July 5, 2020

58th Venice Biennale

The first Biennale, that influences all Biennales to date, the 58th Venice Biennale saw the future that was ahead for us, warning..."May You Live in Interesting Times."
Published in
Art Fairs

58th Venice Biennale 

The 58th Venice Biennale was on view from Saturday, May 11th to Sunday, November 24th, 2019. The 58th International Art Exhibition, titled May You Live In Interesting Times, was curated by Ralph Rugoff and organized by La Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta. This was my first time visiting not only the Venice Biennale, but Venice in general, so if you’ve never been and would like to visit, I wanted to break down how the Biennale is structured and why it’s so special. 

“The title of this Exhibition could be interpreted as a sort of curse, where the expression “interesting times” evokes the idea of challenging or even “menacing” times, but it could also simply be an invitation to always see and consider the course of human events in their complexity, an invitation, thus, that appears to be particularly important in times when, too often, oversimplification seems to prevail, generated by conformism or fear.” - President Paolo Baratta (source) 

The Biennale is original Biennale dating back to 1895, and last year it hosted 79 artists from all over the world. It happens every two years, in odd years, for example, 2019, 2017...etc. 

There were three ‘main’ areas that the Biennale was organized across. There are the famous country pavilions (29 of them), which are essentially little museums built by each country where they host a new artist for each Biennale. The other two areas were much larger warehouse-type spaces with many artists under one roof. While the country pavilions were interesting I actually preferred the art and organization in the larger spaces, the Central Pavilion at Giardini and the Arsenale. 

The Arsenale 

The Arsenale was (personally) my favorite part of the Biennale, and hosts younger artists and artists of a national origin not represented by the permanent national pavilions. The space has a very industrial feel having once been a shipyard, scattered with sheds and warehouses. In 1999 a million-dollar renovation made the space what it is today. 

George Condo at the 58th Venice Biennale

When entering the Arsenale, the first thing you see is this larger-than-life George Condo. What a way to start the Biennale.

Zanele Muholi at the 58th Venice Biennale

These two works by South African photographer, Zanele Muholi, piercingly guarded the walkway.

Tavares Strachan at the 58th Venice Biennale

Tavares Strachan had a number of works in both main areas of the Biennale (the Central Pavilion and the Arsenale).

Tavares Strachan at the 58th Venice Biennale

Below is a piece by Indian artist Shilpa Gupta, titled 'for in your tongue, I cannot fit'  is based on a poem by the 14th century Azerbaijani poet Nesimi and is about the strength and power of the written (and spoken) word, and how those in power feared them.

Shilpa Gupta at the 58th Venice Biennale
Henry Taylor at the 58th Venice Biennale
Jesse Darling at the 58th Venice Biennale

Below are two works by Chinese artist, Yin Xiuzhen, who's "best known for her sculptures and installations that explore themes of the past and present, memory, globalization, and homogenization." (source)

Yin Xiuzhen at the 58th Venice Biennale
Yin Xiuzhen at the 58th Venice Biennale

Below are works by Uraguayan artist, Jill Mulleady.

Jill Mulleady at the 58th Venice Biennale
"Jill Mulleady’s practice shifts between close observations of everyday reality and highly elaborated imaginary worlds. In her work, references to historical painting are put into communication with images taken from both popular culture and personal life, creating a strange feeling of merged, multiplied temporalities." (source)
Jill Mulleady at the 58th Venice Biennale
Jill Mulleady at the 58th Venice Biennale

Below are two sculptures by American artist Nicole Eisenman. Eiseman also had sculptures at the 2019 Whitney Biennale, although she's known for her paintings, which you can see more of at the Central Pavilion.

Nicole Eisenman at the 58th Venice Biennale
Nicole Eisenman at the 58th Venice Biennale
Lee Bul at the 58th Venice Biennale
Otobong Nkanga at the 58th Venice Biennale

Below are paintings by Kenyan artist, Michael Armitage.

Michael Armitage at the 58th Venice Biennale
"Michael Armitage's paintings weave multiple narratives that are drawn from historical and current news media, internet gossip, and his own ongoing recollections of Kenya, his country of birth." (source
Michael Armitage at the 58th Venice Biennale
Michael Armitage at the 58th Venice Biennale
Yu Ji at the 58th Venice Biennale

One of my favorite works from the Biennale is pictured below, by German artist Alexandra Bircken. Unfortunately it's a little blurry, but you can still pick up on it's haunting beauty.

Alexandra Bircken at the 58th Venice Biennale
Alexandra Bircken at the 58th Venice Biennale
Ad Minoliti at the 58th Venice Biennale

Above and below are works by Argintiian artist, Ad Minoliti.

Ad Minoliti at the 58th Venice Biennale

Below are paintings by American artist Avery Singer. She's known for "creating digitally assisted paintings created through 3D modeling software and computer-controlled airbrushing." 

