Greg Smith, owner of Contemporary Art & Editions and a recognized expert on contemporary fine art, traveled to Italy in April for one of the world’s premier art exhibitions: the Venice Biennale, a curated country-by-country showcase for each participating nation’s leading contemporary artists.

“Biennale” refers to a large art exhibition or festival held every two years. For this year’s event, each country selected one or more artists to exhibit what best represents that nation’s contemporary art, said Smith, who was INDUSTRY’s eyes and ears at the extravaganza in what he calls, “the most beautiful city on earth.”

This year’s theme is “The Milk of Dreams,” demonstrated through official and unofficial exhibits across the ancient city known as much for its treasure trove of art as its legendary canals. As Smith observed, “Beauty mixed with fun this year, previewing the direction and methodologies of fine art for the next decade.” Smith’s “pilgrimage” to the Biennale began impressively with a press brunch at the Surrealism and Magic show of over 40 works presented by associate curator Grazina Subelyte at the city’s waterfront Peggy Guggenheim Museum.

“This year’s Biennale, which runs through November 27, is largely dominated by art created by female or non-binary artists reflecting on social, political, and sexual themes in thoughtful ways,” Smith related. “At the U.S.A. pavilion, called Giardini (gardens), Simone Leigh of Chicago, an African American sculptor, shines in this well-installed, beautifully executed, and bold statement entitled Sovereignty, on the subject of the independent black woman in world culture.”

The show is presented in a well-organized, accessible, and user-friendly manner in two primary locations: the Giardini and the Arsenale, a former ordnance storage building. These are complemented by several independently located country pavilions as well as artist-specific “super shows.” For example, extraordinary surveys are being presented for artists including Marlene Dumas, Louise Nevelson, and Anish Kapoor, while the off-site pavilions of Uganda and Portugal (Vampires in Space) are equally worth one’s time.
More Highlights:


France Pavilion: A film by Zinel Zadira, together with the actual film sets, draws upon her personal cultural assimilation (Algerian, British, French) and attendant tensions within a backdrop of social unrest, which distill into a message of the triumph of hope and endurance over the hardships of history

Malta: Archangelo Sassolino conjures a visually stunning interpretation of Caravaggio’s masterpiece The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. The magic emerges from the dropping of searing hot dollops of molten steel into pools of water arranged to affect the positions of the central characters within the actual painting, an incredible conceptual work.
Belgium Pavilion: Francis Alys chooses to embrace hope and love of life in the simple, touching games of the world’s children, from the tragic landscapes of Kabul to Hong Kong’s over-populated suburbs, Mexico’s cartel-infested cities, and the impoverished Congo. A life affirming collection of videos and miniature paintings.

Don’t Miss: Mexico, New Zealand, Japan, and Great Britain

Outstanding artist-specific exhibitions in venues outside the Giardini or Arsenale include South African Marlene Dumas at the Palazzo Grassi, Anish Kapoor at the Academia and Palazzo Manfrin, Louise Nevelson in Piazza San Marco, and the Pavilion of Uganda. At the latter, sculptural assemblages by Acaye Kerunen utilize the collective works of Ugandan women weavers and cloth makers, together with insightful portrait paintings by Collin Sekajugo in a show titled Radiance.

The most impressive works from war-torn Ukraine were presented in a small space along the short walk from the Arsenale to the Giardini facing the Grand Canal. There, the highly regarded Continua Gallery presented a pure, heart-wrenching selection of small works by Zhanna Kadyrova. The Russian Pavilion in the Giardini? Closed.

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