7 Must-See Pavilions at the Venice Biennale

BY Katrina Kufer / May 11 2017 / 21:40 PM

As the 57th Venice Biennale opens, here are 7 national pavilions worth seeking out

7 Must-See Pavilions at the Venice Biennale
Andrea Avezzu
Biennale Arte. Photography by Andrea Avezzu

South Korea
Counterbalance: The Stone and the Mountain
Cody Choi and Lee Wan
Curated by Lee Daehyung

“If a stone stands for the individual, then the mountain is the societal system in which they are lodged. Through the lens of this exhibition, individual struggles may prove analogous to those of the wider contemporary world,” Daehyung explained of the curatorial intent in a statement. A multi-generational take on Korean identity in an age of globalisation, two artists, Choi and Wan, address conflict and dislocation.

Choi presents Venetial Rhapsody, an installation on the roof of the pavilion that considers global capitalism in the form of neon signage on the outside (think Red Light district) and inside, appropriation of classical sculptures (such as Rodin’s Thinker remade with toilet paper and Pepto-Bismol). It is a clear commentary on Korea’s relationship with the West.
Wan, meanwhile, has created an installation of 600 clocks entitled Proper Time along with an additional installation, the object-based Mr K and the Collection of Korean History. Addressing how tradition and culture are exploited and shaped by globalisation, the works reference turning points in Korea’s history such as Japanese colonial rule, the Korean War, the formation of the Republic of Korea and the dictatorship between the 1960s-70s.

Italian Pavilion

Il Mondo Magico
Giorgia Andreotta Calo, Roberto Cuoghi and Adelita Husni-Bey
Curated by Cecilia Alemani

Alemani brings three artists together under a concept inspired by a text written by a 20th century anthropologist that explores how humans, in times of uncertainty, implement ritual and magic to structure, calm and justify.

Cuoghi’s Imitazione de Cristo (2017) is a large performative installation where machines manufacture human-sized icons referential of Medieval Christian text Imitation of Christ that describe the body of Christ on the cross. The resulting figures are placed onto beds in equally artificial plastic igloos that elicit notions of shrines, tombs or laboratories. Husni-Bey’s film The Reading (2017) features a group of young people discussing their relationships to their homelands. The conversations are fuelled by Husni-Bey’s introduction of self-made tarot cards.

The final artist, Andreotta Calò, transforms the architecture of one of the pavilion’s rooms with a disorienting, slightly surreal installation consisting of maze-like scaffolding, a staircase, and at the top, instead of being able to overlook the industrial items below, a room-length trough of water reflects the interior architecture of the ceiling.

Tunisian Pavilion

The Absence of Paths
Curated by Lina Lazaar

Expanding beyond its Arsenale-based pavilion to three kiosks throughout the city, Tunis presents no artists, requiring instead the visitors to activate the ‘exhibition’. Each kiosk is manned by young Tunisian men who issue travel documents called “Freesas” which visitors validate by stamping with their thumbprint and, as one page in the passport sized booklet explains, an intangible agreement to “endorse a philosophy of universal freedom of movement without the need for arbitrary state-based sanction.”

Tunisia, in lieu of artworks, uses a relational project to comment on the refugee crisis and first-world (and art world) privilege: the men behind the desk are individuals who have tried and failed to cross the Mediterranean save for this event, the biennale, which granted them one-month tourist visas.

Lazaar notes that following the temporary Tunisian migrants will be previously unsuccessful Bangladeshi and Sub-Sahara African migrants. 

Anne Imhof. German Pavilion. 57th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, Viva Arte Viva. Photography by Francesco Galli. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

Anne Imhof
Curated by Susanne Pfeffer

The solo artist presentation of a single artwork at the German Pavilion has already sparked an Instagram frenzy. Visitors walk on raised glass platforms through heavy metal fencing and more glass. Staid, black athleisure-wear uniform-clad performers look into the pavilion from the roof, as well as inhabit the pavilion as staff, wandering throughout the three rooms to tackle dynamics of power, sexual politics and alienation in a tech-obsessed world.

The dystopian, stark and sanitised interior space of the pavilion are activated, or enhanced, by five-hour long ritualistic performative gestures that hint at domination and violence – complete with Doberman Pinschers that also claim the space. The performers head bang, press others to the floor in slow motion and interact with random objects completely devoid of emotion and verve, existing in a suspended space of dichotomous internal protection and external policing.

Romanian Pavilion

Geta Brătescu
Curated by Magda Radu

Venice Biennale artistic director Christine Macel has given notable prominence to an older generation of female artists, the Romanian pavilion follows suite by featuring artist Geta Brătescu, aged 91 years, for the third time (1960 and 2013).

Represented by a selection of her abstract and conceptual works in the form of a brief retrospective, her artistic progression is outlined, beginning with the works she created under Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist government from the 1960s until the 80s. Exploring themes such as the studio, resistance, and female strength and mythology, the numerous smaller-scale works are colourful and playful, embracing form, texture and chromatic manipulation in their subtle, if unmistakable female-oriented focus. Her Modernist-like return to materiality is arranged into smaller assemblages, alluding to historical fertility icons, gestures mimic the ups and downs of emotions, Faustian-figures or female genitalia metaphorically represented by labyrinths.

Nigerian Pavilion

How About NOW?
Peju Alatise, Victor Ehikhamenor and Qudus Onikeku
Curated by Adenrele Sonariwo and Emannuel Iduma

Nigeria’s first appearance at the Venice Biennale comes in the form of an immersive installation featuring performance, film, sculpture and painting that explores identity and belonging. Delving into past and present ideas of Nigerian identity, each of the artists addresses notions of history, fantasy and memory in relation to nationhood. It is a contemporary and relevant (artistic) dialogue with Nigeria today that references its colonial past and oppositionary ideological potential.

Ehikhamenor’s multiple installations merge abstract shapes and traditional sculpture in reference and homage to classical Benin art and the effect of colonialism on cultural heritage and the ensuing contributions to the art world. Alatise’s installation consists of eight winged life-size girls based on the story of a 10-year old child who worked as a housemaid in Lagos who dreamt of freedom. Entitled Flying Girls, it addresses injustice experienced by young females but through the lens of a safer, albeit imaginary, future.

The third artist, Onikeku, presents a performance film trilogy entitled Right Here, Right Now, which explores the workings of body, memory and its connection to national consciousness through dance to represent how time can be altered for a brief moment.

Canadian Pavilion

A way out of the mirror
Geoffrey Farmer
Curated by Kitty Scott, Carol and Morton Rapp with the National Gallery of Canada

In a move that sees Farmer depart from his characteristic style involving puppet installations, his offering for the Canadian pavilion comes in the form of multiple water sources and a poetic text that explains the origins of each of the easily overlooked industrial objects in the space.

Working with, instead of against, the pavilion’s current state of renovation, Farmer used the decrepit state of the 60-year-old pavilion to explore the joyful as well as more ominous connotations of water in the form of fountains, leaks and drips. The architectural alterations may hold surprises for visitors in the form of sudden jets of water, but it has a more somber purpose. Derived from tragedy, it references the history of the artist’s family and nation by suggesting death, catastrophe and passage of time. Focusing on in-between moments, Farmer aims to create a dialogue on how people piece things together and move forward one moment at a time.

The Venice Biennale runs until 26 November in Venice, Italy. For more information visit labiennale.org