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    In an Old Venice Hospital, 10 Artists Explore the Hazy Space Between Cinema and Art

    In Italy, where masterpieces of 14th, 15th, and 16th-century art are as common as corner stores, you become extra aware of the newness of film—and reminded that the medium came of age with, and was shaped by, all the formal obsessions of the 20th century. With its technological constraints, rectangular screens, and vacuum-packed viewing conditions, there is a rigidity to film that, even in galleries and museums, can be hard to shake. 
    Very little is rigid in “Nebula,” an exhibition of new site-specific video installations staged alongside the 2024 Venice Biennale. To some extent, that’s owed to the building it occupies: the Complesso dell’Ospedaletto, a 16th-century church and hospital shaped, inside and out, by both the ornate architectural age of its creation and the many patchwork updates required to maintain it since. But more than that, the show reflects the organization behind it: Fondazione in Between Art Film. 
    Saodat Ismailova, Melted into the Sun (2024) in “Nebula,” Fondazione In Between Art Film at Complesso dell’Ospedaletto, Venice, 2024. Courtesy of the artist, and Fondazione In Between Art Film. Photo: Lorenzo Palmieri.
    Launched by Beatrice Bulgari in 2019, the nonprofit’s name tips us to its goals: this is an initiative dedicated to supporting works of time-based media that settle in the hazy mandorlas between overlapping mediums and genres. The foundation itself, which is technically based in Italy but operates itinerantly on a project-by-project basis, comfortably exists in such a space. “The term ‘In Between’ emerged from a question I had been grappling with: ‘Are we limited by the creative disciplines that have long existed, or can the convergence of artistic practices pave the way for new forms of expression?’” explained Bulgari, the foundation’s president. 
    Bulgari’s background is in cinema, where she worked for years as a costume designer, but it was an interaction with a cross-disciplinary documentary by the late, great Italian director Ermanno Olmi that inspired her interest in the muddy middle. The poetic film, Atto unico di Jannis Kounellis (2007), follows the eponymous artist as he installs a large, unwieldy sculpture made of metal, coal, stone, and animal products in Milan. “The film not only captured the process of creating the artwork but also Kounellis’s humor and spirit, along with the slow and often agonizing construction of the installation,” said Bulgari. “Olmi’s approach reflected his profound sensitivity and awareness of the fleeting nature of life, which was evident in his urgent need to communicate the details of the artwork.”
    Organized by Alessandro Rabottini, the foundation’s artistic director, and Leonardo Bigazzi, its curator, “Nebula” is a quasi-sequel to “Penumbra,” a similarly-sized exhibition held at the same venue during the 2022 Venice Biennale. The curatorial conceit of the earlier show was based on the condition suggested by its title, a word that connotes both the gradated rim of a shadow and the dim light that comes when evening wanes into night. 
    Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Until we became fire and fire us (2023–) in “Nebula,” Fondazione In Between Art Film at Complesso dell’Ospedaletto, Venice, 2024. Courtesy of the artists, and Fondazione In Between Art Film. Photo: Lorenzo Palmieri.
    “Nebula” derives from the Latin word for mist, and with the 2024 exhibition Rabottini and Bigazzi sought to conjure a similar atmosphere. “We came up with this idea of fog, the moment when your capacity to see is blurred,” said Rabottini. “Fog is very pervasive. You can’t touch or locate it, but it conditions your movements. Your sense of distance is not fully functioning, and you don’t know what surrounds you. You feel a little lost.”
    This is fertile territory for art, but the curators’ text for the show suggests the idea has broader implications for our time. “This exhibition deploys the image of fog as a metaphor for myriad different forms of disorientation, as a phenomenon that shifts from being atmospheric to become inner and collective—a mist that pervades not only the visual field but an entire epoch,” the passage, which appears in a booklet accompanying the show, reads. At the heart of this project, Rabottini and Bigazzi suggest, is a pair of paradoxical provocations: “Can a partial or obfuscated vision generate new meanings? Can uncertainty open up new spaces of mutual understanding?”
    Christian Nyampeta, When Rain Clouds Gather (2024) in “Nebula,” Fondazione In Between Art Film at Complesso dell’Ospedaletto, Venice, 2024. Courtesy of the artist, and Fondazione In Between Art Film. Photo: Lorenzo Palmieri.
    The show’s 10 artists go about tackling this prompt in manifold ways. Christian Nyampeta’s When Rain Clouds Gather (2024) follows a group of New York 30-somethings as they argue over art, activism, and the banal annoyances of daily life while the prospect of an invisible war looms. In Cinthia Marcelle and Tiago Mata Machado’s poetic reflection on displacement, Acumulacao Primitiva, a family sits amid what’s left of their destroyed home while a bulldozer pushes piles of dirt and a worker erects a white picket fence. It’s as if those responsible for razing the property are unaware that the inhabitants are still living there.
    Other artists aren’t afraid to get a little meta. That’s the case for Basir Mahmood’s and his film Brown Bodies in an Open Landscape Are Often Migrating, the show’s first and richest work. Working from social media-sourced footage, the three-screen video ostensibly attempts to recreate the journey of a migrant, but what it focuses on is the film crew supporting the production. As they sweat and yell across a baron desert landscape, a different vision of the migrant experience emerges. 
    Cinthia Marcelle and Tiago Mata Machado, Acumulação Primitiva (2024) in “Nebula,” Fondazione In Between Art Film at Complesso dell’Ospedaletto, Venice, 2024. Courtesy of the artists, and Fondazione In Between Art Film. Photo: Lorenzo Palmieri.
    There is, too, a meta-ness to Giorgio Andreotta Calo’s film Nebula (2024), which follows a sheep wandering the Complesso dell’Ospedaletto. In this case, though, the self-referentiality is pushed to surreal ends. Here, the sheep becomes the shepherd, we its flock. It leads through the halls of the abandoned building, slowly and aimlessly, stopping for the occasional nap. But the innocuousness of the ovine animal’s activity is undercut but an ominous droning soundtrack that suggests something sinister at play.
    Diego Marcon’s Fritz (2024) also explores the dissonance between sound and image. The short, looping film shows an animated boy hanging from a noose while trying to yodel. Whereas Calo’s film skews Lynchian, Marcon’s recalls the violent, uncanny work of Jordan Wolfson. 
    Giorgio Andreotta Calò, Nebula (2024) in “Nebula,” Fondazione In Between Art Film at Complesso dell’Ospedaletto, Venice, 2024. Courtesy of the artist, and Fondazione In Between Art Film. Photo: Lorenzo Palmieri.
    At this moment, Rabottini summed up, “we’re surrounded by the idea of being loud with a very clear message. But this show is about how difficult it is to locate certain things and how one needs to constantly exercise critical thinking in their search.” 
    There’s an irony to the way the curator so precisely articulates the sensation of disorientation. For Fondazione in Between Art Film, a relatively new organization still introducing itself to the world, “Nebula” succeeds with a similar trick. In conception and execution, the show makes for a clear-eyed introduction to the foundation’s mission—and that mission is to remain in the fog. 
    “I am interested in breaking down categories within the artistic field to explore how dialogue between artistic mediums can inspire innovative forms of creative expression,” said Bulgari.
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    British Pavillion Artist John Akomfrah Uses Water and Sound to Synthesize Big Ideas

