The 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia opens this week for previews after a year of postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Open to the public April 23 and curated by Cecilia Alemani, this year’s iteration is on view at the Giardini and the Arsenale until November 27, welcoming work by 213 artists from 58 countries under the title “The Milk of Dreams.”
“During these endless months in front of the screen, I have pondered the question of what role the International Art Exhibition should play at this historical juncture, and the simplest, most sincere answer I could find is that 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,” said Alemani. “The Milk of Dreams is not an exhibition about the pandemic, but it inevitably registers the upheavals of our era. 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.”
Named after Leonora Carrington’s book of the same name, wherein the artist’s surrealist lens whimsically reimagines the world in which we live, the show poses questions on the definition of “human,” our responsibilities to our planet, and what the world would look like without us. A historical narrative built from past artworks, documents, objects, and borrowed acquisitions gives context to viewers in smaller time capsules located throughout the grounds, surrounding Alemani’s concept, which focuses on three thematic sections: the relationship between individuals and technology, connections between bodies and the Earth, and representations of bodies and their metamorphoses.
Taking visitors on an artistic journey through a format conceived by Formafantasma, the presentation features new works and projects conceived especially for the biennial, created by a roster that marks the exhibition’s first majority of women and gender non-conforming artists—including the debut of the first-time participating countries, the Republic of Cameroon, Namibia, Nepal, Sultanate of Oman, and Uganda. Branching across the Giardini’s Central Pavilion, the Corderie, Artiglierie, and the surrounding outdoor spaces, Alemani’s concept includes works from creatives like Augusta Savage, Carol Rama, and Loïs Mailou Jones, looking at the shifting of anatomies in response for transformation and emancipation; visual and concrete poetry from Giovanna Sandri, Mary Ellen Solt, and Tomaso Binga; the signs and symbols of names like Brownyn Katz and Sable Elyse Smith alongside Charlotte Johannesson’s machine-code-informed art; and Belkis Ayón’s imaginings of a matriarchal society, just to name a few.
“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 in her introduction. Perhaps this is a dream, which is another of the constituent elements of this Exhibition,” said Roberto Cicutto, the President of La Biennale di Venezia.
Those in attendance should be on the lookout for collateral events around the city, including a presentation of Elisa Giardina Papa at Forte Marghera, a special project by Sophia Al-Maria at the Applied Arts Pavilion, the first edition of the Biennale College Arte, and more. Also of note, this year’s biennial has set a plan of action to maintain carbon neutrality, working towards sustainability through the use of recyclable materials, renewable power sources, and specific criteria for vendors and suppliers.