Shows & Exhibitions
10 Tantalizing National Pavilions to Get Excited About at the 2017 Venice Biennale
From Iceland's trolls to France's music factory, and Nigeria's first time at the big event.
Spring has sprung in the art world, which means—as it does every odd-numbered year—that we’re gearing up for the biggest art event of them all, the Venice Biennale. In addition to a curated exhibition by Christine Macel (see our editor-in-chief Andrew Goldstein’s interview), the centerpiece of the festival is the national pavilions, with more than 80 countries sending their best.
Whether or not you are one of the lucky few to hop on a vaparetto for the international exhibition, we’ve rounded up a list of 10 of the most anticipated national pavilions to have on your radar.
1. United States of America: “Tomorrow is Another Day,” Mark Bradford curated by Christopher Bedford and Katy Siegel. Venue: Giardini.
For the 2017 US Pavilion, Mark Bradford takes on the issues of social justice, humanitarian crises, and the turbulent political climate—just for starters. The acclaimed abstract painter will mount work that uses commonplace materials as his medium, but in service of a greater vision: In conjunction with the national pavilion show, Bradford will launch a six-year socially conscious retail endeavor, The Process Collettivo, which will employ prisoners from the central Frari district of Venice. An accompanying catalog includes essays written by Zadie Smith, Peter James Hudson, Sarah Lewis, Anita Hill, and Katy Siegel; excerpts from the texts of W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America and James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain, will also be included in the publication.
2. Britain: “folly,” Phyllida Barlow, curated by Harriet Cooper and Delphine Allier. Venue: Giardini.
Phyllida Barlow’s title, “folly,” could be a commentary on many things—the political state of the country she is representing; the fact that she is just now being fêted by an art world that she has toiled in quietly, and anonymously, for the first 60 years of her career; or maybe just the nature of her own confetti-colored sculptures. Whatever she brings to Venice, her inclusion chimes with Macel’s ‘art for arts sake’ curatorial ethos.
3. France: “Studio Venezia,” Xavier Veilhan curated by Lionel Bovier and Christian Marclay. Venue: Giardini.
Drawing inspiration from Kurt Schwitter’s iconic Merzbau—and applying the notion of collaborative creation that is intrinsic in dada philosophy, French artist Xavier Veilhan will present a fully functioning recording studio on the grounds of the pavilion. More than 100 artists and musicians have been invited to use the space either individually, or as groups, to create and record original work. This will be an active space, where visitors will happen upon art during all stages of its inception and performance.
4. Germany: “Anne Imhof / New Production for the German Pavilion,” curated by Susanne Pfeffer. Venue: Giardini.
Anne Imhof, the Frankfurt-based rising star of the international art scene, will inhabit Germany’s national pavilion, curated by Susanne Pfeffer, whose critically successful show at the Swiss Pavilion in 2015 has raised expectations for this year’s exhibition. Imhof, based in Frankfurt, has garnered accolades for her performance-based work, which explores the human body’s evolution in response to technological, socioeconomic, and political forces. While the content has yet to be revealed, Imhof’s durational productions are visually cohesive, meticulously choreographed works, and visitors should expect no less in Venice.
5. Japan: “Turned Upside Down, It’s a Forest,” Takahiro Iwasaki curated by Meruro Washida. Venue: Giardini.
The concept of the Japanese Pavilion this year is based on the lore of Venetian construction—the floating city, which is connected by labyrinthine canals and bridges, was built atop more than one million wooden stakes that were driven underwater to support the island. This origin story is the foundation for Iwasaki’s Biennale contribution, “Turned Upside Down, It’s a Forest.” The Japanese sculptor’s work is characterized as traditionally ‘Japanese,’ employing painstaking craftsmanship to create intricate sculptures made of everyday materials, often cast off as trash. Iwasaki’s work is also heavily rooted in his personal relationship with Hiroshima, where he was born and continues to work; his use of found objects parallels the city’s rebirth after the devastation of the nuclear bombing, relying on uncommon sources to develop infrastructure, and to help citizens recuperate.