    The Olympics-style structure of the Venice Biennale is special because it’s unique, but it is also unique for a reason: art and nationalism—even the soft, cultural kind—rarely align in their goals. This consideration was on Sir John Akomfrah’s mind as he prepared to represent the United Kingdom at the prestigious exhibition. 
    The 66-year-old artist, well-known for his poetic multi-screen film installations, has been considering the implications of his position. “It’s only once I said ‘yes’ that I thought, ‘Huh, John, so do you think people might be expecting you to be either super political or super obedient?” the affable artist recalled as if reenacting a conversation with himself. 
    John Akomfrah, “Listening All Night To The Rain,” British Pavilion, 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, 2024. Photo: Jack Hems
    Though he was born in Ghana, Akomfrah has lived in England since he was eight years old, and considers it home. The nation has embraced him as much as he’s embraced it: he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2008, then knighted last year. But that wasn’t always the case. For a long time, Akomfrah’s artistic and political identities were wrapped up in his status as an outsider—an immigrant, a leftist, a Black man—and his works have, at times, been critical of the country. Even when projects take him away from home, the context of the artist’s upbringing still peeks through, and the country—a force of the Global North—is implicated in his broader investigations of capitalism, colonialism, and climate change.
    Two of Akomfrah’s oldest preoccupations, he explained, are the questions of “becoming” and “inscription”—that is, in his words: “How beings come about and how they are written into histories, narratives, cultures.” He was born in Accra, Ghana in 1957, less than two months after the country declared independence from Britain. His father worked in the cabinet of socialist politician Kwame Nkrumah, who led the liberation effort and became the country’s first Prime Minister and President. But in the lead-up to a 1966 coup that unseated Nkrumah, Akomfrah’s father was killed, and he and his mother fled to London.
    John Akomfrah, “Listening All Night To The Rain,” British Pavilion, 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, 2024. Photo: Jack Hems
    In Africa, he was Ghanaian. In England, he was suddenly, simply, Black. Migrancy has continually been a theme coursing through the artist’s work. In some pieces, it is the overt focus; in others, an idea that hangs around the edges, glimpsed through insertions of his own autobiography, or cast as a metaphor for the broader conditions of displacement and otherness. Again and again, Akromfrah has arrived at the same sad paradox: the migrant experience is both uniquely isolating and increasingly universal.
    In 1982, Akomfrah and six other Portsmouth Polytechnic-educated students co-founded the Black Audio Film Collective (BAFC), a group united under the goal of examining Black British life through sound and moving pictures. After years of rangy, experimental projects, the cohort’s shared vision fully coalesced in 1986, when it released Handsworth Songs, a provocative documentary—directed by Akomfrah— about the 1985 riots in Birmingham and London. 
    Full of inventive mashups of song, still images, newsreel footage, and intimate interviews, Handsworth Songs was met with both praise and confusion. As is often the case with landmark artworks, the radicality of the film is hard to appreciate today as its innovations have, through time and the hands of imitators, been flattened into conventions. But it hasn’t lost its potency. Handsworth Songs resonates now both because the racial violence it depicts has again (and again and again) come to a head, and its influence is vast. (You can see it in the work of Arthur Jafa, say, who would later assist Akomfrah on the 1993 film Seven Songs for Malcolm X, or that of Steve McQueen, who represented Britain at the 2009 Venice Biennale.) 
    John Akomfrah, “Listening All Night To The Rain,” British Pavilion, 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, 2024. Photo: Jack Hems
    Compared to Akomfrah’s more recent, ruminative work, Handsworth Songs is taut and to the point. But in it, too, are the impulses that would later become hallmarks of the artist’s practice. More than a documentary about racial strife, the film is a portrait of a system that reinforces and profits from that strife. It opens with a shot of a big, whirring motor—a ruthlessly efficient apparatus of rhythmic clangs and gears that groan with every revolution: this is the sound of systemic disenfranchisement and racial violence humming right along.
    Since BAFC disbanded in 1988, Akomfrah’s work has continually grown bigger in budget, size, and scope. The last 15 years have, in particular, seen him pushing his distinct artistic language to increasingly ambitious ends. The artist’s first time showing at the Venice Biennale came in 2015, when his three-channel film Vertigo Sea (2015)—the first in an ultra-ambitious trilogy about humanity’s impact on the environment—was included in the main show organized by late Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor. The series’ second installment, the six-channel installation Purple (2017), premiered at London’s Barbican in 2018, while the third and final work, Four Nocturnes (2019), saw Akomfrah again return to the Biennale, this time across three screens in the inaugural Ghana Pavilion of 2019.
    John Akomfrah, “Listening All Night To The Rain,” British Pavilion, 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, 2024. Photo: Jack Hems.
    Akomfrah’s newest Venice project, Listening All Night to the Rain, is a culmination of these recent efforts and a dramatic leap forward. Commissioned and managed by the British Council, the show takes its name from the 11th-century Chinese writer Su Dongpo and comprises a series of eight interconnected multi-media installations called “Cantos.” The subtitles nod to Ezra Pound, but also the Latin root word for “song.” Sound has long been a critical element in Akomfrah’s practice, but here it is foregrounded like never before. On the artist’s mind of late has been the theory of “acoustemology,” a portmanteau of “acoustic” and “epistemology” coined by Steven Feld to express the ways in which sonics shape and mirror our culture. With this show and beyond, Akomfrah implores us to listen. In contrast to visuality, which is “about being in the present,” the artist says, “the act of listening always presupposes an elsewhere. Sound beckons from a beyond.”
    John Akomfrah, “Listening All Night To The Rain,” British Pavilion, 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, 2024. Photo: Jack Hems
    Canto I, a three-screen film, greets guests on the facade of the British Pavillion’s neo-classical building before the rest unfold over a sequence of intimate rooms accessed through the back. Each features distinct imagery and audio and takes on a different topic—Canto VI looks back at the mid-century independence movements of colonized countries in the Global South. Canto VIII revisits the Windrush generation of Caribbean immigrants that settled across England from the 1950s through the ‘70s—though recurring motifs blur them together, a murky memory or a half-remembered dream. Throughout are clocks, cages, oranges, and rubber ducks. Playing on the many poster-sized screens of Canto II are shots of a shallow stream rushing over pearls, roses, and old family photos. In Canto V is John Everett Millais’s 1851–52 painting of Ophelia clutching flowers while she drowns in a river. 
    As in Venice, there is water water everywhere in Listening All Night to the Rain. Akomfrah’s made this a prominent theme in past work, a way of looking at the history of the transatlantic slave trade or the effects of climate change, but here it functions as a “kind of vessel,” the artist says, then points to a controversial 1988 study by the French immunologist Jacques Benveniste which claimed that water physically retains memory. “If water doesn’t have memory, it certainly can be commandeered to speak poetically about questions of memory.”
    John Akomfrah, “Listening All Night To The Rain,” British Pavilion, 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, 2024. Photo: Jack Hems.
    Akromfrah knows that his participation in the Biennale is not an either/or proposition. Making the art he wants to make doesn’t necessarily mean betraying the aims of the country paying for him to make it—probably the opposite, in fact. For him, the question is more personal. How does the artist of today—Sir John Akomfrah, OBE—square his privileged, inside status with the outsider of his youth?
    “This is really the most complicated question for me, but also the simplest in a way. I realized quite early on that forces that shaped me would in some way be indicative of broader forces in the culture,” the artist said. “I haven’t changed my sense of pride or my belief in [the country] over the last 40 years. I’ve gone through moments of disenchantment with it, but disenchantment is what you feel after falling out of love with something. For me, the love has always been present.”
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    There Are a Ton of Shows to See Around the Venice Biennale—Here’s Our Take on What’s Worth Seeing (and What’s Not)

    There is an overwhelming amount of shows across Venice to see this week—some 30 official collateral events are on view, dozens of galleries have brought their own exhibitions, and there are a bunch of private museum foundation shows to see.
    Our team placed bets about what we thought would be exciting to see in the lagoon, but sometimes those expectations did not match up with reality. Here are our honest reviews.

