This week sees the opening of the Venice Art Biennale – the world’s most prestigious art festival, which was first established over 120 years ago. On view until 26th November 2017, the Biennale features hundreds of contemporary art exhibitions and installations taking place all over the city. This week we’ve picked out a few of our favourite pavilions from the Giardini site, and we’ll be sharing many more recommendations over the coming months.
Phyllida Barlow’s sculptures for the British Pavilion are constructed from everyday materials such as concrete and cardboard – yet built on a monumental scale, soaring up to the roof and spilling outside. Visitors are encouraged to take on the role of explorer, picking their way around a sculptural maze of towering columns and precariously-balanced ledges, where familiar objects are juxtaposed with abstract sculptural forms. Titled “Folly”, the exhibition is both fun and foreboding; the jumble of colourful bulbous forms surrounding the colonial pavilion at once resemble festive baubles, sinister tumorous growths and decaying schoolroom globes.
As Barlow observes,“There’s a slightly melancholic tone to all of it,” especially against the backdrop of tumultuous political events that have recently threatened to destabilise Britain’s position on the world stage.
Awarded the 2017 Golden Lion for Best National Participation, the German Pavilion attracted the biggest crowds at the Preview last week – not least because it’s surrounded by a cage of excitable barking guard-dogs, whose antics form part of the exhibition.
Once inside, visitors walk on a raised glass floor above a group of androgynous performers who writhe about, clasping each other – while others move slowly around the pavilion’s chambers and rooftop, chanting and lighting fires, following the choreography of a five-hour ritualistic production titled “Faust” devised by German artist Anne Imhof.
Set against a penetrating audio soundtrack, the experience is voyeuristic and unsettling, yet highly compelling; it’s worth enduring the queues to see what the hype is all about.
Canadian artist Geoffrey Farmer is causing a splash with his installation “A way out of the mirror”, which sees powerful jets of water exploding sporadically from various points in the deconstructed pavilion, soaking unsuspecting visitors. Despite initially prompting surprise and delight from onlookers, the installation is in fact rooted in tragedy, as explained by a poetic text that describes the origins of the objects in the exhibition; the scattered piles of wooden planks, for instance, refer to an incident when the artist’s grandfather’s lumber truck was hit by a train in 1955. Other elements such as 3D-printed sculptures cast in aluminum and bronze tell stories that touch on relations between Italy and Canada after the Second World War. It is an exhilarating, thought-provoking and moving installation that definitely warrants a prolonged visit.
DON’T MISS: Serra dei Giardini
Just a few minutes’ walk from the Biennale Gardens you’ll find one of Venice’s most charming and unusual bars. Built in 1894 during Napoleon’s rule, Serra dei Giardini was originally designed as a “tepidarium made of glass and iron” to host palm trees and other decorative plants used at the International Art Exhibition. Abandoned in the 1990s, the building was restored in 2010 and today serves as a wonderfully sunny bar, plant nursery and exhibition space, run by the cooperative Nonsoloverde. A short stroll from our divine Riad property, it’s the ideal spot for a morning coffee or early evening refreshment (try their signature Pear Bellini) after a long day exploring the Biennale.