15 Must-See Exhibitions in Venice During the Biennale

Installation view of Hicham Berrada, Mesk-Ellil, 2015–19, at “Luogo e Segni,” Punta della Dogana, 2019. Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy © Palazzo Grassi.

This spring and summer, fresh art will fill historic churches, palazzi, and institutions across Venice. To help you navigate the flood of ambitious exhibitions and projects, we share a selection that you won’t want to miss—ranging from new glass sculptures by leading contemporary artists to the color-soaked paintings of Helen Frankenthaler.


“Glasstress”

Fondazione Berengo Art Space, Campiello Della Pescheria, 30141 Venice

May 9–Nov. 24, 2019

Fondazione Berengo Art Space. © Francesco Allegretto.

Since opening his studio on the island of Murano in 1989, Venice native Adriano Berengo has been dedicated to bridging glass traditions and contemporary art. He’s invited over 300 artists—with little or no prior experience in glass—to learn glassmaking from the masters at his studio. And for the past decade, Berengo has biannually mounted exhibitions of the resulting work, called “Glasstress,” to coincide with the Venice Biennale. This year, visitors are treated to new work and highlights from years past, including pieces by internationally renowned artists like Ai Weiwei, Laure Provoust, José Parlá, and Rose Wylie.


“Luogo e Segni”

Punta della Dogana, Dorsoduro, 2, 30123 Venice

Through Dec. 15, 2019

Installation view (from left to right) of Roni Horn, White Dickinson THE CAREER OF FLOWERS DIFFERS FROM OURS ONLY IN INAUDIBLENESS, 2006. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Felix Gonzalez Torres, “Untitled”(Blood), 1992. Courtesy of the Pinault Collection, “Untitled” (7 Days of Bloodworks), 1991. Courtesy of the Pinault Collection. Installation at “Luogo e Segni,” Punta della Dognana, 2019. Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy © Palazzo Grassi.

A stark contrast to the flash and bang of the Damien Hirst exhibition that occupied the sprawling former customs building during the last Biennale, this show brings together poetic, conceptual pieces from Francois Pinault’s esteemed collection. Taking its title from a Carol Rama painting that translates to “place and signs,” the show includes works by 36 artists, with several impressive installations including a beaded curtain by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Sturtevant’s appropriation of Gonzalez-Torres’s light bulb strands spilling onto the floor; and a smattering of frosty blue glass lozenges by Roni Horn.


“La Pelle - Luc Tuymans”

Palazzo Grassi, Campo San Samuele 3231, 30124 Venice

Through Jan. 6, 2020

Installation view of Luc Tuymans, Schwarzheide, 2019, Fantini Mosaici, Milano, at Palazzo Grassi, 2019. Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy © Palazzo Grassi.

Pinault’s 18th-century palazzo has been turned over to Belgian painter Luc Tuymans, who worked with curator Caroline Bourgeois to mount 80-plus paintings, dating from 1986 to the present, from the French billionaire’s collection and a new, site-specific mosaic on the floor of the central atrium. Tuymans is known for searing figurative paintings—often in a washed-out palette of grays, blacks, and sepia tones—that appropriate images from the media to offer dark commentary on recent history. The marble mosaic, Schwarzheide (2019), appears to be a simple rendering of pine trees but is based on drawings that Holocaust survivor Alfred Kantor created in a concentration camp.


“Baselitz - Academy”

Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia, Campo della Carita, 1050, 30123 Venice

May 8–Sept. 8, 2019

Georg Baselitz, BDM Gruppe (BDM Group), 2012. © Georg Baselitz. Photo by Jochen Littkemann, Berlin. Courtesy of Bolton & Quinn.

Georg Baselitz, Schlafzimmer (Bedroom), 1975. © Georg Baselitz. Photo by Jochen Littkemann, Berlin. Courtesy of Bolton & Quinn.

Best known for his expressive figurative paintings of inverted heads and bodies, Georg Baselitz is the first living artist to have an exhibition at the Galleria dell’Accademia. The German artist is showing his feverish paintings and drawings, as well as deftly hewn figurative sculptures, ranging from across his more than 60-year career and including new work created specifically for the show.