    Pierre Huyghe’s “Liminal” at Punta della Dogana
    Pierre Huyghe Liminal (temporary title) (2024–ongoing). Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Marian Goodman Gallery, Hauser & Wirth, Esther Schipper, and TARO NASU © Pierre Huyghe, by SIAE 2023
    Expectation: Before it was one of the biggest trends in the art world, the French conceptual artist Pierre Huyghe was pushing the boundaries of fiction and reality. I was bowled over in 2014 when I stumbled into his exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in 2013, which saw the institution transformed: a dog with a pink leg roamed around a landscape made of a drywall; a hermit crab lurked in a foggy aquarium dragging his home, which was a Brancusi-like head. These live situations, where sculptures move and breathe and where representation in film bleeds into the real space of installation, arouses questions about humanity and the natural versus the synthetic. It was this trajectory that eventually brought Huyghe to the realms of artificial intelligence and machine learning, which are major themes in his new exhibition “Liminal” at Punta della Dogana. In his largest institutional solo show to date, a new film is changing and being edited in real-time by A.I. as performers circulate the institution donning golden LED screen masks.
    Reality: Amid all the decorative opulence of Venice, and off the back of all the very colorful art in the Giardini and Arsenale, the minimalism of “Liminal” was striking. You enter into the Punta della Dogana and are immediately immersed in near total darkness until your eyes adjust. That is just one of a few subtle interventions that have a huge effect, including gritty dirt that is suddenly under your feet in another gallery space.
    But Huyghe’s brand of minimalism here is also maximal—his video works are playing on the largest screens I have seen in years. The size of the show and the expanses of distance between the works is a flex in its own right and a testament to just how much real estate an artist of his stature can be given.
    Does he use it well? For the most part, yes, but the entire show begins to feel like a mausoleum that is visiting us from a distant future. That includes the aspect of the show I loved the least: performers who slowly emerge from dark corners with gimmicky golden masks on that look like they were pulled out of Netflix’s “3 Body Problem.” The same magic that I found in other shows by Huyghe is not there for me this round, but I will always come back for more.
    Rating: ★★★☆☆
    –Kate Brown
    “The Spirits of Maritime Crossing” at Palazzo Smith Mangilli Valmarana
    Jompet Kuswidananto, Terang Boelan (Moonshine) (2022), at “The Spirits of Maritime Crossing,” at Palazzo Smith Mangilli Valmarana. The work is in the collection of Bangkok Art Biennale Foundation. Courtesy the artist and Bangkok Art Biennale.
    Expectation: While the main exhibition at the Arsenale aims to shine a spotlight on the Global South and artists who were previously overlooked under the banner of “Foreigners Everywhere,” there’s still a large chunk of artists from Southeast Asia missing, according to Apinan Poshyananda, artistic director of the Bangkok Art Biennale. This exhibition, an official collateral event presented by the Bangkok Art Biennale Foundation and co-hosted by One Bangkok, aims to fill the gap.
    The exhibition features 40 works by 15 artists from across Southeast Asian including Cambodia, Laos, and Indonesia; most of the countries represented do not have pavilions. “As the oldest and most grandiose international event, the Venice Biennale continues to take center stage despite criticism of its outdated nation-based platform and the inherent power structure of rich and poor pavilions,” Poshyananda said in an earlier interview. He said this exhibition “can be a new model for future presentation that shifts away from national format and restrictive government control.”
    Reality: It is exciting to see the presentation of Southeast Asian artists in Venice, especially when most of them do not have a consistent presence in the national pavilions for financial and political reasons. At the same time, fitting these artists’ works in the historic Palazzo Smith Mangilli Valmarana seemed challenging.
    As such, some of the original power of a few works have inevitably been discounted due to the limitation of the architectural structure, such as Thai artist Jakkai Siributr’s There’s no Place (2020), an elaborate installation consisting of embroidery that thrived in an outdoor open space. But the bulk of works on view are nonetheless intriguing, and great examples of the diversity and versatility of Southeast Asian contemporary art scene. A particular highlight was the symbolic mixed media boxes from the series Jesus is condemned to death (2023), depicting the journey of Jesus carrying the cross by the Filipino artist Alwin Reamillo and the humorous and thought-provoking video works by the Bangkok-born Kawita Vatanajyankur, who turns her body into a toilet brush in The Toilet (2020).
    The titular video work (“The Spirits of Maritime Crossing” is also the name of a collaborative film by Poshyananda and Marina Abramović) did feel a little out of place. The works by Southeast Asian artists are strong enough to be the stars of the show, not overshadowed by an international name that people are already familiar with. Nevertheless, it is still an exhibition well worth seeing if you are in Venice.
    Rating: ★★★☆☆
    –Vivienne Chow

    “William Kentridge: Self-Portrait as a Coffee Pot” at the Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation
    “Self-portrait as a coffee pot.” Installation views. ‘William Kentridge. Self-Portrait as a Coffee-Pot‘, Arsenale Institute for Politics or Representation, Venice. ©️ William Kentridge. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2024. Courtesy the artist, Goodman Gallery, Galleria Lia Rumma and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zürich
    Expectation: The South African artist debuts a new series of 30 minute films made during lockdown that explores how rumination and conversation evolves into creative acts within the apparent confines of the studio. In some videos Kentridge often appears deep in conversation with himself, taking on some of life’s eternal themes like utopia, optimism, and history. Shown across two screens, the videos are housed on the ground floor within a custom immersive installation that brings the studio environment to Venice. On the top floor, in an apartment that once belonged to the German painter Oskar Schlemmer, the films are presented as one might watch them in the domestic sphere: on a laptop in the kitchen or on a TV in the bedroom.
    “His is an elegiac yet humorous art that explores the possibilities of poetry in contemporary society,” said the show’s curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. It “provides an acerbic commentary on our society, while proposing a way of seeing life as a continuous process of change and uncertainty rather than as a controlled world of facts.”
    Reality: Woven through with anecdote, observation, philosophical musings, and skits, the films feel genuinely expansive in their ambition, so much so that it might strike the viewer as a bit unusual—so often artists instead endeavor to define and contain the conceptual possibilities of their projects. Christov-Bakargiev’s curation is precise yet creates an impression of creative spontaneity that feels quintessentially Kentridge: the walls are curtained in newspaper clippings and there are smears of black paint and hastily scrawled notes on scraps of paper. A delightful set of handmade sculptures bring signature drawings like the coffee pot to life in three-dimensional form.
    Speaking at the show, Kentridge emphasized the studio as “a machine for working but also a subject,” which it often historically was. In this age of digital nomads, sites of creativity are often a bit sleeker and more portable. “This is very much an argument about the dirtiness and grittiness of paper, ink, charcoal, and human gesture, as opposed to just the action of your knuckles on a keyboard,” he said. “It’s either your wrist or elbow or shoulder or whole body in movement: both making but also a performance.”
    “These films are about the possibility of physical making as a way of thinking,” he added, “thinking in cardboard, thinking in ink, think in charcoal, allowing the hands and the material to lead the thinking. Ideas can be generated in the activity of making. The meaning comes at the end of the work, in the gap between the assumption of knowing and making the work. What actually comes out is who you are.”
    Rating: ★★★★★
    –Jo Lawson-Tancred

    Dread Scott’s “The All African People’s Consulate” at Castello Gallery
    Dread Scott, All African People’s Consulate (detail of participant with passport), 2024. Participatory installation. Courtesy of the artist and Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York.
    Expectation: Conceptual artist Dread Scott is interested in how one of the defining experiences of immigration can be reimagined to be more inclusive. In this new exhibition, he aims to invert the pinnacle of rigid, exclusionary nation-state bureaucracy—otherwise known as passport control—by making it a welcoming and collaborative process. Visitors to the consulate will interview with staff about their relationship to Africa. For those of African descent, the staff will offer them a personalized passport that facilitates their citizenship in a futurist, globalist community; others receive a visitor’s visa.
    The project echoes the Afrofuturist call for a union that draws together all Black people of Africa and its diaspora. But Scott takes this one step further and ultimately makes it a reality. In issuing his own passports at The All African People’s Consulate, he draws into existence a new state, one not dependent on land, exploitation, or violence, as most others have been. It might not be recognized by certain governments, but neither is Palestine and it and its people are no less real.
    Like in his Slave Rebellion Reenactment, an ongoing project started in 2014 that was filmed in 2019 by John Akomfrah, who represents the U.K. at this year’s biennial, Scott’s consulate concept re-envisions a world where Black and other marginalized people have the freedom of movement and right to exist that is automatically afforded to so many others (many of whom have white skin). Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine that a consulate, even a revolutionary one like Scott’s, could be exciting and few details about the performance work and its environs were given in advance.
    Reality: On the opening day of the exhibition, a speaker set up outside of the “office” was blasting Afrobeats and the vibe inside the space was buoyed by some snacks and fizz. I doubt that this energy will be consistent throughout the run of the exhibition, so be prepared to show up to what is essentially just a waiting room. Visitors will need to participate in the bureaucracy to understand the work, which ultimately is a strength of the artist’s concept.
    After checking in for an interview for a visa at the front desk, I loitered for about 30 minutes until my name was called and I was shown into a side room with a desk, a chair, and an inkjet printer. I was subject to a brief interview about my relationship to Africa, which, as a white citizen of the United States, is fraught: I have obviously structurally benefitted from the historical exploitation of the continent’s resources and people that undergirds everyday life in America. But the interview was conversational, not intimidating, and after a quick passport photograph, I had a freshly minted visa in my hands. Having also just renewed my U.K. visa, I can tell you that the consulate’s congeniality and expediency is a wonder.
    Rating: ★★★★☆
    –Margaret Carrigan

