A Look Back at the Venice Biennale
Sorry, acqua alta, but you haven't managed to ruin the Biennale
by SOFIA CARREIRA-WHAM (Instagram: @artlife_london)
As the 58th Venice Biennale draws to a bittersweet close amid devastating floods, here is a look back at some of its artistic highlights. Curator Ralph Rugoff’s central theme ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ was explored across the main Arsenale and Giardini sites, accompanied by the traditional host of national pavilions. There was as usual, however, an incredible array of satellite exhibitions hidden away in Venice’s historic palazzos. Any trip to the Biennale would be incomplete without enjoying some masterpieces of modern and contemporary art surrounded by the magnificent frescoes, classical statuary and ornate Gothic architecture across the city.
Top 3 National Pavilions
Ghana pulled out all the stops for their first ever national pavilion, titled ‘Ghana Freedom’. Architect David Adjaye designed the space as a celebration of the country’s heritage and independence, modelled on traditional earth houses and plastered with imported soil. The warm, richly textured atmosphere was the perfect setting for some of Ghana’s highest profile contemporary artists, including El Anatsui, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Ibrahim Mahama. The exhibition will now travel to Accra.
The Republic of San Marino
San Marino is one of the world’s smallest countries and the oldest surviving republic. Their pavilion, titled ‘The Friendship Project’, unusually featured a curated group of both local and international artists. An ongoing initiative since 2015, San Marino’s intention is to foster creative dialogue and represent the libertarian and diplomatic values of their country. Presented in a Renaissance-style church, the highlight was a series of traditional ink wash paintings by Chinese artists Li Geng and Tang Shuangning.
Experimental video artist Laure Prouvost created a new surrealist film for the French pavilion, a contemporary odyssey with a unique final destination: the Biennale itself. As is typical of Prouvost’s escapist fantasies, the roles of narrator and viewer constantly shift within a fluid realm of possibilities, enhanced by the presence of performers hidden among the audience. Also incorporating a sculptural installation of elements taken from the film, this pavilion was a truly immersive and euphoric experience.
Top 3 Satellite Exhibitions
Helen Frankenthaler: Pittura/Panorama at Palazzo Grimani
Helen Frankenthaler’s contemplative paintings shone against the atmospheric backdrop of this Romanesque palazzo. Key pieces spanning 40 years of the artist’s life and tracing the development of her style were on show alongside works from the museum’s permanent collection, from Tintoretto to Hieronymus Bosch. A pivotal figure in the development of the Colour Field movement out of Abstract Expressionism, Frankenthaler’s paintings had not been displayed in Venice since her participation in the American pavilion of the 1966 Biennale.
Jannis Kounellis at Fondazione Prada
The Prada Foundation took over this site in 2011 with the twin aims of presenting contemporary art and restoring the architecture and adornment of the Gothic palazzo to its former glory. Their 8thexhibition was a major retrospective dedicated to Jannis Kounellis, the first since the artist’s death in 2017 and curated by renowned Italian art historian Germano Celant. It offered a comprehensive look at the Arte Povera figurehead’s conceptually challenging practice, focusing on his engagement with core themes of sound, fire, gravity and industrial materials.
Dysfunctional at Ca’ d’Oro
This show-stopping group exhibition set out to ‘rethink the conventional relationship between form and function, art and design, the historical and the modern’, and it succeeded. Works which defy categorisation by the likes of Virgil Abloh and Random International were integrated into the C15th palazzo’s medieval collections, creating a compelling dialogue across the centuries and creative practices. Nacho Carbonell’s meditative light installation in the mosaic-paved central courtyard was a particular highlight, drawing huge crowds of rapt visitors.