Welcome to Venice: the shows you won’t want to miss at the 60th Biennale

As the art fair throws open its doors to the world with an emphatic message of diversity and inclusion, Jessica Lack presents the highlights of what’s on show, from must-see national pavilions to compelling collateral exhibitions

Installation view of Berlinde De Bruyckere: City of Refuge III, on show at the 60th Venice Biennale 2024

Berlinde De Bruyckere: City of Refuge III in the church of San Giorgio Maggiore. © Berlinde De Bruyckere. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Mirjam Devriendt

The title of the 60th Venice Biennale is Foreigners Everywhere, which strongly suggests a broad remit of inclusivity and diversity. These days, the seven-month festival of art is so vast that almost anything can be said of it, but the main message of this year’s international exhibition is that cultural creativity has been enriched by migrants — those pioneering spirits who upped and left.

With strong representation from Africa, Asia and Latin America, a new light is cast on the politics of migration. In the Moroccan-French artist Bouchra Khalili’s film installation The Mapping Journey Project, for instance, refugees from the global south map their odysseys north and recount the Kafkaesque hoops they have had to jump through to reach their destinations.

Rubem Valentim, Pintura 2, 1964, from Foreigners Everywhere at the 60th Venice Biennale 2024

From Foreigners Everywhere: Rubem Valentim, Pintura 2, 1964. Tempera on canvas. 70 x 50 cm. Ana Paula and Jose Luiz Vianna Collection, São Paulo, Brazil. Photo: Matteo de Mayda. Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Painting and collective action dominate Foreigners Everywhere, which is spread across the Central Pavilion (in the Giardini) and the Arsenale. Curator Adriano Pedrosa has brought many indigenous and self-taught artists into the field of vision, with works including the hard-edged abstractions of Brazilian artist Rubem Valentim and the textiles of the Argentine weavers’ collective Silät. Installations by the direct-action feminist group Claire Fontaine and others reveal how indigenous, migrant and queer voices have fought for recognition over the years.

The pick of the pavilions

Stories of marginalised groups also spill out into the Giardini, where the national pavilions are situated. Archie Moore’s account of 65,000 years of Aboriginal history is writ large across the walls of the Australian Pavilion, while documents detailing the hundreds of deaths of indigenous people in custody are stacked neatly at its centre. (On 20 April it was announced that Moore has won the Golden Lion prize for Best National Participation at the 60th International Art Exhibition. He is the first Australian to win the award at Venice.)

Archie Moore, kith and kin, 2024, at the Australian Pavilion, the 60th Venice Biennale 2024

At the Australian Pavilion: Archie Moore, kith and kin, 2024. Photo: Andrea Rossetti. © The artist. Image courtesy of the artist and The Commercial

Yael Bartana’s pulsing UFO brings some otherworldly light to the German Pavilion, where the central room is dominated by a crepuscular structure devised by stage designer Ersan Mondtag, which recreates his grandfather’s apartment in Germany. Everything is coated in a fine, grey dust, a reference to the asbestos factory where his grandfather worked, which eventually killed him.

At the British Pavilion, John Akomfrah’s elegiac sound-and-film installation Listening All Night To The Rain navigates the complexities of migration, colonialism, police brutality and climate change through a series of ‘cantos’. An inscription above the entrance reads: ‘Listen to everything until it all belongs together, and you are part of it.’ Somehow it coalesces magically.

Wael Shawky, Drama 1882 (2024), At the Egyptian Pavilion, the 60th Venice Biennale 2024

At the Egyptian Pavilion: Wael Shawky, Drama 1882 (2024). © Wael Shawky. Courtesy of Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Lisson Gallery, Lia Rumma, and Barakat Contemporary

Wael Shawky’s theatrical spectacular Drama 1882, in the Egyptian Pavilion, recounts the story of the Urabi revolution — a nationalist uprising against the British — in suitably operatic form. Against a gloriously painted backdrop, singers act out a litany of colonial intrigue, betrayal and slaughter.

Finally, the Japanese Pavilion is a magical laboratory of ingenious invention by Yuko Mohri, inspired by workers on the Tokyo underground who attempted to stop floodwater from leaking onto the train tracks with an array of Heath Robinsonesque contraptions. While alluding to the environmental crisis facing the planet, the artist brings a little levity to the subject through these humble creations.