    “Jean Cocteau: The Juggler’s Revenge” at Peggy Guggenheim Collection
    Philippe Halsman, Jean Cocteau New York, USA. 1949 © Philippe Halsman / Magnum Photos.
    Expectation: This retrospective exhibition of Jean Cocteau, the renowned artist, writer, filmmaker, and multifaceted figure central to the French twentieth-century art scene, is not an official collateral event, yet what would Venice be without a visit to Peggy Guggenheim’s storied collection?
    Comprising over 150 works spanning various mediums including drawings, graphics, jewelry, tapestries, historical documents, books, magazines, photographs, documentaries, and films, the exhibition promises to showcase Cocteau’s remarkable versatility as an artistic “juggler.”
    The exhibition’s titular “revenge,” appears to allude to the criticism Cocteau faced during his lifetime for what some viewed as over-extension across various pursuits. However, curator Kenneth E. Silver remarks in his exhibition text that contemporary artists are now expected to demonstrate such multihyphenate cultural adaptability. Considering also Cocteau’s modern sensibility in being open about his homosexuality, and the contemporary resonance of his public struggle with opium addiction, Silver suggests dryly: “Perhaps the world has finally caught up with Jean Cocteau.”
    Reality: While there’s no doubt that Cocteau’s fascinating life and work deserves more recognition, the exhibition feels somewhat slight. Discoveries included an anonymous book of erotic cartoons detailing Cocteau’s love for men, and I added the 1932 film The Blood of a Poet—starring Lee Miller as a classical statue—to my watch list. Aside from that, some of the ephemera, and examples of his collaborations with brands like Schiaparelli felt like filler, and the setting isn’t the comfiest one in which to watch the entirety of La Belle et La Bête. In the panorama of what’s on view in Venice, I’d vote skip.
    Rating: ★★☆☆☆
    –Naomi Rea
    “Boris Lurie: Life With The Dead” at Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista
    Boris Lurie, Three Women (1957). Photo: © Boris Lurie Art Foundation.
    Expectation: Born in the Soviet Union in 1924 to a Jewish family, Lurie lost his sister, mother, and grandmother to the Holocaust but managed to survive imprisonment in a concentration camp. By the time he settled in New York in 1946, he found himself living amid the memories of the dead. This unique perspective pushed him towards making subversive political work and he remained on the fringes of an art world obsessed with consumerism and conceptualism.
    Lurie always brought our attention back to the darker sides of humanity with his anti-market movement “NO!art,” co-founded in the 1960s. He was boldly unafraid to shock audiences, making collages, sculptures, and paintings filled with explicit references to Nazism, including the use of swastikas and yellow “Jude” stars. The critic Harold Rosenberg once described NO!art’s shows as “Pop with venom added.”
    Though he was a regular on the New York scene, Lurie’s work has had particular resonance in Germany. The Center for Persecuted Arts in the German town of Soligen is dedicated to artists who were historically suppressed by the Nazis or the GDR (East Germany). It has organized this exhibition to celebrate the centenary of Lurie’s birth.
    Reality: These dense collages, which mix painting, magazine clippings, and found objects, pack some punch, alternating in surprising ways between dark humor and uncomfortable examinations of brutality. Or both at once, as in one archival photograph of a frail Holocaust victim in a concentration camp that is casually labelled From a happening, 1945, by Adolf Hitler (1969). Though the intention is to protest an increasingly commercial West that was moving on too quickly from the horrors of World War 2, references to Pop Art and “happenings” skewer the midcentury New York art scene more obviously than society at large. Some works took aim at political enemies within America and expressed outrage over what he saw as the government’s complicity in the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the first freely elected president of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1963.
    Lurie’s warnings about the tempting trap of forgetting history’s hardest lessons in favor of fun and fanciful distractions are timeless but some of his more moralizing reprimands are not. The gratuitous overuse of pornographic images of women, allegedly to condemn their exploitation, rings false and feels instead like its own form of exploitation and chastisement. Nonetheless, the show is impeccably well put together and I was happy to learn about the NO!art movement because it is always amusing to watch obscure art world infighting.
    Rating: ★★★☆☆
    –Jo Lawson-Tancred

    “Breasts” at ACP Palazzo Franchetti
    Laure Prouvost, The Hidden Paintings Grandma Improved, In Deepth © Laure Prouvost Courtesy Lisson Gallery
    Expectation: The group show curated by Carolina Pasti has great ingredients on paper: works by artists including Louise Bourgeois, de Chirico, Cindy Sherman and many more, all loosely united in their depictions of the titular subject.
    Reality: Yes, it’s sponsored by fast fashion lingerie brand Intimissimi, but I came in with the most open mind and best of intentions. According to the press release, “the presentation investigates how breasts act as a catalyst to discuss socio-political realities, challenge historical traditions and express personal and collective identities,”—and I mean, who doesn’t love boobs? But wow, this show is shockingly bad. The entrance’s long red hallway of boob-shaped ceiling lights, a contribution by London-based designers Buchanan Studio is titled—I kid you not—“Booby Trap” and it sets the tone.
    From there each room is loosely tied to an alleged theme; whatever those might be, the first room was tasteful nudes of white women (the Cindy Sherman was a highlight, de Chirico’s treacly portrait of what looks like Martha Stewart was a low); the second room was a vitrine of small sculptures; the third room was photographic nudes of not white women; and the third room that we’ll call a wildcard of no discernible theme included Chloe Wise, Laure Prouvost, fiber art, and my own sinking disappointment.
    The one saving grace is that it’s sort of for a good cause—thirty percent of catalog proceeds go to cancer research at Fondazione IEO-MONZINO—but you’d be better off sending donations directly.
    Rating: ★★☆☆☆
    –Janelle Zara
    Christoph Büchel’s “Monte di Pietà” at the Fondazione Prada
    Christopher Büchel, The Diamond Maker (2022-). Photo courtesy of Fondazione Prada.
    Expectation: The Swiss provocateur is no stranger to courting controversy at Venice. In 2019, he debuted Barca Nostra (Our Boat), the recovered wreck of a barge that sank in the Mediterranean in 2015, killing 1,100 migrants trying to make their way to Sicily. Taboo-breaking work is generally celebrated in the art world, but this divisive piece was seen by many as a step too far. Members of the art world described the work as “haunting” and “absolutely vile.”
    Thankfully, Büchel’s latest venture is more diamanté than disquieting. Hosted at Palazzo Ca’ Corner della Regina, “Monte di Pietà” rifts on one of the venue’s earlier functions as a pawnshop with reasonable interest rates that served as an antidote to loan sharks between 1834 and 1969. Inspired, Büchel has decided to explore how debt continues to be used as a means of power and suppression.
    At the show’s center is The Diamond Maker, an ongoing project since 2022 that takes aim at the art market’s materialistic approach to constructing value. Büchel has been making lab-grown diamonds by applying heat and high pressure to extracts of organic matter from his unsold artworks and his own feces. That surely won’t put off the avaricious art world, which is lured in less by shiny surfaces than the slightest whiff of anything that claims to be transgressive.
    Reality: The show did not open on time in vernissage week so it remains shrouded in mystery. One thing for certain, Büchel’s name has made much less of a splash in Venice than it managed to in previous years.
    Rating: ?
    –Jo Lawson-Tancred
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    A New Show Gives a Long-Overlooked Abstract Expressionist Her Due

