All eyes are on Venice this week as the 59th edition of the Biennale — postponed for a year due to the pandemic — finally gets under way. The most prestigious event in the art world calendar, the Biennale draws collectors, gallerists, curators, artists and enthusiasts from around the world looking to see the very best in contemporary art. Established in 1895, the Biennale proper now consists of three parts: a central exhibition which takes place in the Central pavilion known as the Giardini; national pavilions, each showcasing the work of one or more artists; and official off-shoot exhibitions tagged by the Biennale as Collateral Events. With so much to see and do across the city, here’s our round-up of some of the 2022 Venice Biennale highlights.
The Milk of Dreams, Central Pavilion (Giardini) and the Arsenale
Cecilia Alemani’s exhibition The Milk of Dreams borrows its title from a seminal book by the British-born Mexican Surrealist Leonora Carrington. Installed across the Giardini and the Arsenale, it brings together 213 artists from 58 countries, the majority of which are women or gender non-conforming. There’s already huge buzz around the works of Nan Goldin, Ruth Asawa, Leonor Fini and Claude Cahun. ‘The exhibition takes Carrington’s otherworldly creatures, along with other figures of transformation, as companions on an imaginary journey through the metamorphoses of bodies and definitions of the human,’ explains Alemani.
There are more than 90 national pavilions at the Biennale this year, so picking the standouts is no easy task. But our must-sees include Sonia Boyce’s pavilion for Great Britain, which involves video, sound, wallpaper and sculptural objects and Simone Leigh’s highly-anticipated installation for the US pavilion, which explores ideas about history, race, gender and labour. Another highlight is the French Pavilion, which has been transformed into a film set by Zineb Sedira.
Anselm Kiefer, Doge’s Palace
Once you’ve had your fill of the pavilions, make a beeline for Anselm Kiefer’s mind-blowing painting installation, produced specially for the Sala dello Scrutinio in the Doge’s Palace in 2020 and 2021, which responds to the 33 Venetian paintings on the chamber’s ceiling.
Anish Kapoor, Gallerie dell’Accademia
Landing at the Gallerie dell’Accademia is a major exhibition of work by Anish Kapoor, the first British artist be honoured with an exhibition at the museum. Postponed from 2021 due to the pandemic, it features early pigment sculptures and void works as well as selected new pieces, including a site-specific inflatable work titled HOWL. Also opening this week is the freshly restored Palazzo Manfrin, the new home of the Anish Kapoor Foundation.
Marlene Dumas: open-end, Palazzo Grassi
There’s a lot of excitement about Palazzo Grassi’s solo show dedicated to the South African artist Marlene Dumas. Curated by Caroline Bourgeois in collaboration with the artist, it brings together over 100 works from across Dumas’s career, including unseen works made in the last few years. According to one critic, it is at once ‘exhausting and uplifting’ and ‘displays the tension between seduction and repulsion in the artist’s work.’
Surrealism and Magic: Enchanted Modernity, Peggy Guggenheim Collection
This brilliant exhibition looks at the Surrealists’ interest in magic and the occult. Through around 60 works, including the ‘metaphysical painting’ of Giorgio de Chirico and Max Ernst’s 1940 Attirement of the Bride, it charts how magic and the occult informed the development and trajectory of the movement. With unprecedented loans from museums and private collections around the world, it is a rare chance to engage with a long-overlooked aspect of the mind-boggling movement.
Official Collateral Events
Alongside the main exhibition and national pavilions are 30 official collateral events. Highlights for your radar include a Claire Tabouret exhibition at Palazzo Cavanis, This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia and a Kehinde Wiley showcase at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini.
Alissa Everett: Covering Beauty, European Cultural Centre (ECC)
For a dose of arresting art, scoot over to the ECC, where you’ll find a solo exhibition of poignant photographs by Nairobi-based photographer Alissa Everett. Part of the sixth edition of Personal Structures, a biennial contemporary art platform founded in 2003 by artist Rene Rietmeyer, Covering Beauty seeks to enhance our understanding of places usually defined by their conflict. The exhibition features images from Algeria, Afghanistan, Kenya, Pakistan, South Sudan, Syria, Turkey and Yemen, among others.