Clockwise from top left Alberto Burri, Grande Plastica, Grottarossa, 1962 © Aurelio Amendola; Georg Baselitz (b.1938), Schlafzimmer (Bedroom), 1975. Oil and charcoal on canvas.

The must-see exhibitions at the 2019 Venice Biennale

As the 58th Venice Art Biennale gets under way, we highlight the best collateral exhibitions around the city

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  • Jannis Kounellis A posthumous celebration of the Greek-Italian pioneer of Arte Povera


Portrait of Jannis Kounellis, Galleria Gian Enzo Sperone, Torino 1971. Photo © Paolo Mussat Sartor

Portrait of Jannis Kounellis, Galleria Gian Enzo Sperone, Torino 1971. Photo © Paolo Mussat Sartor

The first major retrospective dedicated to the Greek-born Italian artist since his death in 2017, this is also the first monographic show to be staged in the Prada Foundation’s 18th-century Grand Canal palazzo, which opened to the public in 2011 and made its mark with a series of edgily conceptual multi-artist shows. 

Curated by elder art statesman Germano Celant — progenitor of the term ‘Arte Povera’, a movement with which Jannis Kounellis (1936-2017) was closely associated — the exhibition will bring together 70 works from 1958 to 2016, from museums and international collections.

Jannis Kounellis (1936-2017), Untitled 1975-1986. Veduta della mostra Jannis Kounellis A Retrospective in Five Locations, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 17 October 1986-4 January 1987 (Sede West Ontario). Photo Claudio Abate

Jannis Kounellis (1936-2017), Untitled 1975-1986. Veduta della mostra Jannis Kounellis: A Retrospective in Five Locations, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 17 October 1986-4 January 1987 (Sede West Ontario). Photo: Claudio Abate

The dialogue between the late baroque palazzo of Ca’ Corner della Regina and Kounellis’s restless, classically influenced explorations of archaic materials and processes is a key element: the frescoed and stuccoed central rooms on the first and second floors will host a series of large installations, including the gravity-defying ‘hanging wardrobes’ the artist originally conceived for Palermo’s Palazzo Riso in 1993. Fondazione Prada, 11 May–24 November

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  • Georg Baselitz The Accademia looks back at the German artist’s six-decade career

Georg Baselitz (b.1938), Schlafzimmer (Bedroom), 1975. Oil and charcoal on canvas. 98½ x 78¾ in (250 x 200 cm). Courtesy of Georg Baselitz Treuhandstiftung

Georg Baselitz (b.1938), Schlafzimmer (Bedroom), 1975. Oil and charcoal on canvas. 98½ x 78¾ in (250 x 200 cm). Courtesy of Georg Baselitz Treuhandstiftung

The German Figurative Expressionist famous for his upside-down portraits is the first living artist to be granted an exhibition in the august halls of Venice’s Accademia gallery. Curated by Kosme de Barañano, Baselitz — Academy  will trace the 60-year career of the artist through paintings, sculptures and works on paper. What will distinguish this from past Baselitz retrospectives, says de Barañano, is its focus on ‘the influence that Italy has had on the artist’s work’.

Although Germany was his main base until he moved to Austria in 2013, Baselitz (b. 1938) spent several years living and working in Tuscany in the 1970s and 1980s. This period, and an earlier scholarship stint at the Villa Romana in Florence, will be explored in a series of rarely displayed works that also aims to chart Baselitz’s debt to the classical academy system. Gallerie dell’Accademia, until 8 September

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  • AFRICOBRA The black artists’ collective comes to the Gothic palazzo Ca’ Faccanon

Wadsworth Jarrell (b. 1929), Boss Couple, 1970. Acrylic on canvas. 36 x 30 in. Courtesy of the artist and Kavi Gupta

Wadsworth Jarrell (b. 1929), Boss Couple, 1970. Acrylic on canvas. 36 x 30 in. Courtesy of the artist and Kavi Gupta

Named by curator Ralph Rugoff as one of 2019’s unmissable collateral events, AFRICOBRA: Nation Time  is a survey of the 1960s Chicago black artists’ collective. Curated by Jeffreen Hayes, it builds on AFRICOBRA: Messages to the People, which premiered at MOCA North Miami during Art Basel Miami 2018.