    The women of Abstract Expressionism are rising from obscurity in a big way. But, until this spring, one foundational West Coast figure had yet to receive her due. Through May 7, Van Doren Waxter in New York is presenting the first solo show celebrating Zoe Longfield—73 years after a toxic marriage ended her promising decade-long career.
    Installation view. Photo: Van Doren Waxter
    “It’s always the right time to show amazing art,” said gallery partner Liz Sadeghi. “People have been trying hard to shine a light on these forgotten artists. We have been trying to do that as well.”
    Zoe Longfield, Untitled (c. 1948) Oil on canvas. Photo: Van Doren Waxter
    Van Doren Waxter, which has drawn awareness to artists like Jackie Saccocio and Mariah Robertson, first learned of Longfield through a collector. While the confident radiance of Longfield’s abstract paintings stunned Sadeghi and John Van Doren, her time studying under Richard Diebenkorn, whose foundation the gallery represents, sealed the deal. Van Doren Waxter started representing Longfield’s estate last May.
    Installation view. Photo: Van Doren Waxter
    Born in San Francisco in 1924, Longfield earned her undergraduate degree between 1941 and 1944, learning from Berkeley School founders like Margaret Peterson and Erle Loran. Three years later, she attended San Francisco’s legendary California School of Fine Arts, where celebrated Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still taught her the foundations of color, from which Longfield forged her own varied palette.
    Longfield seen as the only woman in David Park’s Studio Painting Class. Photograph by William Heick, c. 1948 courtesy of San Francisco Art Institute Legacy Foundation+Archive
    Longfield became one of few women admitted into Still’s inner circle. “She was one of the very few women who was at the California School of Fine Arts in the first place,” Sadeghi noted. “She was very audacious and independent. She had her own mind and style. I think he really appreciated that.” While Longfield also excelled as a figure skater, she always came back to art. “She described wanting to solve those inherent problems peculiar to painting,” Sadeghi said.
    Zoe Longfield, Untitled (c. 1949-50) Oil on canvas. Photo: Van Doren Waxter
    At CSFA, Longfield also became one of just 12 students that Still tapped to form Metart Gallery, a trailblazing artist-run space in San Francisco. Longfield had studied at the Marxist California Labor School between Berkeley and CSFA. Still’s anti-commercial aims resonated with her.
    Longfield’s Phelan letter from 1949. Photo: Van Doren Waxter
    Longfield received acclaim from 1948 through 1951. She applied for the Phelan Award in 1949—and though she wasn’t selected, she was one of three applicants who received a letter emphasizing her work’s promise.
    Hagan’s review of Longfield’s work, on view in the show. Photo: Van Doren Waxter
    Metart Gallery lasted only a year. When art critic R. H. Hagan saw her solo show, he gave her a glowing mention in the San Francisco Chronicle. However, the gallery mostly launched her male cohorts, especially Ernest Briggs and Edward Dugmore. The gallery’s last show in Spring 1950 centered on Still. Longfield married Raphael Etigson the following February, then followed him to New York.
    Ephemera on view. Photo: Van Doren Waxter
    The marriage did not work out; Etigson cheated. Longfield divorced him and moved back to California in 1957. Despite her anti-capitalist values, she spent the rest of her life supporting herself through commercial art. “I think she was just so beaten down,” Sadeghi reflected. “She had this early, great success. Once she was taken out of it—went to New York, and then came back—she lost her mojo,” which Sadeghi later specified meant “motivation.”
    Zoe Longfield, Untitled (c 1949-50) Gouache on paper. Photo: Van Doren Waxter
    But, interest in Longfield renewed due to shows around the West Coast abstract expressionists at SFMoMA in 1996, and in 2004 at Sacramento’s Crocker Museum of Art—where Longfield finally got to see her art on view in an institution, nine years before her death.
    Zoe Longfield, Untitled (1948) Oil on canvas. Photo: Van Doren Waxter
    Van Doren Waxter presents essentially two bodies of paintings. One exemplifies Longfield’s affinity for thick paint and totemic, biophilic forms. The other highlights her silkier works, with diaphanous washes. Gouche paintings on paper offer further context, as does an arrangement of ephemera from Longfield’s life as a girl, student, and artist.
    “Zoe Longfield” is on view at Van Doren Waxter, 23 East 73rd Street, New York, through April 27. A  condensed iteration will on private view through May 7.
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    Here Are 7 Standout Pavilions at the 2024 Venice Biennale, From a Quirky Sculptural Orchestra to a Luscious ‘Creole Garden’

    It’s that time again! Art worlders have disembarked from their water taxis, taken over Venice, and walked until their feet ache in a frantic race to see the 87 national pavilions that are part of this year’s Venice Biennale. The verdicts are finally in, and curators and critics everywhere are ready to air some judgements.
    There’s been more than enough to feast on. Against a backdrop of simmering political tension that included a protest in the Giardini and other sites across the city on Wednesday, many of the exhibitions complement curator Adriano Pedrosa’s main exhibition, “Foreigners Everywhere,” which spotlights Indigenous and queer artists. There is a particularly strong presence of artists from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Among some of the most notable newcomers to the biennale are Ethiopia, which has filled Palazzo Bollani with Tesfaye Urgessa’s lively figurative paintings, Timor-Leste, and Benin.
    Feeling fatigued already? If you were hoping to see some highlights and still have time for an early evening spritz don’t worry. Artnet News has narrowed down the list to just seven standouts that deserve your attention.
    Japan“Yuko Mohri: Compose” in the Giardini
    Installation view of “Yuko Mohri: Compose” for the Japan Pavilion at the 60th Venice Biennale. Photo: kugeyasuhide, courtesy of the artist, Project Fulfill Art Space, mother’s tankstation, Yutaka Kikutake Gallery, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery.
    The Venice Biennale is a little like high school. Wandering around the Giardini and Arsenale, you quickly get a sense of which pavilions are the popular kids. Often, they have the slick, highly produced air of a girl who got a designer bag for her 16th birthday. In light of this dynamic, Yuko Mohri’s charming and subtle Japan Pavilion is especially refreshing. The artist created a funhouse of Rube Goldberg-like machines from everyday items, like plastic sheeting, buckets, and hoses. The display, part of an ongoing series by the artist, is inspired by the clever, improvisational ways that workers repair leaks in the Tokyo subway system. In Venice, these materials are harnessed as instruments in a quirky orchestra. A whirring fan makes a rubber tube quiver, rustling a shopping bag in turn; rain falling onto a plastic sheet jostles a set of wind chimes. Situated throughout the space are groupings of rotting fruit connected to electrodes; the fluctuating moisture content of the oranges, strawberries, and grapes is converted into synth sounds and flickering light. The installation activates all the senses and manages to do something lofty—embodying the interconnectedness of all things—with humor and verve.
    –Julia Halperin
    Portugal“Greenhouse” by artist-curators Mónica de Miranda, Sónia Vaz Borges, and Vânia Gala at Palazzo Franchetti
    “Greenhouse” for the Portugal Pavilion at the 60th Venice Biennale. Photo: Margaret Carrigan.
    A luscious “Creole garden” filled with native African flora transplanted into an elegant, oak-paneled 19th-century interior has a richly surreal quality. It made me feel like I had stumbled into one of the impeccably designed, technicolor stage sets for Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things (2023), so, of course, I was immediately sold. These seductive outward appearances are impressive on their own, but a series of sound and video installations embedded throughout the foliage, as well as site-specific performance pieces, give the work a strong conceptual focus.
    Taking the idea of gardening as an act of collaboration, joy, freedom, and resistance, the show is inspired by the private plots historically cultivated by enslaved people. Its authors, three women artists, curators, historians, and researchers, contrast these small biodiverse bounties of growth and hope with the extraction of monocultural crops on a plantation.
    In the film Weaving, performers recount stories associated with the revolutionary activity of Bissau-Guinean anti-colonialist Amílcal Cabral, who was born 100 years ago this year and played an instrumental role in winning Guinea its independence from Portugal. A more luxuriantly abstract film, Transplanting, lingers on a group of silent dancers as they explore a densely verdant, semi-tropical landscape.
    —Jo Lawson-Tancred
    Egypt“Wael Shawky: Drama 1882” in the Giardini
    Wael Shawky, Drama, 1882 (2024). ©Wael Shawky. Courtesy of Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Lisson Gallery, Lia Rumma, and Barakat Contemporary.
    Wael Shawky has brought a bold musical film to the Egyptian Pavilion. In Drama 1882, the Alexandria-born artist creates a parable confronting history’s grip on the present.
    Set against the backdrop of occupation in Egypt, the film delves into the nationalist fervor of the 1879–82 Urabi Revolution. The violent peasant uprising against the Egyptian monarch’s susceptibility to imperial influence eventually backfired and became a catalyst for British rule, which lasted until 1956.
    Shawky’s exquisite film, shot in a historic open-air theater in Alexandria, weaves together fact and fantasy with mesmerizing melodies sung in Classical Arabic. It is shown alongside sculptural elements from the film’s elaborate sets.
    Seeing the film during this biennale, its upheaval and uncertainties echo the catastrophic events unfolding in the Middle East today. The surreal inflection opens up space for historical analysis. Through Shawky’s lens, history becomes a moving tapestry of revisionism, challenging audiences to reconsider the narratives we inherit.
    —Naomi Rea
    Luxembourg“Andrea Mancini and Every Island: A Comparative Dialogue Act” in the Arsenale
    Selin Davasse performing at the Luxembourg Pavilion.
    Over the years, I have come to find it hard to get down with group shows at the biennale’s national pavilions. It is perhaps a weird bias I have developed for one- or two-person shows, because as soon as more artists enter the frame, the pavilions rarely end up feeling as cohesive as they should, especially in the old stately venues that can easily feel cramped full of too many ideas. (Plus, there is the very big group show to set yourself apart from next door.)
    That is why I was particularly excited to see a pavilion deliver a clever rethink of what a group show can be: in “Comparative Dialogue Act,” organized by the collective Every Island and artist and musician Andrea Mancini, the pavilion is a steel stage where sound curtains are drawn, and where performances will be layered over the next months in the form of distinct “residencies.”
    It is like a group show focused on sound, where the premise is gamified, with specific instructions given to four performance artists who will take over the stage. The rules and boundaries of the performances are etched into the stage floor: aural content one artist produces during their turn at the stage can then be used and further adapted by the next artist who is up, creating a sense of collaboration but also blurring authorship by allowing for appropriation. Up first is the brilliant Selin Davasse, who deftly subverts female mythology in unsettlingly beautiful performances that are somewhere between singsong and a dark Medea-like monologue.
    Whereas what we tend to see in Venice is a finished product, the Luxembourg pavilion is only beginning to be made.
    —Kate Brown
    Switzerland“Guerreiro do Divino Amor: Super Superior Civilizations” in the Giardini
    Installation view of “Super Superior Civilizations” by Guerreiro do Divino Amor at the Pavilion of Switzerland at the Biennale Arte 2024. Photo: Samuele Cherubini.