6. Switzerland: “Women of Venice,” Teresa Hubbard, Alexander Birchler, and Carol Bove, curated by Philipp Kaiser. Venue: Giardini.
The title of the pavilion is taken from a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti—arguably the most famous Swiss artist of the 20th century—which was awarded the Grand Prix for Sculpture in Venice in 1962. The sculpture was not part of the Swiss Pavilion, however, because Giacometti refused to be defined solely on the basis of his nationality, and so refused to represent his country. His legacy, artistic and otherwise, will be addressed by the contemporary participants: Hubbard and Birchler have created a film based on Flora Mayo, the young American lover of Giacometti, while Carol Bove (who was born in Geneva) offers a newly created group of sculptures that play off of Giacometti’s style.
7. Italy: “Il Mondo magico” (the magic world). Giorgio Andreotta Calò, Roberto Cuoghi, and Adelita Husni-Bey, curated by Cecilia Alemani. Venue: Tese delle Vergini, Arsenale
For this year’s Italian pavilion, curator Alemani—High Line director in NY, and curator of Frieze Projects in NY—is making a concerted effort to shed light on individual artists’ practice at the host city’s national outpost. A common thread is imagination and fantasy: The title of the pavilion is taken from a book written by philosopher and anthropologist Ernesto de Martino during World War II, which explores the use of magic, rituals, and other imaginative forces as a lens to examine the world—especially as conventional logic fails to solve the international crises of today.
8. United Arab Emirates: “Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play,” Nujoom Alghanem, Sara Al Haddad, Vikram Divecha, Lantian Xie, and Dr. Mohamed Yousif, curated by Hammad Nasar. Venue: Arsenale, Sale d’Armi.
Hammad Nasar, who served as the Head of Research and Programmes at Asia Art Archive Hong Kong until 2016, is curating the UAE pavilion’s presentation at Venice this year. It promises new interpretations of preexisting works and original commissions that explore the notion of ‘play’ as it pertains to artistic practice and historical inquiry. The inclusion of five diverse artists is meant as a way to represent the various identities that coexist as part of the UAE. A highlight in the group exhibition will be Sara Al Haddad, a recent graduate of Maryland Institute College of Art, whose crocheted installations of pink yarn will be a visually jarring addition to the historic architecture of the Arsenale.
9. Iceland: “Out of Controll in Venice,” Egill Sæbjörnsson. Curated by Stefanie Böttche. Venue: Spazio Punch, Giudecca.
Ūgh and Bõögâr are the headliners for “Out of Controll in Venice,” two trolls who will be wreaking havoc on one of art’s biggest stages. The trolls are part of a larger conceit put forward by the artist to challenge viewers’ notion of reality and fantasy, using wart-nosed gremlins to instigate chaos and, presumably, shake up the art establishment. In a continuation of Iceland’s most recent contributions to the Venice Biennale, the work promises to adventure beyond conventional ideas and boundaries. (In 2015, artist Christoph Büchel erected a mosque in a former Catholic church in a Venice neighborhood, prompting the authorities to swiftly shutter the iconoclastic building.)
10. Nigeria: “How about NOW?” Peju Alatise, Victor Ehikhamenor, and Qudus Onikeku. Curated by Adenrele Sonariwo. Venue: Scoletta dei Tiraoro e Battioro, San Stae, Santa Croce 2059.
If the title didn’t tip you off, this is the first year Nigeria will be exhibiting at the Venice Biennale—a long time coming, according to the artists and curators. Three contemporary artists will each address Nigeria’s unique position in past and present narratives of world history by invoking ideas of memory, identity, colonialism, and cultural heritage. A melange of large-scale installation, performance films, and paintings will be curated by Adenrele Sonariwo, the Nigeria-based curator who left a job at PriceWaterhouse Cooper to start the Rele Arts Foundation.
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