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Arrivederci Venezia! Last Chance to See the Best Pavilions in the 59th Venice Biennale

Spectators visiting the National Pavilions of the 59th Venice Biennale in the Giardini


By PAUL LASTER, November 2022

La Biennale di Venezia, which opened to the public on April 23 and runs through November 27, is a thought-provoking, visual delight. The 59th Biennale Arte features 80 National Participations in the historic Pavilions at the Giardini, at the Arsenale and in the city center of Venice. But even the most diehard visitor would say, “That’s a lot to see.” After multiple viewings and months of consideration, we’ve made our picks for the best pavilions, which you can catch during the last month in a day.


Invitation of the Soft Machine and Her Angry Body Parts

Jakob Lena Knebl and Ashley Hans Scheirl at the Austrian Pavilion 

One of the most colorful pavilion presentations this year, “Invitation of the Soft Machine and Her Angry Body Parts'' at the Austrian Pavilion features surreal sculptures, trippy installations and groovy fashions by Jakob Lena Knebl and fantastic photocollages, neo-pop paintings and theatrical displays by Ashley Hans Scheirl. Infusing the symmetrical architecture of the Austrian pavilion with issues of identity in a camp, counterculture way, these two talents make a walk on the wild side pure fun.


Com o coração saindo pela boca

Jonathas de Andrade at the Brazilian Pavilion 

Equally as entertaining, Jonathas de Andrade’s exhibition at the Brazilian Pavilion, titled “Com o coração saindo pela boca,” which translates from Portuguese as “with the heart coming out of the mouth,” takes popular Brazilian expressions that metaphorically refer to parts of the body as its point of departure. Visualizing phrases like “eye of the storm” and “wood face,” the artist welcomed viewers into the show through a big ear entryway and then filled the pavilion with giant, cutout photocollages, videos and sculptures of body parts that are animated with motors and motion and informed with witty wall texts.


 We Walked the Earth

Uffe Isolotto at the Danish Pavilion 

A bit darker but just as magical, Uffe Isolotto presents a mythological look at Danish country life in his intriguing installation “We Walked the Earth” at the Danish Pavilion. Centered around a family of centaurs, the exhibition turns the pavilion into a sci-fi farmhouse full of doom and gloom. The larger-than-life male centaur is found hanging by the neck of his human torso with his horse legs and body dangling below, while thefemale centaur is seen collapsed on the stable floor after having given birth to a centaur child. A lens into a make-believe world of the past, it strangely points to a possible future that most of us hope to avoid.


 Between Sunrise and Sunset

Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim at the UAE Pavilion 

Consisting of 128 papier-mâché sculptures, handmade from colored paper and embedded with bits of grass, dirt, leaves, tea, coffee and tobacco, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim’s playful “Between Sunrise and Sunset”

Installation shifts in shades of color—from bright yellow, reds, greens and blues to somber browns, black and whites as one views it while walking through the space of the UAE Pavilion. Inspired by the spirit of Khor Fakkan, Ibrahim’s hometown, where the rocky Hajar Mountains meet the sparkling seas of the Gulf of Oman, the self-taught artist’s accumulation of lively tree-like structures highlight his compulsive yet intuitive sense of repetition, variation and humor, which are signature elements of his work.


 Les rêves n'ont pas de titre

Zineb Sedira at the French Pavilion 

Theatrical yet powerfully political, Zineb Sedira’s installation at the French Pavilion, titled “Les rêves n'ont pas de titre,” which translates in English as “Dreams have no titles,” takes a look back at the three places that have influenced the artist: France, where she was born; Algeria, where her parents came from; and England, where she lives. Employing live performance, elaborate stage sets and a film, the exhibition takes viewers down a metaphorical memory lane, where issues of colonization, racism and economic suppression are confronted and conveyed in a way that should stimulate change.


 Feeling Her Way

 Sonia Boyce at the British Pavilion 

Structured around five Black female musicians (singers Poppy Ajudha, Jacqui Dankworth, Sofia Jernberg, Tanita Tikaram and composer Errollyn Wallen), Sonia Boyce’s “Feeling Her Way” at the British Pavilion presents videos of the women improvising, interacting and playing with their voices. Projected on monitors overlaid on the artist’s patterned wallpaper and viewed from her golden geometric seating sculptures, the work is about experimentation, about these five creative women feeling their way, which may be why it caught the fancy of the jury who awarded it the Golden Lion for Best National Participation in the 59th Venice Biennale.


After Dreams: I Dare to Defy the Damage

Zsófia Keresztes at the Hungarian Pavilion

Inspired by philosophical and literary sources, Zsófia Keresztes’ marvelous sculptural installation, “After Dreams: I Dare to Defy the Damage” at the Hungarian Pavilion, takes viewers through the various stages of one’s search for identity. Consisting of mystical, mosaic sculptures of abstract, amorphous, melting shapes, which are sited throughout the pavilion and connected by chains, the exhibition starts with a large-scale sculpture that leads one through an erotic passageway surrounded by eyes. Sparked by a 1937 novel about a honeymooner in Venice, who hopes to rekindle a childhood memory of seeing the Ravenna mosaics in the Basilica di San Marco, the artist’s visual and psychological fantasy lets our imaginations run wild in her dreamlike realm.



Yunchul Kim at the Korean Pavilion

An artist and electronic music composer, Yunchul Kim has dynamically transformed the Korean Pavilion with a fascinating series of large-scale kinetic sculptures and a site-specific wall drawing. Inspired by a Yeats poem related to the 1918 flu pandemic, Kim‘s exhibition “Gyre” takes its point of departure from a line in the poem, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre,” which leads to anarchy being “loosed upon the world.” At the center of Kim’s futuristic realm is a giant, snakelike structure that gyrates and glows like a living organism, which is under control for now but always at risk for its dormant danger.


The Teaching Tree

Muhannad Shono at the Saudi Arabian Pavilion

Presenting a single sculpture that’s 131 feet (40 meters) long, Muhannad Shono’s “The Teaching Tree” is by far the best national pavilion in the Arsenale. A shaggy, organically formed structure made of palm fronds painted in black and animated by pneumatics, Shono’s striking sculpture in the Saudi Pavilion references the drawn line—a point of departure for most of his work. Inspired by stories of Al Khidr, aka the Green Man, Shono uses his drawings, sculptures and installations to explore notions of rebirth, regeneration and healing. Representing the line as a means to create or censor, the artist champions the positive impact of drawing, writing and unrestricted generation of thought.



Simone Leigh at the American Pavilion

Offering a new body or work that was specifically made for the United States Pavilion, Simone Leigh’s “Sovereignty” show begins with her transformation of the classic, Palladian-style building into a thatched roof structure, reminiscent of a 1930s West African palace—like one at the historic 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition—and her presentation of the massive bronze “Satellite,” inspired by a traditional African D’mba sculpture. Inside, Leigh has a sparse display of her stylish, pared down ceramic, bronze and raffia sculptures, which shrewdly combine critiques of colonialism with issues of identity and gender. WM


Paul Laster

Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.



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