    The biennale’s country-by-country pavilion structure, coupled with its title and theme this year, unleashes an expanse of somber rivulets: nationalism, jingoism, exoticism—the isms and otheredness to explore pile on. The Swiss-Brazilian artist Guerreiro do Divino Amor takes on all of these topics, but he sneaks the medicine into a surreal sensory overload of rollicking wit and daring aesthetics.

    In “Super Superior Civilizations,” Divino Amor deftly melds Swiss identity (and stereotypes—plenty of clocks and cheese swirl by) with Greek mythology and his own bonkers cosmology. An installation veers from high-tech 3D-surround imagery to campy low-budget architectural ruins like collapsed columns and a fountain with a spinning head and laser eyes. It’s an impressive assemblage, but the video component, “The Miracle of Helvetia,” propels this pavilion into the stars.

    Viewers can lie back and look skyward, planetarium-style, at the dome-shaped screen, as a Greek epic unfurls heavy with Swiss symbology. A pantheon of the artist’s expertly casted, just-slightly-off-kilter normcore demigoddesses coalesce like constellations. Live action blends with computer animation and graphics that at times look like they’re circa 1992. Is this an art film or a dystopian Swiss propaganda infomercial? And why did a clip from Dynasty pulse by?

    At times, it’s a laugh-out-loud experience. Upon exiting, you’re hit with how visceral and thought-provoking Divino Amor’s maximalist vision is. He’s poking grand truths with a stick.
    —William Van Meter

    United States“Jeffrey Gibson: the space in which to place me” in the Giardini
    Jeffrey Gibson, center, stands with curators Abigail Winograd, left, and Kathleen Ash-Milby, right, at the entrance to the U.S. Pavilion in the Giardini during the 60th Biennale Art 2024 on April 16, 2024 in Venice, Italy. Photo: Stefano Mazzola/Getty Images.
    The U.S. Pavilion is a riot of color this year, thanks to Choctaw-Cherokee artist Jeffrey Gibson, who is the first Indigenous artist to represent the nation solo at the Venice Biennale. His exhibition, titled “the space in which to place me,” is also the first to be co-commissioned and co-curated by a Native American curator, Kathleen Ash-Milby, who is the curator of Native American Art at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon and a member of the Navajo Nation.
    The front of the Palladian-style building is nearly obstructed by a cluster of oversized red pedestals, all of which are empty of any historical icon. Their scale makes you feel like a kid, and visitors are invited to climb on them, which only heightens the sense of play. Throughout the interior of the building, patterned walls create an almost psychedelic effect, and a multichannel video work featuring jingle dress dancers and a banging beat had me both entranced and wanting to dance.
    Gibson’s signature punching-bag sculptures, composed of vibrant silks and traditional Native beadwork, are of course included. The central work in the pavilion’s rotunda is emblazoned with an excerpt from the U.S. Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” The next part of that infamous line, “that all men are created equal,” is omitted, and the rotunda is painted red from floor to ceiling, suggestive of the genocidal bloodshed of native peoples and their removal from their ancestral lands, facilitating the creation of the nation-state as we know it today. Just like Gibson’s color palette, the meaning is not subtle.
    Still, the show feels joyous. If I am honest with you, that made me dislike it on my first visit—some of the individual works, mainly the paintings, felt superficial and disingenuous to me. But, on Wednesday, after seeing pro-Palestine protestors scramble to the top of the giant plinths out front, wave a black-and-white keffiyeh from the top pedestal, and distribute a manifesto that calls for the dismantling of nation-states, “reclaiming land,” and restoring art as a central tool of resistance, I saw the pavilion as a holistic concept. Just as the plinths out front offered a literal platform for revolutionary ideas, so too does joy amid oppression.
    —Margaret Carrigan
    Spain“Sandra Gamarra Heshiki: Pinacoteca Migrante / Migrant Art Gallery” in the Giardini
    Installation image of the Spanish Pavilion, “Pinacoteca Migrante/ Migrant Art Gallery,” at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia 2024. Photo: Oak Taylor Smith.
    First, you wait in line for your turn. Then, you are given a sticker and asked to put it on, just like you normally would going to a museum as a visitor. The artist Sandra Gamarra Heshiki and curator Agustín Pérez Rubio aimed to create an institutional experience for those stopping by this year’s Spanish pavilion, which has been transformed into an elaborate museum mirroring the setting of a Western art gallery. But rather than showing Western art, “Pinacoteca Migrante / Migrant Art Gallery” puts at its center narratives of migration and colonialism that have historically been silenced in Spain and the West.
    Coinciding with this year’s theme, “Foreigners Everywhere,” Gamarra Heshiki, a Peruvian artist with Japanese heritage based in Madrid, has become the first non-Spanish-born figure to represent the country at the Olympics of the art world. She has created an impressive body of work in different media—paintings, drawings, ceramic works, small sculptures, and installations of cabinets—that draws on her extensive research into artworks from the era of empire and the Enlightenment that are kept in Spanish museums. Her delicate creations expose the biased narratives of colonial histories and the invisibility of migrants, which she defines as humans, plants, other living organisms, and raw materials.
    The show was strengthened by a tour by Pérez Rubio, a very articulate Valencia-born curator and art historian, who shared his own knowledge and personal experiences growing up in Spain, questioning the missing pieces and representations of the colonized in the “official” narratives that the artist explores across five exhibition rooms. Visitors then move to the “Migrant Garden” in the pavilion’s naturally lit central space, where painted copies of monuments are found. Here, visitors are encouraged to take their time to meditate on the themes of this meaningful and expansive show, and perhaps consider what can be done to make a difference in the future.
    – Vivienne Chow
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    At Kapwani Kiwanga’s Pavilion in Venice, Tiny Glass Beads Carry the Weight of History

