua, Panama, and Senegal, bring fresh perspectives to this global stage. At the Italian Pavilion, Massimo Bartolini’s “Due qui / To hear” merges music with narrative, inviting visitors into an immersive experience.

As anticipation builds for the Golden Lion for Best National Participation, the spotlight isn’t just on the awards but on the Biennale’s role as a melting pot of cultural exchange. The art world watches eagerly, ready to celebrate not only the winners but the collective journey of creativity and dialogue that defines the event.

Text by Maria Nitulescu

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