Jannis Kounellis

Fondazione Prada, Calle Corner, 2215, 30135 Venice

May 11–Nov. 24, 2019

Portrait of Jannis Kounellis, Galleria Lucio Amelio, Naples, 1973. Photo by Caludio Abate. Courtesy of Fondazione Prada.

Portrait of Jannis Kounellis, Galleria Gian Enzo Sperone, Turin, 1971. Photo © Paolo Mussat Sartor. Courtesy of Fondazione Prada.

The late Jannis Kounellis was a critical figure in the Italian Arte Povera movement, which saw artists transition from painting on canvas to mounting ambitious installations that broached the space between art and life. Curated by Germano Celant, this is the first Kounellis retrospective since his death in 2017. The show includes works created between 1959 and 2015, including installations and architectural interventions that explore combustion, Greco-Roman history, metaphysical dimensions, and gravity, among the artist’s other favorite subjects. A highlight is the massive installation that fills the courtyard with coffee bean–filled sacks and plates of metal.


“Pittura / Panorama: Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler 1952–1992”

Palazzo Grimani, Ramo Grimani, Castello, 4858A, 30122 Venice

May 7–Nov. 17, 2019

Helen Frankenthaler, Italian Beach, 1960. © 2019 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Rob McKeever. Courtesy of Gagosian.

The beloved Abstract Expressionist Helen Frankenthaler’s famed color-stained canvases have not been shown in Venice since 1966, when they held pride of place at the U.S. Pavilion of the Venice Biennale. Now, they are shown at Palazzo Grimani, an art institution that dates back to the 16th century, which is particularly fitting given the inspiration Frankenthaler gleaned from Venetian artists of that same era. The exhibition, curated by John Elderfield, includes work from four stages of the artist’s career, organizedto illustrate the evolution of her career.


“Future Generation Art Prize @ Venice 2019”

Palazzo Ca’ Tron, San Croce, 1957, 30135 Venice

May 11–Aug. 18; preview: May 8–10

Monira Al Qadiri, Wonder 1, 2, 3, 2016–17. Photo by Maksym Bilousov. Courtesy of PinchukArt Centre © 2019.

Gala Porras-Kim, Proposal for the Reconstituting of Ritual Elements of the Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan, 2019. Photo by Maksym Bilousov. Courtesy of PinchukArt Centre © 2019.

The Future Generation Art Prize’s biannual show spotlights impressive young artists under age 35. The featured artists are addressing the future of humanity and urgent contemporary issues around globalization, nationalism, and technology. Among work by 21 international artists, you can expect to see pieces by Emilija Škarnulytė, who won the prize this year, and as well as Korakrit Arunanondchai, Marguerite Humeau, Gala Porras-Kim, and Sondra Perry.


“Joan Jonas: Moving Off the Land II”

Ocean Space, Campo San Lorenzo, 30100 Venice

Through Sept. 29, 2019

Joan Jonas, Moving Off the Land II, at Ocean Space, Chiesa di San Lorenzo, 2019, work in progress. Moving Off the Land II is commissioned by TBA21–Academy and co-produced with Luma Foundation. Photo by Enrico Fiorese.

The beloved American artist Joan Jonas, who represented the U.S. at the 56th Venice Biennale, is the first artist to put on a public project at Ocean Space, a new cultural space dedicated to fostering research on the oceans by both artists and scientists. Jonas’s multimedia project is the result of three years of research in waters surrounding Jamaica and at aquariums around the world; through sound, video, performance, sculpture, and more, the work surfaces the vital cultural significance of oceans, both spiritually and ecologically.


“The Spark Is You: Parasol Unit in Venice”

Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello di Venezia, Sestiere di S. Marco, 2810, 30124 Venice

May 9–Nov. 23, 2019

Sahand Hesamiyan, Forough, 2016. Courtesy the artist.

Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art celebrates its 15th anniversary with a show of nine contemporary Iranian artists, including Y.Z. Kami, Nazgol Ansarinia, and Siah Armajani. Parasol founder Ziba Ardalan curated the show around artists who embrace ideas of openness, respect, and the universal ties that humans share.