Collateral events: five must-see shows

It was the musician Nick Cave’s potent ability to intimate the end times that inspired Berlinde De Bruyckere to name her ongoing exhibition series after his song City of Refuge. The artist’s pallid-grey, flesh-toned forms, created using wax, rotting blankets and animal skins, are on show in the magnificent church of San Giorgio Maggiore, adding a frisson of Catholic psychodrama to the undertones of raw emotion.

Installation view of Berlinde De Bruyckere: City of Refuge III, on show at the 60th Venice Biennale 2024

Installation view of Berlinde De Bruyckere: City of Refuge III in the church of San Giorgio Maggiore. © Berlinde De Bruyckere. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Mirjam Devriendt

Willem de Kooning and ItalyGallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia

Willem de Kooning first began sculpting in Rome in 1969, and it became an important aspect of his practice. Clay gave him the freedom to keep experimenting once a painting was finished, reconfiguring and repeating forms, and playing with tensions between figuration and abstraction. This exhibition of paintings and sculptures from the 1950s to the 1980s celebrates the artist’s restless energy — something he once described as ‘no fear but a lot of trembling’.

Installation view of Willem de Kooning and Italy, on show at the 60th Venice Biennale 2024

Installation view of Willem de Kooning and Italy, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. Photo: Matteo de Fina, 2024. © 2024 The Willem de Kooning Foundation, SIAE

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A retrospective of the artist’s wintry abstractions that dig deep into the modern psyche. Ranged across two floors of the Palazzo Grassi, her furious black and white paintings have a graphic intensity, while her colour works spin with the madcap ferocity of a Looney Tunes cartoon character. Here they are seen alongside work by the artists and writers Nairy Baghramian, Huma Bhabha, Robin Coste Lewis, Tacita Dean, David Hammons, Paul Pfeiffer and Jessica Rankin.

Julie Mehretu, Invisible Line (collective), 2010-2011, on show at the 60th Venice Biennale 2024

Julie Mehretu, Invisible Line (collective), 2010-2011, Pinault Collection. Installation view of Julie Mehretu. Ensemble at Palazzo Grassi, Venice. Photo: Marco Cappelletti © Palazzo Grassi, Pinault Collection

William Kentridge: Self-Portrait as a Coffee-PotArsenale Institute for Politics of Representation

The South African artist grapples with his Marxist past in a witty and thought-provoking film and physical installation that sees performers strut a makeshift stage as Lenin, Kazimir Malevich and a host of other Russian revolutionaries conjured up by Kentridge for his own philosophical debate.

William Kentridge, Self-Portrait as a Coffee Pot, Episode 8, 2022, on show at the 60th Venice Biennale 2024

Still from William Kentridge, Self-Portrait as a Coffee Pot, Episode 8: Oh To Believe in Another World, 2022. HD Video, 31 min 23 sec. Courtesy William Kentridge Studio

Jean Cocteau: The Juggler’s RevengePeggy Guggenheim Collection

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Surrealist Manifesto, so it is fitting that the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is celebrating the man who was undoubtably the most charismatic figure in that movement. Jean Cocteau was the enfant terrible who seduced the French literary scene at the precocious age of 18. Famous for his beautiful lovers, Raymond Radiguet and Jean Marais, and his prodigious output of plays, poetry, films, drawings, paintings, stage sets, murals, and even jewellery designs (some produced under the destructive haze of opium), Cocteau had a full and creative life. This exhibition plays homage to his spellbinding personality.

Jean Cocteau, Fear Giving Wings to Courage (La Peur donnant les ailes au Courage), 1938, at the 60th Venice Biennale 2024

Jean Cocteau, Fear Giving Wings to Courage (La Peur donnant les ailes au Courage), 1938. Graphite, chalk, and crayon on cotton. 154.9 x 272.1 cm. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of Mr Cornelius Ruxton Love Jr. © Adagp / Comité Cocteau, Paris, by SIAE 2024

Foreigners Everywhere, the 60th International Art Exhibition, curated by Adriano Pedrosa, will take place from 20 April to 24 November 2024. The exhibition will also include 88 national pavilions — among them Biennale debuts from Benin, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Timor Leste — at the Giardini, the Arsenale and throughout the city. Additionally, 30 collateral events will take place in several locations around Venice.

Christie’s is a supporting partner of the British Council commission, Listening All Night To The Rain, on show at the British Pavilion

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