New Nicholas Serota pavilion among this year’s Venice Biennale highlights

Other standouts include shows by Damien Hirst and Paul Benney

Poolside Magic by Chris Ofili, 2012
Poolside Magic by Chris Ofili, 2012 | Image: Courtesy of the artist

Emerging artists will be a big focus at this year’s Venice Biennale, which gets underway on Saturday May 13. Outgoing Tate director Nicholas Serota is launching the Diaspora pavilion, featuring works by 11 up-and-coming British artists from diverse backgrounds, such as Kimathi Donkor, who is of central African descent, and mentors such as Nigerian-born Sokari Douglas Camp, who makes figurative sculptures out of oil barrels. The Victor Pinchuk Foundation, meanwhile, is showcasing the work of 21 young artists from 16 countries, including South African Dineo Seshee Bopape and Kenyan-born Londoner Phoebe Boswell.

Erkka Nissinen and Nathaniel Mellors at the Finnish pavilion
Erkka Nissinen and Nathaniel Mellors at the Finnish pavilion | Image: Photo by Veera Konsti, courtesy Frame Contemporary Art Finland. Finland’s pavilion is commissioned by Frame Contemporary Art Finland, frame-finland.fi

Victoria Miro is opening a new gallery a short walk from St Mark’s Square, where it will show Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili’s Poolside Magic (estimate $55,000-$75,000). The series of pastel, charcoal and watercolour works will be appearing in its entirety for the first time ­– look out for the depiction of a man in coat-tails serving a naked woman beside a swimming pool, which is a riff on the vibrant and sensuous landscape and culture of Trinidad, where Ofili lives and works.

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There is also a strong seam of playful absurdity running through this year’s Biennale, seen most evidently at the Palazzo Grassi in Damien Hirst’s long-awaited Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, a gargantuan underwater fantasy featuring faked treasures from a fictional shipwreck. We have had fake news; now, it seems, we have fake art about fake news.

A still from Nissinen and Mellors’ The Aalto Natives
A still from Nissinen and Mellors’ The Aalto Natives | Image: Courtesy of the artists and Frame Contemporary Art Finland. Finland’s pavilion is commissioned by Frame Contemporary Art Finland, frame-finland.fi

At the Icelandic pavilion, visitors to Egill Sæbjörnsson’s Out of Controll in Venice exhibition will find works by trolls-turned-artists who “stalk” other Biennale shows and turn their adventures into an immersive installation in the style of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

The Aalto pavilion
The Aalto pavilion | Image: Photo by Ugo Carmeni. Finland’s pavilion is commissioned by Frame Contemporary Art Finland, frame-finland.fi

On the island of San Giorgio, Khora Contemporary will present a virtual-reality show by Christian Lemmerz and Paul McCarthy. Meanwhile, at the Scottish pavilion – which this year is in a 13th-century church – Rachel Maclean’s new film Spite Your Face: A Dark Venetian Fairytale is a richly psychedelic social satire that lampoons politicians such as Donald Trump, and questions notions of truth and power.

Empress Impress by Stephen Chambers, 2016-17
Empress Impress by Stephen Chambers, 2016-17 | Image: Courtesy of the artist

The fantastical also reigns supreme at the Finnish pavilion, where comedic duo Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen will probe the finer points of nationalism and creation myths – including the origins of the (made-up) theory that their country was created from an egg – in their installation The Aalto Natives.

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One of the most noteworthy painting shows will be at the Cini Foundation, which has a series of early silkscreens by Robert Rauschenberg that date from the time when he was friends with Andy Warhol. And for a church just off St Mark’s, British portraitist Paul Benney (works from £10,000 to £300,000) has created remarkable painting-cum-audio-installation Speaking in Tongues, which depicts 12 of his friends describing significant spiritual moments in their lives.

Finally, Stephen Chambers has painted 100 panel portraits of figures from the imaginary court of Redonda – an island off Antigua. Installed in an enormous tableau across two walls of the piano nobile of the 17th-century palazzo Ca’ Dandolo, it is this Biennale’s most exquisite fusion of fantasy and fiction. Typically Chambers pictures cost £10,000-£100,000 each, but The Court of Redonda is being sold as a single work.

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