“Njideka Akunyili Crosby: The Beautyful Ones”

Victoria Miro Venice, Calle Drio La Chiesa, San Marco, 1994, 30124 Venice

May 8–July 13, 2019

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, “The Beautyful Ones” Series #7, 2018. © Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Courtesy of the artist, Victoria Miro, and David Zwirner.

The Nigerian, Los Angeles–based Njideka Akunyili Crosby takes over Victoria Miro’s charming Venice gallery space with her mixed-media paintings that collage together her own cultural heritage with that of her American peers. The show includes the latest work from her ongoing series “The Beautyful Ones,” in which she continues to lend her figurative subjects emotional depth through deft use of found images, a rich color palette, and poignant facial expressions and gestures.


Philippe Parreno

Espace Louis Vuitton Venezia, San Marco 1353, 30124 Venice

May 11–Nov 24

Philippe Parreno, Exhibition view, Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin, 2018. © Philippe Parreno. Courtesy of the artist; Pilar Corrias, London; Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels; and Esther Schipper, Berlin. Photo © Andrea Rossetti.

The French conceptual master Philippe Parreno transforms the Louis Vuitton space with a multifaceted, multisensory work that toys with viewers’ perceptions. The piece, fueled by the activity of microorganisms and a computer program, is comprised of various elements—a marquee light fixture, phosphorescent wallpaper, a mirrored shutter—and foregrounds the artist’s interest in parallel realities.


“Marina Abramović: Rising” and “Renata Morales: Invasor”

Ca’ Rezzonico Gallery, next to the Ca’Rezzonico Museum, Dorsoduro 2793 and 2793A Venice

May 6–July 6, 2019; opening: Tuesday 7 May, 5:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m.

Marina Abramovic, Rising (VR still), 2018. Courtesy of Acute Art.

The Montreal-based Phi Centre presents a pair of exhibitions by accomplished women artists. “Rising” seeks to envision the disaster of melting polar ice caps by inviting the viewer to don a virtual reality headset; the video, produced by Acute Art, simulates being in a glass tank filling with water alongside Marina Abramović. Meanwhile, Renata Morales’s exhibition “Invasor” includes new ceramic sculptures of people and bestial creatures, as well as assemblages made from 70 used tires and looming self-portrait textiles.


“The Nature of Arp”

Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Dorsoduro, 701-704, 30123 Venice

Through Sep. 2, 2019

Portrait of Arp, ca. 1926. Courtesy of Stiftung Arp e.V., Berlin/Rolandswerth.

Jean (Hans) Arp, Pianta-martello (Forme terrestri) Plant-Hammer (Terrestrial Forms), 1916. © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / © Jean Arp, by SIAE 2019. Photo courtesy of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.

Dada and abstract art pioneer Jean Arp was the first artist Peggy Guggenheim collected—she bought a bronze after seeing it made at a foundry with the artist. Decades later, that bronze is at the heart of this survey dedicated to the artist’s experimental nature. The show illustrates Arp’s ability to deftly tread the boundary between figuration and abstraction; and his mastery of material, with works in bronze, wood, marble, plaster, painting, collage, drawing, and tapestry.


“Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy: Mare Nostrum”

Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Penitenti, Fondamenta Cannaregio, 910, 30121 Venice

May 11–Nov. 24, 2019; preview May 8–10, 2019

Lauren Bon and The Metabolic Studio, Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, 2006. Photo by Joshua White. Courtesy of The Brooklyn Rail.

This exhibition curated by the Brooklyn Rail spotlights the environmental crisis in the Mediterranean through works by 73 artists. Curators Phong Bui and Francesca Pietropaolo have gathered works by emerging and established artists with social and environmentally focused practices, such as a new piece of blown glass droplets by Maya Lin and Wolfgang Laib’s Passageway (2013), in which brass ships are submerged in a mound of rice.


“Sean Scully: Human”

Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Isola di S.Giorgio Maggiore, 30133 Venice

May 8– Oct. 13, 2019

Sean Scully, Madonna Triptych C, 2019.

Sean Scully, Madonna Triptych B, 2019.

Inspired by monks at the Abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, Sean Scully recently added figurative work to his usual abstract repertoire. This show at the San Giorgio Maggiore church features the new work, including a series of paintings titled “Madonna,” the artist’s tallest sculpture yet, and works from a manuscript that was originally handmade by the monks.

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