Installation view, "Julie Mehretu. Ensemble", 2024, Palazzo Grassi, Venezia.
Photo: Marco Cappelletti

10 Must-See Exhibitions During the 2024 Venice Biennale

From Willem de Kooning at the Gallerie dell'Academia di Venezia to Julie Mehretu at the Palazzo Grassi, these are the top shows to discover beyond the Biennale

The 60th edition of the International Art Exhibition, titled “Foreigners Everywhere,” is a testament to how artists have always travelled and moved about under various circumstances. Curated by Adriano Pedrosa, artistic director of the São Paulo Museum of Art, the exhibition features 331 artists and collectives living in and between 80 countries. While VIP and press previews are April 17-19, “Foreigners Everywhere” opens to the public on April 20 and runs through November 24, 2024.

Abbazia di San Giorgio Maggiore. Photo: Courtesy Almine Rech

Beyond the main group exhibition in the Arsenale and Central Pavilion and solo and group shows in the National Pavilions—located in the Giardini, Arsenale, and spread throughout palaces, decommissioned churches and event spaces in Venice—there are Collateral exhibitions and museum and gallery shows, which are part of the overall art world gathering in Venice and are equally worth seeing.

These are our picks for the top ten associated shows, which should be on every Biennale visitor’s must-see list.

Walton Ford, Phantom, (2023). Photo: Charlie Rubin; Courtesy of the artist and Kasmin, New York

1. “Walton Ford: Lion of God” at Ateneo Veneto

Featuring a new body of work by Walton Ford that the New York-based artist conceived in response to the historical collection of the Venice’s Ateneo Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, the exhibition “Lion of God” presents a series of monumental watercolor paintings that explore the historical, biological, and environmental resonance of the subjects of the library’s collection. The presentation spans two rooms in the Ateneo, the Aula Magna on the ground floor and the Sala Tommaseo,  where Tintoretto’s Apparizione della Vergine a San Girolamo (The Apparition of the Virgin to St. Jerome), which features the figure of a lion, is a focal point of the show. A winged lion holding a book is the symbol of Venice and Saint Mark the Evangelist, the city’s patron saint, while lions are also featured throughout Ford’s vast body of work, with one of his largest lion watercolors on view in his current solo exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.

Through September 22

Ewa Juszkiewicz, Untitled (After François Gérard), (2023). Photo: Courtesy the artist and Almine Rech

2. “Ewa Juszkiewicz: Locks With Leaves And Swelling Buds” at Palazzo Cavanis

Presenting Ewa Juszkiewicz’s fascinating female portraits inspired by classic 18th and 19th-century paintings at the Almine and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso Foundation’s Palazzo Cavanis, the exhibition “Locks With Leaves And Swelling Buds” offers an overview of the Polish surrealist painter’s feminist reinterpretations of Neoclassical art masterpieces. Obscuring the faces of the women in her portraits with locks of hair, bunches of flowers, fabrics, shells, mushrooms and other expected things, she paints in layers with many glazes like an Old Master while following the brushstrokes of the original works. Strikingly transforming her subjects, Juszkiewicz challenges the traditional representations of women in the skillful style of the male—and sometimes female–artists she subverts.

Through September 1

Reza Aramesh, Site of the Fall - Study of the Renaissance Garden. Action 218: At 8:26 pm Thursday 16 November 2017, (2022). Photo: Thierry Bal; Courtesy Reza Aramesh Studio

3. “Reza Aramesh: NUMBER 207” at Chiesa di San Fantin

A British-Iranian artist based in London and New York, Reza Aramesh is best known for his digital photographs and realistic sculptures, created in traditional materials, of people subjected to suffering and brutality due to wars and conflicts or because of race, class, and sexuality. For his project at the Chiesa di San Fantin, a 10th Century parish church, the artist has crafted three series of marble sculptures in dialogue with the church in San Marco, its church paintings, and the context of punishment and reformation. The Site of the Fall: Study of the Renaissance Garden series depict working-class people of color and vulnerable men from the Middle East, Asia and Africa through the figure of Saint Sebastian, while another new series, titled Study of Sweatcloth as an Object of Desire, presents 207 life-sized men’s underwear carved from Carrara marble and dispersed across the floor of the church to construct the illusion of abandoned garments. With each work denoting a detention center, the underwear draws a direct reference to Leonardo Corona’s painting The Crucifixion, which is one of the many notable masterpieces in the church.

