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05/05/2019

Venice Biennale 2019: Our Highlights



The ‘Olympics of the Art World’ returns this week with the opening of the 58th edition of La Biennale di Venezia, the world’s oldest contemporary art event. Curated by Ralph Rugoff, director of London’s Hayward Gallery, the 2019 edition ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ features 79 artists in the main exhibition, alongside 91 national pavilions and numerous satellite exhibitions and shows.



Rugoff has taken the novel approach of curating the Biennale across the two main Biennale venues, using the same 79 artists across both spaces (the Giardini and the Arsenale). By taking his approach, Rugoff says the Biennale can delve into further detail on each artist’s practice, whilst also embracing pleasure and critical thinking, and to open up multiple perspectives on the world.

One artist who surely embodies this brief is Njideka Akunyili Crosby, the Nigerian-American ‘genius’ painter whose densely painted works distil complex themes of belonging and race into tableaus of unquestionable beauty. Crosby’s gallery Victoria

Rugoff has taken the novel approach of curating the Biennale across the two main Biennale venues, using the same 79 artists across both spaces (the Giardini and the Arsenale). By taking his approach, Rugoff says the Biennale can delve into further detail on each artist’s practice, whilst also embracing pleasure and critical thinking, and to open up multiple perspectives on the world.

One artist who surely embodies this brief is Njideka Akunyili Crosby, the Nigerian-American ‘genius’ painter whose densely painted works distil complex themes of belonging and race into tableaus of unquestionable beauty. Crosby’s gallery Victoria Miro in addition stages ‘The Beautiful Ones’ a comprehensive solo exhibition of the artist’s works at their Venice gallery in May.


Njideka Akunyili Crosby, The Beautyful Ones, Series 9, 2018, Courtesy of the artist, Victoria Miro and David Zwirner

Swiss-Uruguayan artist Jill Mulleady responds to the exhibition’s split format, with alternative shows in each venue. She has made two series of paintings, taking their starting point from Edvard Munch’s The Frieze of Life. The first set of paintings are eerie and lyrical with the second set becoming more violent.


Jill Mulleady’s Riot on the Holodeck (2018) Courtesy of the artist and Freedman Fitzpatrick; Los Angeles/Paris

And whilst the Biennale will feature a lot of paintings (a medium Rugoff refers to as a “zombie like resilience”), the exhibition will also feature numerous examples of film and digital works, including the first ever Venice Biennale virtual reality piece created by former Global Art Forum speaker Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, alongside various adventures into augmented reality by Darren Bader, Ian Cheng, Jon Rafman and Hito Steryl. A conference addressing art’s relationship with technological, social and environmental issues will take place in September, led by Rugoff, and featuring artists including Gonzales-Foerster and Tomàs Saraceno (represented by Art Dubai 2019 gallery, Andersens Contemporary).


Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Pychon Park’ at MATT Lisbon, 2017

Performance too continues to play an important role in the Biennale with electroacoustic composer Tarek Atoui, presenting a work characterised by his intense physical presence, using custom-built electronic instruments and computers. Other performance artists for the 2019 edition include Florence Peake and Eve Stainton, Zadie Xa, and Bo Zheng.


Tarek Atoui and C/P/S in Venice

Saudi Arabia returns to the Biennale after an eight year hiatus with new works by celebrated land artist Zahrah Al Ghamdi. The exhibition’s title, ‘After Illusion’, recalls a line from the ancient Arabic poem written by Zuhayr bin Abī Sūlmā (b.520 – d.609), which tells of the poet’s struggle to return home after being away for twenty years. Al Ghamdi’s work evokes the feeling of exploring something new yet somehow familiar with the piece reflecting on the history of Saudi Arabia and its identity.

The Indian National Pavilion – details of which were revealed at Art Dubai in March – presents a group show under the title of ‘Our Time for a Future Caring’. Celebrating ‘150 years of Gandhi’, this exhibition critically considers Gandhi’s philosophical ideas and their place in today’s complex world, in which violence and intolerance are still prevalent. The exhibition features works by an intergenerational group of artists spanning from the twentieth century to present day.

The Venice Biennale starts officially on Saturday May 11 (when the Golden Lion and other awards will be announced) through to November 24, 2019, with a pre-opening  May 8-10.

Follow our social media channels for updates from the preview this week: @artdubai (twitter and Instagram) and @artdubai.artfair (facebook).