Avery Singer at the 58th Venice Biennale

Singer is the youngest artist ever represented by Hauser & Wirth at the age of 32 (2019).

Avery Singer at the 58th Venice Biennale

Below are sculptures by artist, Jimmie Durham.

Jimmie Durham at the 58th Venice Biennale

Durham was the recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.

Jimmie Durham at the 58th Venice Biennale
"I have nominated Jimmie Durham for the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of the 58th International Art Exhibition based on his remarkable accomplishments as an artist over the past six decades, and in particular for making art that is at once critical, humorous and profoundly humanistic." - Ralph Rugoff (source) 
Jimmie Durham at the 58th Venice Biennale

The Central Pavillion at Giardini

The Central Pavilion was built in 1894 by Enrico Trevisanato. Until 1905 all artists exhibited here without any obvious division (by country). As you can see below starting in 1907, countries started building their individual pavilions. Over the years the Central Pavilion underwent many renovations, and in 2011 became the space you see today. The Central Pavilion serves as a central exhibition space based on the exhibit’s theme, which was “May You Live in Interesting Times,” and is curated by the Biennale's director - Ralph Rugoff. 

The Central Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
Antoine Catala at the 58th Venice Biennale

Pictured below are paintings by American artist, Nicole Eisenman.

Nicole Eisenman at the 58th Venice Biennale
Nicole Eisenman at the 58th Venice Biennale
Nicole Eisenman at the 58th Venice Biennale
Nicole Eisenman at the 58th Venice Biennale

Prior to visiting the Biennale, the only work I'd see on social media was the industrial-blood-machine, below by Chinese artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. This is strange to me since this was one of the more underwhelming works in the Biennale (IMO).

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu at the Venice Biennale

More enthralling were these works on the opposite wall by Norwegian artist, Frida Orupabo.

Frida Orupabo at the 58th Venice Biennale
Frida Orupabo at the 58th Venice Biennale
Frida Orupabo at the 58th Venice Biennale
Liu Wei at the 58th Venice Biennale

Below is a work by Slavs and Tatars, "an art collective and "a faction of polemics and intimacies devoted to an area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China known as Eurasia". Founded in 2006, the group’s work is centered on three activities: exhibitions, books and lecture performances." (source

Slavs and Tatars at the 58th Venice Biennale
Alex Da Corte at the 58th Venice Biennale

This was another favorite of mine from the Biennale, this room by American artist Alex Da Corte.

Alex Da Corte at the 58th Venice Biennale
58th Venice Biennale
Avery Singer at the 58th Venice Biennale
Avery Singer at the 58th Venice Biennale

Below are works by Nigerian artist, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, who lives and works in LA.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby at the 58th Venice Biennale
Njideka Akunyili Crosby at the 58th Venice Biennale
Njideka Akunyili Crosby at the 58th Venice Biennale

Having only seen Tavares Strachan's neon works, it was exciting to see the works below, which highlight his immense range.

Tavares Strachan at the 58th Venice Biennale
"Tavares Strachan’s artistic practice activates the intersections of art, science, and politics, offering uniquely synthesized points of view on the cultural dynamics of scientific knowledge.  Aeronautics, astronomy, deep-sea exploration, and extreme climatology are but some of the thematic arenas out of which Strachan creates monumental allegories that tell of cultural displacement, human aspiration, and mortal limitation." (source
Tavares Strachan at the 58th Venice Biennale
Korakrit Arunanondchai at the 58th Venice Biennale

The Country Pavilions 

Below is a list of the 29 country pavilions, In order from oldest, starting with Belgium that was constructed in 1907, to the newest, Korea which was built in 1995. Next to the country is the architect of the building. (source

1907 Belgium (Léon Sneyens)

1909 Hungary (Géza Rintel Maróti)

1909 Germany (Daniele Donghi) demolished and rebuilt in 1938 (Ernst Haiger)

1909 Great Britain (Edwin Alfred Rickards)

1912 France (Umberto Bellotto)

1912 Netherlands (Gustav Ferdinand Boberg) demolished and rebuilt in 1953 (Gerrit Thomas Rietveld)

1914 Russia (Aleksej V. Scusev)

1922 Spain (Javier De Luque) with facade renovated in 1952 by Joaquin Vaquero Palacios

1926 Czech Republic and Slovak Republic (Otakar Novotny)

1930 United States of America (Chester Holmes Aldrich and William Adams Delano)

1932 Denmark (Carl Brummer) expanded in 1958 by Peter Koch

1932 Venice Pavilion (Brenno del Giudice), expanded in 1938

1934 Austria (Josef Hoffmann)

1934 Greece (M. Papandreou - B. Del Giudice)

1952 Israel (Zeev Rechter)

1952 Switzerland (Bruno Giacometti)

1954 Venezuela (Carlo Scarpa)

1956 Japan (Takamasa Yoshizaka)

1956 Finland (Hall Alvar Aalto)

1958 Canada (BBPR Group, Gian Luigi Banfi, Ludovico Barbiano of Belgiojoso, Enrico Peressutti, Ernesto Nathan Rogers)

1960 Uruguay

1962 Nordic Countries: Sweden, Norway, Finland (Sverre Fehn)

1964 Brazil (Amerigo Marchesin)

1987 Australia (Philip Cox), rebuilt in 2015 (J.Denton, B.Corker, B.Marshall)

1995 Korea (Seok Chul Kim and Franco Mancuso).

Below were some of the most interesting, dedicated country pavilions that stood out to me (in no particular order). I will say Russia and Venezuela were my absolutely favorite.

