Alex Da Corte, Rubber Pencil Devil, 2019. Mixed media

How to spend 72 hours at the Venice Biennale

As the greatest art show on earth gets underway, Jessica Lack makes a whistle-stop tour of the Giardini and the Arsenale to bring you the best of what’s on offer — from V to E

V is for Viva Brazil

Swinguerra  is Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca’s film homage to Brega funk and passinho dos maloka, two dance styles that originated in the favelas of Recife. It’s a sexy, bootylicious dance-off, featuring a group of gender non-binary performers who mesmerise with their physical power and appearance. The Brazilian Pavilion, Giardini

Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca, Swinguerra, 2019. Still from film, Courtesy Fundação Bienal de São Paulo

Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca, Swinguerra, 2019. Still from film, Courtesy: Fundação Bienal de São Paulo

E is for Eva Rothschild

Representing Ireland is the sculptor Eva Rothschild, whose cloth-covered geometric assemblages have been described by the artist as a ‘gone-wrong Ikea’. In fact, these bold cylinders in primary colours and stacks of pale pastel blocks are brilliantly engaging. The Shrinking UniverseIrish Pavilion, Arsenale

Eva Rosthchild, installation view, 2019 Irish Pavilion. Arsenale Docks, Venice

Eva Rosthchild, installation view, 2019 Irish Pavilion. Arsenale Docks, Venice

N is for neon

Looney Tunes and pop art — Alex Da Corte’s Rubber Pencil Devil  is a glorious technicolour film installation that’s as surreal as My Little Pony. A magical picture palace for the young at heart — but is it too good to be true? May You Live in Interesting Times Arsenale & Giardini

Alex Da Corte, Rubber Pencil Devil, 2019. Mixed media

Alex Da Corte, Rubber Pencil Devil, 2019. Mixed media

I is for inverted

In the mid-1960s George Baseltiz changed the way we look at art by inverting his paintings. Having lived through the Second World War as a child, he was well-placed to understand what it means to have your world turned upside down. This grand-scale retrospective at the Gallerie Academia — the first ever for a living artist — reveals just what a courageously powerful force he is. BaseltizAcademy, Gallerie dell'Accademia

George Baseltiz, Schlafzimmer (Bedroom), 1975, Gallerie dell’ Accademia, Venice

George Baseltiz, Schlafzimmer (Bedroom), 1975, Gallerie dell’ Accademia, Venice

C is for curse

The 58th Venice Art Biennale is curated by Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff, who has titled the show May You Live in Interesting Times — a reference to a supposed ancient Chinese curse which was popularised by the British statesman Sir Austen Chamberlain in the late 1930s in reference to the rise of fascism. Rugoff’s tightly curated show reflects on the state of our post-war order and the precarious nature of our existence. May You Live in Interesting TimesGiardini and Arsenale

E is for echo

Turner Prize-nominated artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s film Walled Unwalled  is a forensic assessment of the ways in which sound has been used to intimidate prisoners. Shot in the old studios where East German state radio was once broadcast, the film explores the ability of sound to seep through walls. May You Live in Interesting TimesGiardini

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Walled UnWalled, 2019

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Walled UnWalled, 2019

B is for Barca Nostra

Moored alongside the Arsenale is the wreckage of a fishing vessel that sank in the Mediterranean in 2015, killing more than 700 migrants who were trapped on board. The disaster — one of the deadliest shipwrecks in living memory — is memorialised by artist Christoph Büchel, who brings our collective responsibility into focus with this symbol of human tragedy. May You Live in Interesting TimesArsenale Docks

Christoph Büchel, Barca Nostra, 2019. Arsenale
Christoph Büchel, Barca Nostra, 2019. Arsenale

I is for inside out

Representing Poland is the artist Roman Stańczak, who has reversed the natural order of things by turning a luxury jet inside out. The cockpit, on-board equipment and passenger seats are exposed, while the wings have been wrapped inside. The resulting installation is unquestionably disturbing. The Polish PavilionGiardini

Roman Stańczak, Flight, 2019. The Polish Pavilion

Roman Stańczak, Flight, 2019. The Polish Pavilion

E is for E.T. Mensah

The title of Ghana’s first-ever national pavilion is taken from the 1957 song Ghana Freedom, which was composed by highlife musician E.T. Mensah on the eve of the nation’s independence from Britain. Inside architect Sir David Adjaye’s curving galleries are six artists from Ghana and its diaspora, revealing a diverse artistic culture that includes the paintings of Lynette Yiadom Boakye and El Anatsui’s brilliant textured sculptures made from bottle tops and other recyclables. Ghana Freedom — Arsenale

Pavilion of Ghana, Ghana Freedom, 58. Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte, La Biennale di Venezia, May You Live In Interesting Times. Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Pavilion of Ghana, Ghana Freedom, 58. Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte, La Biennale di Venezia, May You Live In Interesting Times. Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia

N is for nuance

It is the tension between Luc Tuyman’s pale, quiet and restrained images and the cold, hard clarity with which he confronts the subject matter that creates such drama in his pictures. This large-scale exhibition of recent work deals with child abuse, the legacy of colonisation, disease, fascism, guilt and exploitation. Its eerie atmosphere is spine-chilling. Luc Tuymans: La PellePalazzo Grassi

Luc Tuymans, Turtle, 2007. Private Collection, Courtesy David Zwirner New YorkLondon. Installation view at The Palazzo Grassi, photography Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti

Luc Tuymans, Turtle, 2007. Private Collection, Courtesy David Zwirner New York/London. Installation view at The Palazzo Grassi, photography Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti

N is for Njideka Akunyili Crosby

The title of Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s exhibition of paintings is taken from the 1968 novel The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born  by the Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah, which evoked the lost ideologies of a generation of post-independence Africans. Akunyili Crosby’s portraits of Nigerian children, including members of her own family, reveal the complex histories of migration and dislocation experienced by diasporic communities. The Beautyful OnesVictoria Miro Venice, San Marco

A is for animatronic

In the Belgian Pavilion we find a spellbindingly perverse avenue for horror from the duo Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, who feed off our deepest psychoses with a group of automated mannequins, performing a series of stilted, jittery motions. From the knife-grinder to the fool, these dead-eyed dolls are uncanny in the truly Freudian sense. The Belgian PavilionGiardini

L is for lion

When Charlotte Prodger heard about a lioness displaying male-like characteristics, she travelled to Botswana in the hope of filming her. The result is SaFO5, a subtle mediation on identity, nationalism and queerness that traverses the territory of human behaviour. Scotland + Venice Presents Charlotte Prodger, Arsenale Docks

Charlotte Prodger, SaFO5, 2019. Installation view, the Scottish Pavilion, Arsenale Docks, Venice

Charlotte Prodger, SaFO5, 2019. Installation view, the Scottish Pavilion, Arsenale Docks, Venice

E is for expedition

Laure Prouvost’s much anticipated film Deep See Blue Surrounding You/Vois Ce Bleu Profond Te Fondre  begins as a road-trip from the French suburbs to Venice. Tempting as it might be to read this fluid odyssey through Europe as a paean to a politically fraught and increasingly fractured continent, it is too joyous, too elegiac and too magical to be defined. Perhaps the closest we can get is to say it is a journey to our unconscious from the belly of an octopus. The French Pavilion, Giardini

Laure Prouvost, Deep See Blue Surrounding You, film still, 2019. Courtesy Laure Prouvost, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Carlier Gebauer and Lisson Gallery
Laure Prouvost, Deep See Blue Surrounding You, film still, 2019. Courtesy Laure Prouvost, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Carlier Gebauer and Lisson Gallery