A Curated Companion to the 60th Venice Biennale

As the 60th edition of the Venice Biennale opens to the public, we compile a journey through some of the most notable exhibits.

The 2024 Venice Biennale is in full swing, captivating visitors within the expansive halls of the Arsenale and Giardini. Curated by Brazilian Adriano Pedrosa under the evocative theme of ‘Foreigners Everywhere,’ this year’s exhibition transcends borders, showcasing the works of over 300 artists from 90 countries.

As Venice’s historic streets and waterways host a seasonal celebration of global art and culture, first-time participants mingle with veteran artists in national pavilions. Meanwhile, collateral exhibitions spill out across the lagoon city, from churches to former factories, reminding visitors that, in Venice, foreigners have always been everywhere.

Here’s a guide for those planning to visit Venice this summer, promising a journey through stimulating complexities.

Still from Self-Portrait as a Coffee-Pot, Episode 6: A Harvest of Devotion, 2022, HD Video, 31 min 24 sec © William Kentridge. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2024. Courtesy the artist, Goodman Gallery and Hauser & Wirth

“Self-Portrait as a Coffee Pot” by William Kentridge at the Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation

One unmissable show is William Kentridge’s multi-chapter video installation “Self-Portrait as a Coffee Pot” at the Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation. The renowned South African artist premieres this nine-episode opus exploring memory, identity and history through humorous alter egos. Shot during lockdown in Kentridge’s Johannesburg studio, it offers insight into his process while in isolation. Viewed in an environment resembling the creative space where they were born, the videos become a meditation on self-reflection, collaboration and the impacts of restricted life in the digital era. Well-known for animated projections and multi-disciplinary works critiquing politics and society, Kentridge establishes the studio as an “enlarged head” for ruminations. Witty and elegant, don’t miss this rare chance to immerse in one of contemporary art’s most thoughtful voices via an introspective voyage and sharp commentary on the present moment.

Julien Creuzet at the French Pavilion

Oh, to be swept away in Julien Creuzet’s enchanting submerged universe at the French Pavilion. In his mesmerizing installation “Attila cataracte ta source aux pieds des pitons verts finira dans la grande mer gouffre bleu nous nous noyâmes dans les larmes marées de la lune [Attila cataract your source at the feet of the green peaks will end up in the great sea blue abyss we drowned in the tidal tears of the moon]” prepare your senses for a poetic journey through intricate sculptural forms winding and flowing like seaweed and coral. Ambient musicscapes and vibrant projected imagery crafted by the versatile Martinican artist will transport your imagination to a liberated realm. Rather than impose meaning, Creuzet’s philosophical manifesto celebrates free exploration where words spark sounds and possibilities abound. Within the lush aquatic forest of the Pavilion, experience this art that begs to be deeply lived. Surrender to Creuzet’s eerie cosmos for a sensory feast.

“La Maison de la Lune Brûlée” by Lee Bae at Fondazione Wilmotte

 Lee Bae adds an ethereal dimension to the Biennale with his mesmerizing solo presentation at the Fondazione Wilmotte. Centered around Korea’s mystical “Moonhouse Burning” ritual, where communities gather monthly to celebrate lunar cycles, Bae transports visitors between ancient practices and contemporary art. Within the foundation’s white-walled gallery, wispy brushstroke works painted with ceremonial charcoal ash will envelop you. A towering ink-stone sculpture and flickering charcoal canvases further engage the visual senses. Moving through a paper-clad “moon” tunnel, the lapping waters of Venice await one’s contemplations on renewal and their perpetual flow across time. Don’t miss this hypnotic trip by Bae, which bridges past, present and our shared circular nature. Through ritual synthesis and installation, it offers a soothing gaze on humanity’s deep connection to nature’s flow.

Mounira Al Solh at the Lebanon Pavilion

Step into the Lebanon Pavilion at the Arsenale and embark on a transcendent journey through myth and reality. Mounira Al Solh’s multimedia installation, “A Dance with her Myth,” curated by Nada Ghandour, unfolds across 180 square meters, exploring the myth of Europa’s abduction. Through 41 pieces, including drawings, paintings, sculptures, and video, Al Solh offers insights into contemporary women’s aspirations and challenges. Blending allegory with documentary, she invites viewers to reimagine gender roles and power dynamics. The immersive environment, designed by architect Karim Bekdache, encourages contemplation on the enduring relevance of ancient narratives in shaping modern discourse on identity and agency.

Shilpa Gupta, Listening Air, 2023. Mobile microphones fitted with speakers, lights, printed text on metal stands. Courtesy of Galleria Continua.

“From Ukraine: Dare to Dream” at Palazzo Contarini Polignac

Looking for a journey within your trip to Venice? “From Ukraine: Dare to Dream” is all about introspection and imagination, where art serves as a mirror to Earth’s ecological upheaval and humanity’s yearning for renewal. In the heart of this group show, Allora & Calzadilla’s baobab flowers greet visitors, evoking the docility of nature amidst climate change’s silent siege. Adorning the walls, Kateryna Lysovenko’s fresco offers a vision of the Garden of Eden reborn, prompting reflection on humanity’s quest for harmony. Behind floating curtains, Shilpa Gupta’s moving microphones sing songs of resistance and resilience, weaving a symphony of hope amidst chaos. This collateral exhibition becomes a sanctuary for contemplation, urging viewers to ponder the delicate balance between society and nature, and candidly dare to dream.

Ruth Patir at the Israel Pavilion

Amidst the buzz of the pre-opening days at the 2024 Venice Biennale, the Israel Pavilion stood as a symbol of protest and solidarity. Despite its doors remaining closed, the Pavilion echoed with the voices of demonstrators rallying in the Giardini, advocating for a ceasefire and the release of hostages. Inside, artist Ruth Patir’s decision to withhold the unveiling of her work until a change in the situation garnered support from both attendees and Biennale organizers. While the Pavilion remained shut, the glass windows offered passersby a glimpse of what was supposed to be shown, hinting at the potency of Patir’s “(M)otherland” project. The Israel Pavilion’s presence, though silent in form, resonated loudly within the context of the 60th Biennale, emphasizing the tortuous interplay between art and politics.

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