    As we know from our own lives, the tiniest objects can feel, at least symbolically, extremely heavy. Artist Kapwani Kiwanga draws out this aspect—how the minute can be colossal—with an ambitious new project at the Venice Biennale, where she is representing Canada.
    Called “Trinket,” the artist explores a seemingly neutral object of diminutive significance which, as Kiwanga illuminates, has shaped the world: a tiny glass bead.
    These beads, which are smaller than a lentil, are deeply embedded in Venice’s history, which, as the artist points out, has deep connections with the world. Glass conterie or seed beads were used for international trade and merchants used them as exchange objects for various goods, including an array of raw materials that have been folded into Kiwanga’s poetic exhibition, which was commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada and curated by Gaëtane Verna, executive director at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio.
    The Canadian artist has become well-known on the institutional circuit for her research-heavy installations and monumental sculptures that often draw on overlooked histories or explore aspects of gender, colonialism, or social injustice. She eschews the figurative, but intimate human histories are often at the heart of her highly abstracted, minimalist, and color-focused work. The Sobey Award winner has had major exhibitions at the Power Plant in Toronto, the Centre Pompidou in Paris (where she now lives and works), and Haus der Kunst in Munich.
    “This tiny glass unit had such an impact, and sculpts our current world, modernity, how societies organize themselves, how they live and interact,” said Kiwanga in a recent interview, ahead of the public opening of the biennale on April 20. “It is not the only reason, but it is part and parcel with the mechanism.”
    Installation view of the exhibition “Kapwani Kiwanga: Trinket,” 2024, Canada Pavilion, 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada and supported by the Canada Council for the Arts. © Kapwani Kiwanga / Adagp Paris / CARCC OXawa 2024. Photo: ValenYna Mori.
    For “Trinket,” thousands of beads have been strung together and assembled into a vast network of curtains, a large-scale architectural intervention that makes the pavilion feel like a single sculpture. Kiwanga aptly describes the effect as “almost alchemic”—the presentation does seem to swirl, morph, and change before you as you walk through it. Snaking around the space, these conterie are from some view points nearly invisible and from others a vibrant wash of color that sweeps through the space in a meticulously rendered gradient, moving from deep purple to yellow. The brilliant blue which encircles the exterior recalls the ultramarine hue of lapis lazuli that was at one time traded at a higher price than gold.
    Installation view of Kapwani Kiwanga, Impiraresse (Blue), 2024. Commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada and supported by the Canada Council for the Arts © Kapwani Kiwanga / Adagp Paris / CARCC OXawa 2024. Photo: Valentina Mori
    In the most immediate sense, these tiny objects have shaped Venice. The long and esteemed history of glass-making from Murano island is highly apparent at every twist and turn along the city’s narrow streets, where there are glass art stores and glass trinket shops between nearly every gelateria or cafe. Glass sculpture—which also can be found in the windows of Venice’s exquisite churches—has long been emblematic of the city’s cultural power. But Kiwanga seeks to reattach this quality with the world—the lagoon’s flowery decorum, its intricate and opulent architecture, the sublime details around every corner, as well as the churches jammed full of art history stemming from a mercantile past when the city was a powerful player in trading for centuries—to show how these power relations were frequently not fair.
    And while tiny glass beads may not be the first thing that jumps to mind when one thinks of European trade and all its problematics, these seed beads were exchanged for gold and other precious metals, as well as the wood that built the city. Similarly in Kiwanga’s array of free-standing abstract sculptures, the beads merge into patterns created in collaboration with Zimbabwean and Canadian artisans, adorning the edges of objects made from the raw materials that the beads were traded for throughout history, such as copper, panambuco wood from Brazil, and palm oil, which was used to lubricate machines in Europe. An archway made of wood features a delicate inlay of beadwork, for example, while on the ground rests a pair of large glass sculptures in the form of a dot and a deep orange tear drop.
    Installation view of Kapwani Kiwanga, Transfer I (Metal, breath, palm oil, beads), 2024. Commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada and supported by the Canada Council for the Arts © Kapwani Kiwanga / Adagp Paris / CARCC OXawa 2024. Photo: Valentina Mori
    The juxtaposition pushes you to consider how these beads circulated at the cultural, material, and symbolic level—and how these matrixes of meaning shifted throughout time. The value of such objects is hardly static, and materials move from the quotidian to the covetable, used for adornment in jewelry and clothes, and at once rare, sentimental, non-precious, and everyday. In this way, Kiwanga is interested in pursuing “how one material exchanged for another and how we made our architectures out of that.”
    Kiwanga was trained as an anthropologist and so this form of social research is well within her wheelhouse and an essential part of her process. Her works often take on the details of history and the spaces of the present. As such, she is seasoned for the task of working within the Canadian pavilion specifically. It is not a stately space such as those built by many other nation-states in the Giardiani in the early 20th century. The Modernist building made largely from brick, and accentuated with exposed beams and glass, is one of the younger venues, erected in 1957. It is nestled between the British and German pavilions in a tree-filled corner of the biennale grounds, with some trees growing within the space itself.
    “There are no right angles, there is no cube,” Kiwanga said of the pavilion. “You cannot just bring any project into that space.” She tried working with the building’s most compelling feature, a lack of boundary between the inside and the outside. “You never have a feeling that the garden is not there as with other pavilions, you cannot walk into it and be in another moment,” she added. “I figured that I would roll with that effacement.”
    Installation view of the exhibition “Kapwani Kiwanga: Trinket,” 2024, Canada Pavilion, 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada and supported by the Canada Council for the Arts. © Kapwani Kiwanga / Adagp Paris / CARCC OXawa 2024, Photo: ValenYna Mori.
    Her thoughtfulness at how to intervene delicately in a space to monumental effect is a long-standing talent. With Plot at the Haus der Kunst, presented in 2020, Kiwanga took on the heavy architectural weight of the Third Reich-era building, its hard lines and imposing interior. She draped large semi-transparent curtains around the room, creating gradients of greens and pastels that evoked the lush and manicured English Garden just beyond the museum’s doors. In the 2022 edition of the Venice Biennale, curated by Cecilia Alemani, Kiwanga presented a further development of the project for Terrarium (2022), which looked at sand as both a source material for glass and luxury, as a by-product of the oil industry, and as an indicator of an increasingly arid planet.
    Kapwani Kiwanga, Terrarium, 2022. Exhibition view, The Milk of Dreams: 59th Venice Biennale, Arsenale, Venice, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, Johannesburg, London / Galerie Poggi, Paris / Galerie Tanja Wagner, Berlin © Kapwani Kiwanga / Adagp, Paris, 2023. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano
    Now in the Giardini, Kiwanga took some subtle approaches to turning the pavilion inside out, removing the large wooden doors of the building, so that its entire façade is glass. A lick of silver metal begins on the wall and spreads across the floor and extends right out the building. The curtains of beads also hang softly against the pavilions exterior walls, and drape down in the space between its slanted roof and oddly angled interior space. It’s almost as though the building is wavering gently, recalling the tides of water that lap against the sides of Venice’s canal walls, ebbing reminders that the city is not just built on today’s tourism industry—it is a port with a deep past in world trade.
    One will find a sense of exhalation in “Trinket”—the materials are not pegged to any one association or connotation. They are simply able to exist and float, unbound and containing all their multitudes. “I tried to work with the bare materials so that the materiality could really stand on its own, becoming familiar,” Kiwanga said. “I wanted to let the materials speak, distilling them, and having something be present in the simplest and most elegant way.”
    Kapwani Kiwanga, Transfer III (Metal, wood, beads), 2024. Installation view, Kapwani Kiwanga: Trinket, 2024, Canada Pavilion, 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada and supported by the Canada Council for the Arts © Kapwani Kiwanga / Adagp Paris / CARCC Ottawa 2024. Photo: ValenYna Mori
    The Venice Biennale international art exhibition runs from April 20 through November 24.
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    Pro-Palestine Protestors Stage Demonstrations Across Venice

