When I began planning a trip to Italy for myself and my 21-year-old son, I started with 6 days in Florence, and a visit to the Uffizi to see Botticelli, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, the architecture and the food. I knew that we would be flooded with sights of architecture and centuries old religious art and the work commissioned by popes and kings of wealthy patrons and noblemen. The galleries that house the art were stunning and the cathedrals massive and ornate.
After 6 days, we took the train to Venice where, amongst the ancient churches and palaces we would be seeing something in dramatic contrast.
From the Milk of Dreams catalog, by Cecilia Aleman, Curator of the 59th International Art Exhibition : “The Milk of Dreams includes over two hundred artists from 58 countries. More than 180 of these artists have never had their work in the International Art Exhibition until now. For the first time in it’s 127-year history, the Biennale will include a majority of women and gender non-conforming artists, a choice that reflects an international art scene full of creative ferment and a deliverable retaining of men’s centrality in the history of art and contemporary culture.”
In actuality, according to the unofficial guide App made by the London based Angelino Alessandro, there are 110 exhibitions by 437 artists in 61 venues. This app was my go-to for making my way around the city and checking off what I had seen and what I hoped to visit. We spent 3 full days visiting the two central locations: The Giardini and the Arsenale, which housed many of the country pavilions. Two other days were dedicated to the collateral events and venues across the city.
According to the app, we saw 50 exhibitions over 5 days, and my son, I am happy to report, came with me every day. As we made our way through the many pavilions and galleries throughout the city, we had some of the best conversations about art, artists, culture, and society that I could have hoped for. Most importantly, this monumental exhibition is about the body, by-in-large from the perspective of women. This powerful contrast from the art of Florence was remarkable.
It is not possible to share all of the works that I found powerful, beautiful, and mind-changing, I am sharing our top 10 exhibitions.
1) Louise Nevelson: Persistence (Piazza San Marco) – I have never had the pleasure of seeing so much of Nevelson’s work in one place, and goes way beyond her black wooden structures to giant three dimensional collages.
2) Simone Leigh: Sovereignty (United States Pavillon, Giardini) For the first time in the history of the Biennale, the United States Pavilion featured an African American Woman.
3) The Republic of Azerbaijan, Exhibitors: Zhuk, Infinity, Ramina Saadatkhan, Fidan Novruzova, Fidan Akhundova, Sabiha Khankishiyeva, Agdes Baghirzade (Piazza San Marco)
Seven artists presented stunning sculpture, painting and video presentations.
Video of All is sacred, 2022, installation, digital media by Infinity
This video shows my son and me standing in a room of mirrors with a kaleidoscope-like media experience unfolding around us.
5) Francis Alÿs, Belgium, The Nature of the Game (Giardini) France Ayls visited dozens of countries and made films of children playing games, many of which were invented from simple sticks and stones, or just their voices. Each film shows the creative way the children find to play, even in the most dire of situations. In one video, the children in the Congo make a game of humming the tone of the mosquitos and use the game to keep the insects at bay. In another, the children have renamed “tag” to “contagion” and play at passing COVID to each other while they run on the playground wearing masks in South America.
6) Gian Maria Tosatti, Italy: Storia della notte d destino delle vomente (Arsenale) History of Night and Destiny of Comets is an installation by Gian Maria Tosatti (Arsenale) is an eerie depiction of the fall of the industrial revolution in Italy through amazing rooms showing abandoned factories that appear to have been left moments before by the workers.
7) Dixit Algorizmi: Garden of Knowledge (Republic of Uzbekistan, Arsenale) A room full of mirrored floors, a self-playing piano, and Spanish moss floating in the air like clouds.
8) Barbara Kruger, Beginning, Middle, End This vast room of signs and videos covering the walls and floor is a commentary on social media and politics in America.
9) Robertas Narkus, Gut Feeling, Lithuanian Pavilion This video features David Zilber, a renowned chef from Copenhagen, discussing fermentation whilst in a bathtub. The room includes hanging seaweed and machinery.
10) Anselm Kiefer (Palazzo Ducale) While not part of the Biennale, this exhibition is a must see. Commissioned by the Palace to cover the walls of 15th century art, these works are astounding.