If, today, we associate vibrant ‘cool-ade’ colours, fat psychedelic fonts, patterns drawn from African textiles and defiant ‘black and proud’ poses with a certain late-1960s and early-1970s black liberation aesthetic, it has a lot to do with the group of artist-activists that formed on Chicago’s South Side in 1968. Tracing the history of the collective and its reverberation in the art scenes of Washington, New York and Lagos, Nation Time  should riff engagingly with its surroundings, the stuccoed halls of a Gothic palazzo near the Rialto. Ca’ Faccanon, 11 May–24 November

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  • Alberto Burri The evolution of the artist’s methods and materials is examined at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini


Alberto Burri, Plastica, 1964. Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri.  © AurelioAmendola

Alberto Burri, Plastica, 1964. Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri. © AurelioAmendola

The Fondazione Giorgio Cini on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore can always be relied on to stage a satisfying show during the Art Biennale, and its 2019 offering looks to be no exception. Fifty works chosen by curator Luca Massimo Barbero will chart the artistic evolution of Umbrian-born abstract painter Alberto Burri (1915-1995), from his first tar-and-glue works through the ‘sack’ paintings of the mid-1950s to the Cellotex monochromes. Organised in collaboration with Tornabuoni Art, Burri, Painting, Irreducible Presence  is the last in a series of commemorative exhibitions that began in 2015 with the Guggenheim survey The Trauma of PaintingFondazione Giorgio Cini, 10 May–28 July

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  • James Lee Byars The artist’s enduring influence is explored in the baroque church of the Visitation

James Lee Byars, The Death of James Lee Byars, 1994. Gold leaf, plexiglas and Swarovski crystals. 602 x 560 x 485 cm. Vanhaerents Art Collection, acquired in 1996 © Michael Werner Gallery, The Estate of James Lee Byars; Marie-Puck Broodthaers

James Lee Byars, The Death of James Lee Byars, 1994. Gold leaf, plexiglas and Swarovski crystals. 602 x 560 x 485 cm. Vanhaerents Art Collection, acquired in 1996 © Michael Werner Gallery, The Estate of James Lee Byars; Marie-Puck Broodthaers

The baroque church of the Visitation plays host to the second major exhibition presented by the Vanhaerents Art Collection outside of Belgium. The Death of James Lee Byars takes its cue (and its title) from a key work in the collection created by the eponymous artist while he was battling incurable cancer almost 25 years ago.

Back then the artist himself, wearing a trademark gold suit, lay like a corpse on the floor in a gold-lined box-like room. He was almost invisible, a motionless gilded chameleon. Now that the figure of the artist has been replaced by a golden sarcophagus (Byars died in 1997) the performance has become an installation, while the original memento mori  has been transformed into a kind of requiem.

Zad Moultaka, Vocal Shadows, 2019. 16 loudspeakers on pedestals, stereo audio in loop (audio cycles of 8 to 12 minutes) overall dimensions variable. In collaboration with IRCAM – Centre Pompidou. Commissioned by the Vanhaerents Art Collection

Zad Moultaka, Vocal Shadows, 2019. 16 loudspeakers on pedestals, stereo audio in loop (audio cycles of 8 to 12 minutes) overall dimensions variable. In collaboration with IRCAM – Centre Pompidou. Commissioned by the Vanhaerents Art Collection

On display alongside Byars’ intimate work will be an immersive audio installation by composer and visual artist Zad Moultaka. Commissioned for the 2019 Venice Biennale by the Vanhaerents Art Collection, Vocal Shadows  (2019) draws on the artist’s background in music and takes rituals of mourning as its central motif.

Curated by Walter Vanhaerents — founder of the Vanhaerents Art Collection, now housed in a 1920s warehouse in Brussels’ Dansaert district — the exhibition forms part of the Collection’s annual events and exhibition programme, which is dedicated to exploring the dialogue between the work of internationally established and upcoming artists. The Death of James Lee Byars, Chiesa di Santa Maria della Visitazione, 11 May-24 November