What You Should Know Before Heading to the Venice Biennale

7 July 2022

What You Should Know Before Heading to the Venice Biennale

Before heading to Venice for the Biennale, read the tips by art historian and curator Nico Epstein. Curated by Cecilia Alemani, this year´s 59th edition is titled Milk of dreams, after a book by Leonora Carrington in which the Surrealist artist describes a magical world wherein everyone can change, transform, become something or someone else. For the first time in its 127-year history, the Biennale includes a majority of women and gender non-conforming artists. The exhibition presents 213 artists from 58 countries, of which two thirds have never until now had their work in the International Art Exhibition.

Female artists strongly represent this year’s Venice Biennale. Can you point out those who, according to you, are worth following?

There certainly is a strong female presence at this year’s Biennale! Some highlights include Liliane Lijn, a British-American who at 82 is having a moment. Her practice is heavily influenced by André Breton and Surrealism. Her sculptures in the Arsenale had a cyborg-like feel to them, which played nicely into the themes of the show.

One has to mention Sonia Boyce in the UK Pavilion and Simone Leigh in the US Pavilion, these two won Golden Lions for best national pavilion and best contribution to the international exhibition respectively. In the Central Pavilion, a room devoted to the late Paula Rego deserves a visit. There is also an exhibition collateral to the Biennale, held by Victoria Miro at her Venice gallery.

Cecilia Vicuña's work in one of the Surrealism rooms is used for the merchandising campaign of the Biennale, and with good reason. Her oeuvre is recognisable, iconic and consistent, displaying continuity with the historical Surrealist works elsewhere in the exhibition.

At the previous Venice Biennale, there was quite a bit of video art displayed. Have you observed a common trend this year?  

Broadly speaking, we have seen more and more video art, holograms and digital media in the art world since the advent of the pandemic. That said – painting, sculpture and large-scale installations were more prominent in this year’s show, especially in contrast with the previous iteration. You get the sense that the curator Cecilia Alemani was trying to draw us away from screens and back into the realm of the tactile. Some noteworthy examples of video work include Hong Kong's collateral event Arise by Angela Su, the Belgian Pavilion with Francis Alÿs's videos, and the Icelandic Pavilion.

For you personally, which countries offered the strongest and most memorable presentation?

The Italian Pavilion presenting Gian Maria Tosatti is worthy of particular mention, Malta Pavilion with Arcangelo Sassolino, Cuba Pavilion showcasing Giuseppe Stampone. And many more such as Denmark, Germany, Japan, and Romania. Outside the main fair, the Hermann Nitsch exhibition at Oficine 800 on the island of Giudecca is worth a trip. Like Rego, Nitsch’s recent death was a tragedy for the art world.

Regarding the number of visitors and overall ambience, have you witnessed any changes due to post-covid travel challenges or the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict?

Yes, it was a common — and inevitable — topic of conversation among visitors during opening week. You could often hear people talking about it on the street. This didn’t diminish overall attendance. The Russia pavilion was closed and there were police stationed outside it. It was soul-warming that the Ukrainians were still able to have their own pavilion and a testament to their resilience in the face of conflict.

Nico Epstein, COO of Artvisor, Consultant for Frieze Art Fair, Art advisor and lecturer for EDUART EXPERIENCE

Nico Epstein is the COO of Artvisor, a London-based art consultancy focused on art curation, education and advice. Artvisor recently opened an exhibition of photography by Andy Warhol, now on view at their Mayfair space. With more than 10 years experience in the field of contemporary art, Epstein has helped arrange more than 20 exhibitions of contemporary art throughout Europe, New York and Hong Kong, focused mostly on artists of his generation. Epstein is a frequent lecturer on contemporary art at Christie’s Education in London, where he recently designed and taught the course ‘Navigating the Art Market Online.’ He has lectured on contemporary art and its markets at Bocconi, The Courtauld and University College London, as well as other leading universities.

Image 1: Liliane Lijn´s work at the Biennale.
Image 2: Cecilia Vicuna´s work at the Biennale.