2022 Venice Biennale showcases surreal in contemporary art

By LISA KLEIN

The Venice Biennale – the longest-running international art exhibition in the world – kicked off last week with a bang of otherworldly works inspired by surrealist artist Leonora Carrington.

Curated by Italian-born Cecilia Alemani, the main event is inspired by the British surrealist Leonora Carrington and explores the art of being human.

“The Biennale sums up all the things we have so sorely missed in the last two years: the freedom to meet people from all over the world, the possibility of travel, the joy of spending time together, the practice of difference, translation, incomprehension and communion,” Ms. Alemani, the director of the public arts program for the High Line park in New York, said.

“In times like this, as the history of La Biennale di Venezia clearly shows, art and artists can help us imagine new modes of coexistence and infinite new possibilities of transformation,” she said.

The “Technologies of Enchantment” capsule. Photo by Roberto Marossi, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
Untitled by American artist Barbara Kruger. Photo by Roberto Marossi, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

La Biennale di Venezia‘s 59th edition runs from April 23 to Nov. 27, showing the contemporary work of 213 artists from 58 countries, five of which are participating for the first time ever – Cameroon, Namibia, Nepal, Oman and Uganda. Eighty pieces were created just for the Biennale.

There is a special open-air exhibition dedicated to raising awareness about the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Piazza Ukraina, in addition to the country’s own pavilion.

The main exhibition, The Milk of Dreams, is named after a book by Leonora Carrington (1917-2011).

“The surrealist artist describes a magical world where life is constantly re-envisioned through the prism of the imagination,” Ms. Alemani said. “It is a world where everyone can change, be transformed, become something or someone else.”

The vast majority of artists showing work are women, trans and non-binary. Their installations, large-scale work, films, sculptures and paintings explore what it means to be human and the relationships between humanity, bodies, technology and the rest of the planet.

“The Witch’s Cradle” capsule. Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
“Seduction of the Cyborg” capsule. Photo by Roberto Marossi, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

“The Milk of Dreams takes Leonora Carrington’s otherworldly creatures, along with other figures of transformation, as companions on an imaginary journey through the metamorphoses of bodies and definitions of the human,” Ms. Alemani said.

A series of conversations and lectures, taking place in June, will further explore these connections.

The Biennale opened Saturday, April 23 with the ceremony for its coveted Golden Lion awards.

The top prize for best national participation went to British artist Sonia Boyce, the first Black woman to represent the country at the exhibition, and her “Feeling Her Way” sound installation.

U.S. artist Simone Leigh won the Golden Lion for best participant in the main exhibit for her 16-foot-tall “Brick House” sculpture.

The award-winning “Brick House” by British artist Simone Leigh. Photo by Roberto Marossi, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
Photo by Roberto Marossi, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

Lifetime achievement Golden Lions went out to German sculptor Katharina Fritsch and Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña, known for their installations.  

As part of the Biennale, in conjunction with the arts exhibitions the city will hold the 50th International Theatre Festival in June, the 16th International Festival of Contemporary Dance in July, the 79th Venice International Film Festival in August and the 66th International Festival of Contemporary Music in September.

“My wish for the 59th International Art Exhibition is that we can all immerse ourselves in the ‘re-enchantment of the world’ that Cecilia evokes,” said Roberto Cicutto, president of La Biennale di Venezia. “Perhaps this is a dream, which is another of the constituent elements of this exhibition.”

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