    Pro-Palestine activists staged a protest at the Venice Biennale on Wednesday, April 17, calling for the complete closure of Israel’s pavilion, which remains locked after artist Ruth Patir, who is representing Israel, refused to open her exhibition and called for a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages on Tuesday.
    Around 100 protestors gathered outside of the Israeli Pavilion in the Giardini and moved toward other national pavilions, like those of the U.S., France, and Germany, chanting “stop the genocide,” “shut it down,” and “viva Palestina.” Flyers stating “No Death in Venice, No to the Genocide Pavilion” were also distributed. At the U.S. pavilion, which is next to Israel’s pavilion, protestors climbed on top of artist Jeffrey Gibson’s large-scale, outdoor concrete and fiberglass pedestals, waving a black-and-white keffiyeh.
    Concurrently, across the city, a smaller group of protestors gathered on the famous Rialto Bridge, unfurling banners that read “Palestina Libera” and “the world is watching” while waving Palestinian flags.
    Protestors on the Rialto Bridge. Photo: Margaret Carrigan.
    The actions were led by the Art Not Genocide Alliance (ANGA), which issued a statement calling for Israel’s pavilion to be shut down “in its entirety.” Although Patir’s exhibition, “(M)otherland,” is fully installed and can partially be glimpsed through the windows, the building remains closed after she and the exhibition’s curators, Tamar Margalit and Mira Lapidot, posted a sign on the locked door on Tuesday, the first preview day of the biennale, stating that the show would not open to the public until “a ceasefire and hostage release agreement is reached.”
    “ANGA does not applaud empty and opportunistic gestures timed for maximum press coverage, and leaving video works on view to the public, while Palestinians are killed by Israel every hour and millions face imminent famine,” the group said in the statement.
    Patir did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement shared on Instagram on Tuesday, Patir said that she and the curators “have become the news, not the art.” She added: “I firmly object to cultural boycott, but since I feel there are no right answers, and I can only do what I can with the space I have.”
    The Palestine Pavilion manifesto. Photo: Jo Lawson-Tancred.
    Representatives of the Venice Biennale did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the protests or the current state of Israel’s pavilion.
    ANGA has also been circulating a document that had been printed onsite at the biennial titled “The Palestine Pavilion: What is the Future of Art—A Manifesto Against the State of the World.” Accompanied by poetry, the manifesto calls for the dismantling of nation-states, “reclaiming land,” and restoring art as a central tool of resistance. Palestine does not have a pavilion at the event since Italy does not recognize it as a sovereign state; an official collateral event exhibition by the Palestinian organization Artists and Allies of Hebron has been named as one of 30 officially sanctioned collateral events.
    Several artists taking part in the Venice Biennale have expressed support for Palestine in their work and installations. At Spain’s pavilion in the Giardini, the Peruvian artist Sandra Gamarra painted the words: “Transbody is to normative heterosexuality what Palestine is to the West: a colony whose extension and form is perpetuated only through violence.”
    Daniela Ortiz, The Brightness of Greedy Europe (2022). Photo: Naomi Rea.
    In the Arsenale, The Brightness of Greedy Europe, a video of a 2022 puppet theater staged by Peruvian artist Daniela Ortiz, features a small Palestinian flag in the corner of the screen that reads “boycott Israeli pavilion, Free Palestine!” Mexican artist Frieda Toranzo Jaeger’s large-scale painting and mixed-media work Rage Is A Machine In Times of Senselessness (2024) depicts watermelons, a symbol of Palestinian freedom and solidarity; the words “Viva Palestina” are lightly sketched into the flesh of one of the fruits.
    Israel’s participation has been a point of contention among Palestine supporters. ANGA issued an open letter at the end of February that has since gained nearly 24,000 signatories. It states that “any official representation of Israel on the international cultural stage is an endorsement of its policies and of the genocide in Gaza.” Signatories include the photographer and activist Nan Goldin and artists representing other countries in the Biennale, including Chile, Finland, and Nigeria. ANGA did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
    In response to the open letter, Italy’s culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, ruled out the possibility of barring Israel from the Biennale. “Israel not only has the right to express its art, but it has the duty to bear witness to its people precisely at a time like this when it has been attacked in cold blood by merciless terrorists,” the politician said.
    Since Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7 that killed 1,200 people and saw 240 taken hostage, and Israel’s ensuing war in Gaza that has killed more than 33,000 people, major protests, including boycotts, cancelations, and withdrawals, have been made at major events and venues in the art world.
    Jo Lawson-Tancred provided additional reporting. This is a developing story and will be updated.
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    Paintings Saved From the Notre-Dame Fire Are Newly Restored and Back on View

    When the Notre-Dame de Paris caught fire on April 19, 2019, there was a terrifying half hour window in which it seemed the cathedral might collapse. The world watched agape as the spire toppled and smoke billowed out across the Parisian skyline. The smarts and daring of firefighters proved decisive. By midnight, the authorities would declare “she is saved” and a human chain led out of the smoldering building, carrying artworks, relics, and valuable books to safety.
    On the five-year anniversary of the blaze, an exhibition featuring many of the rescued works will go on display at Mobilier National in Paris, the home of France’s furniture collection. As suggested by the title, “Restoring the Grand Decors of Notre Dame,” the exhibition showcases the technical expertise of those who have meticulously restored the building’s paintings, tapestries, and carpets.
    “Since the fire of 2019, nearly 1,000 craftsmen have worked daily to restore the cathedral, among them are painting restorers,” Mobilier National said. “[Alongside the paintings,] sketches, drawings, and multimedia will be used to show the exceptional know-how of heritage restorers.”
    Laurent de La Hyre, Saint Peter Healing the Sick with His Shadow. Photo: Mobilier National.
    Among the 21 paintings shown at Mobilier National are 13 prized religious works from the 17th century, known as the Mays, so named for the month in which Paris’s goldsmith guild presented them to the cathedral. Created to express renewed Catholic faith in the wake of a devastating series of wars between Catholics and Protestants in the final decades of the 16th century, the Mays employed the country’s finest painters, typically to depict the acts of the apostles.
    The Mays themselves have endured a wandering history of mixed fortunes. Beginning in 1630, they were hanged on the stone pillars alongside the nave before being scattered during the tumult of the French Revolution. Returned in 1802, they were deemed incongruous with Notre-Dame’s redevelopment of the 1860s and sent to the Louvre where they remained until 1905. Of the 76 Mays painted, the whereabouts of 52 are known.
    Charles Le Brun, The Martyrdom of St. Andrew (1646). Photo: Mobilier National.
    Though undamaged by the fire, the Regional Direction of Cultural Affairs (DRAC) chose to perform long overdue restorations, hiring 50 restorers over a 24-month period for the task. At Mobilier National, the Mays are presented chronologically—the diocese has a new layout planned for Notre-Dame—and are granted long overdue attention.
    We meet Laurent de la Hyre’s Saint Peter, who wanders head bent and palm upturned through a scene of delirious sickness. We see Charles Le Brun’s Andrew, a man naked before God moments before he’s set upon by soldiers. The dense, dark work was Le Brun’s first following training in Rome and do much to burnish his reputation. We watch Nicolas Loir’s crimson robed Paul calmly blind a magician before the Cypriot Proconsul.
    Nicolas Loir, Saint Paul Blinds the False Prophet Barjesu (1650). Photo: Mobilier National.
    Also of note is the one ton, nearly 90-foot long choir carpet that was commissioned by King Charles X in 1825 and designed to mimic a Gothic stained-glass window. Barring major events (such as the marriage of Napoleon III or the visit of Pope John Paul II), it is rarely displayed with only the upper half on display here—the lower is still being restored and fitted with a protective braid.
    Mobilier National will also present 14 tapestries that depict the life of the Virgin Mary, which were commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu in the mid-17th century. Created to decorate Notre-Dame’s choir, the cathedral sold them to Strasbourg cathedral in 1739.
    A cathedral chair designed by Ionna Vautrin. Photo: Philippe Migea.
    A slightly more modern turn comes in the exhibition’s final section that shows examples of the new liturgical furniture that have been designed by Ionna Vautrin and manufactured by Bosc, a based in Landes, France.
    Notre Dame is due to reopen on 8 December, 2024, following restoration costs approaching $1 billion.
    “Restoring the Grand Decors of Notre Dame” is on view at the Mobilier National, Galerie des Gobelins, 42 avenue des Gobelins, Paris, France, April 24– July 21.
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