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The 59th International Art Exhibition, better known as “the Biennale” after the name of the foundation that organizes it, opens in Venice from April 23rd. It is one of the most important and long-lasting exhibitions of modern art in the world and the largest in Italy. Created in 1890 at the initiative of a group of local intellectuals, it was conceived from the outset as “a biennial series of artistic exhibitions, some free, some by invitation”.
The 59th exhibition – which remains open until 27.11 – marked both the return of the art exhibition to Venice after the three-year hiatus due to the pandemic and alternation with the biennial architecture exhibition, and the return of the public in full. The only restriction still in force concerns the use of masks, which are required inside the pavilions, especially fully enclosed pavilions.
Over the years, the Biennale has expanded to include all of Venice, including the islands of the Lagoon, but always had as its main center the ancient Castello Gardens, built by Napoleonic decree in the early nineteenth century and known at the time mainly by the name of the exhibition they host. .
Before the gardens were used almost entirely for the Biennale, they housed, among other things, an elephant that the Italian royal family gave to the city in the 19th century and that the Venetians called “Toni” or “Prisoner of the Gardens”. Upon entering the central pavilion – the main building of the exhibition – the audience is greeted by the statue of an elephant, created by the German artist Katharina Fritsch and awarded the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement. The statue in this position was commissioned by this year’s curator, Cecilia Alemani, the park’s former artistic director New York Highline – which, with a reference to the old attraction of the Venetians, was the leitmotif of the exhibition entitled ” The milk of dreams.
The title refers to a children’s book by British author and illustrator Leonora Carrington, set in a fantasy world populated by mutant creatures born of the imagination. Specimens of these creatures, recovered, surround the central pavilion from the outside and then reappear in the other locations of the exhibition.
Taking Carrington’s imagery as a starting point, Alemani conceived an exhibition that develops around three themes: the representation of bodies and their metamorphoses, the relationship between individuals and technologies, and the connection between bodies and the earth. With these themes, the Biennale proposes a less anthropocentric worldview in general. “The pressures of technological change, the escalation of social tensions, the outbreak of the pandemic, and the looming threat of environmental disasters are daily reminders that we are neither invincible nor self-sufficient, but part of a symbiotic web of interdependencies that bind us to one another, to other species, and to each other the planet as a whole,” Alemani explained.
This year’s Biennale hosts the works of 213 artists, most of whom are installed in the exhibition spaces allocated to the participating nations, some owners of the pavilions since the early twentieth century, such as Belgium, Germany, Hungary and the United Kingdom, others housed in temporary spaces . Most of the pavilions are located between the Giardini and the Arsenale, but they are not only scattered throughout the city – from Giudecca to St. Mark’s Square – but also on some islands of the lagoon, such as in San Servolo and on the island of Charterhouse.
Some pavilions, such as those of Denmark, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Austria, Romania and South Korea, are closely linked to this year’s themes in a rather obvious way, with installations proposing imaginary creatures and atmospheres, environments worn by time are. natural elements struggling to survive and analysis of human relationships, even more intimate (as seen in the Romanian Pavilion). The Italian one, on the other hand, is in the Arsenale and, unlike previous editions, houses only one great work by a single artist, Gian Maria Tosatti. story of the night e fate of comets tells the story of the Italian economic miracle in two parts, between industrial and domestic scenarios, and with the help of some visual and literary quotations, such as Pasolini’s fireflies. The work thus ties back to the complicated relationship between man and nature.
As always, the many locations of the Biennale also enable a personal experience of the exhibition between different and apparently unrelated experiences. This is the case, for example, with the UK Pavilion, winner of the Golden Lion for Best National Participation, divided into different spaces where British singers perform together or individually; or the Greek that houses the installation Oedipus in search of Colonus by director Loukia Alavanou. To see it, you will be escorted into the pavilion, where a dozen augmented reality stations are set up in the dark. At this point, one is isolated from one’s surroundings and carries a viewer who is projected into a Roma camp in Nea Zoi, near Athens, where improvised local actors are performing the opera.
Another easily noticeable pavilion is the US Pavilion, whose neo-Palladian-style structure has been transformed into a tribal architecture that anticipates from afar the theme of the installation created by the sculptor Simone Leigh: the artistic traditions of Africa and the African diaspora.
In addition to the country pavilions, between the gardens and the Arsenale, there are five so-called historical capsules, in which Alemani, the first Italian to curate the Biennale, wanted to bring together works and objects from all over the world that deal with the themes of the exhibition and that they « Presenting artists and cultural workers whose work has over time been overshadowed by predominantly male narratives».
This year’s edition was also influenced by the international context in which the exhibition was organized. The Russian Pavilion, one of the largest structures in the gardens, is closed: in February, after the invasion of Ukraine, the curator and the artists resigned and canceled their participation. A few meters from the Russian building – guarded by security forces after the protests of the first days – the so-called “Ukraine Square” has been set up on a green space, where some works surround a heap of sandbags, as they used to protect the monuments from the fighting. The Ukrainian Pavilion, on the other hand, is in the Arsenale and the curators are the same.
The spaces in the city were also enriched with the opening of the Procuratie Vecchie in St. Mark’s Square, next to the Clock Tower. Named after the Procurators of San Marco – the highest Venetian authorities after the Doge – who once lived there, they were restored by British architect David Chipperfield and opened to the public under the concession of the Assicurazioni Generali, the group that owns the buildings five centuries. During the same period of the Biennale, the Procuratie Vecchie will host an exhibition by the Ukrainian-born American sculptor Louise Nevelson, former curator of the American Pavilion in the Giardini. who all useful information for visiting the events of the Biennale.
– Also read: The history of Venice in the words it left us