Belgian Pavilion

Belgian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale

The Belgian Pavilion showed MONDO CANE, an exhibition by artists Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, curated by Anne-Claire Schmitz.

Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys at the Belgian Pavilion
"MONDO CANE was selected and announced as Belgium’s representation to the Biennale in July 2018 by the Minister of Culture of the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. The project depicts a society that is folded in on itself where tradition is erected as a refuge." (source
Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys at the Beligan Pavilion

Dutch Pavilion

The Dutch Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale

The Dutch Pavilion featured works by Iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman, curated by Benno Tempel.

Iris Kensmil at the Dutch Pavilion
"The concept for The Measurement of Presence was prompted by a reflection on the history of the biennale, the location, discussions with the artists, and the current discourse. Nowadays, the permanent flow of people and artefacts break boundaries and produce new identities outside and separate from nation states. Places and societies are becoming ever more interconnected in our globalised world. But, on the whole, globalisation also causes alignment, and imposes prevailing principles. As a result, we risk losing the specific. The Measurement of Presence will be a post-national presentation that reassesses and debunks these notions and mechanisms." (source)
Remy Jungerman at the Dutch Pavilion
Remy Jungerman at the Dutch Pavilion

United States Pavilion

The U.S. Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale

The U.S. Pavilion featured works by Martin Puryear, curated by Brooke Kamin Rapaport.

Martin Puryear at the U.S. Pavilion
"Puryear’s enduring approach has galvanised his sculpture made by hand in the studio for more than five decades: issues of allegiance, democracy, and liberty have long propelled him. Viewers can learn how an artist’s treatment of a symbolic but tangible human subject – namely, liberty – can be best expressed in sculptural form through an abstract visual language of great originality and certitude." (source
Martin Puryear at the U.S. Pavilion
Martin Puryear at the U.S. Pavilion

Nordic Countries: Sweden, Norway, Finland Pavilion

The Nordic Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale

The Nordic Pavilion featured works by Ane Graff, Ingela Ihrman, and nabbteeri, curated by Leevi Haapala and Piia Oksanen.

Ane Graff at the Nordic Pavilion
"Weather Report: Forecasting Future’ takes as its theme the relationship between human and non-human actors, in what the curatorial statement calls ‘an age when climate change and mass extinction are threatening the future of life on Earth."(source
Ane Graff at the Nordic Pavilion

Venezuelan Pavilion

Venezuelan Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale

One of my favorite pavilions, the Venezuelan Pavilion featured works by Natalie Rocha Capiello, Ricardo García, Gabriel López, and Nelson Rangelosky, curated by Oscar Sottillo Meneses.

Natalie Rocha Capiello at the Venezuelan Pavilion
"We have come to show by way of three metaphorical windows a long construction of collective history and an extensive anecdote filled with challenges and rebellion. The window as a metaphor is a threshold that communicates spaces, exchanges light, air, and gaze. Venezuela exalts its libertarian identity, woven over the centuries, and shares it in a clear gesture of invitation to the complicity of other views. These windows are the seductive element that summons curiosity and the need to know. We also confess an underlying desire to see ourselves as a people along the paths of history." (source
Gabriel López, and Nelson Rangelosky at the Venezuelan Pavilion
Ricardo García at the Venezuelan Pavilion
Ricardo García at the Venezuelan Pavilion

Russia Pavilion

Russian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale

Another favorite was the Russian Pavilion, featuring works by Alexander Sokurov and Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai, curated by Mikhail Piotrovsky.

Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai at the Russian Pavilion

The exhibit is based on the Gospel of Luke and the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and more specifically Rembrandt's painting of the topic - which is why you feel like you've walked into a Chiaroscuro painting.

Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai at the Russian Pavilon
Scuplture by Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai, film by Alexander Sokurov
Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai at the Russian Pavilion
Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai at the Russian Pavilion
Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai at the Russian Pavilion

Which artists or pavilions were your favorites?

See you in 2021...


More images

No items found.

Latest posts

View all
August 10, 2020

Paola Pivi at Galerie Perrotin

August 9, 2020

Arghavan Khosravi at Lyles & King

August 7, 2020

NYC Art Galleries - Lower East Side