Through October 2

Installation view, "Julie Mehretu. Ensemble", 2024, Palazzo Grassi, Venezia. Photo: Marco Cappelletti

4. “Julie Mehretu: Ensemble” at Palazzo Grassi

A survey of paintings and works on paper by Julie Mehretu, which features a little help from her friends, “Ensemble” includes more than 50 of the Ethiopian American artists works that are exhibited alongside pieces by her friends Nairy Baghramian, Huma Bhabha, Tacita Dean, David Hammons, Robin Coste Lewis, Paul Pfeiffer, and Jessica Rankin. Celebrated for her multi-layered paintings of abstracted landscapes on a large scale, her paintings, drawings, and prints capture the collective impact of urban sociopolitical changes. Paired with artworks by some of her closest artist friends—some with whom she has traded works and others with whom she has collaborated—the exhibition, which spans a 25-year period of her practice, has been fascinatedly conceived as a free, non-chronological journey through Mehretu’s work

Through January 6

Yu Hong, Make a Wish, (2023). Photo: Courtesy Lisson Gallery

5. “Yu Hong: Another One Bites the Dust” at Chiesetta della Misericordia

One of China’s leading female contemporary artists, Yu Hong studied painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, where she has taught since graduating in 1988. Best known for her monumental allegorical paintings—her massive 2021 triptych The Ship of Fools, which references Hieronymus Bosch’s eponymous canvas but depicts a group of youngsters struggling to keep a boat afloat in dangerous waters, was a standout in the Unlimited section of Art Basel last year—she employs painting to portray the sorrows of the human condition and the absurd circumstances of contemporary life. Taking the title of the show from the 1980 song of the same name by the popular rock band Queen and borrowing images of people struggling with anxiety or looming physical danger—both real and imaginary—from the internet and social media, the artist paints realistically but with a paradoxical twist.

Berlinde De Bruyckere, Arcangelo III (San Giorgio), 2023-2024 (Work in progress), (2024). Photo: Mirjam Devriendt; Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

6. “Berlinde De Bruyckere: City of Refuge III” at Abbazia di San Giorgio Maggiore

A Belgian artist who makes drawings, sculptures and installation art, Berlinde De Bruyckere makes raw figurative sculptures and abstract drawings and installations inspired by mythology, religious imagery, folklore, and the Golden Age of Dutch and Flemish painting. The daughter of a butcher—which prepared her for dealing with corpses and death in her dark, poetic artworks—she attended a Catholic boarding school before going to art school in Ghent. Constructed with wax, animal skins, paper, textiles, metal and wood to create hybrid forms with human, animal, and plant features, her works transcend theological connotations, transporting them to the realm of the universal and profane.

The works in her “City of Refuge III” exhibition were specifically conceived for the sacred spaces of the Abbazia di San Giorgio Maggiore, a 16th-century Benedictine church. The third in a series of exhibitions by the artist centered on the theme of  art as a place of sanctuary and shelter, the show takes its title from an eponymous Nick Cave song. Presenting three new groups of works that uniquely respond to the church’s monumental architecture, function, symbolism, and history. Ranging from archetypal sculptures of the archangel appearing as a veiled, hybrid figure and large metal tables with dead tree trunks cast in wax on and around them to wall-vitrines with fossilized interpretations of the 16th- century Flemish woodcarver Albert van den Brulle’s walnut bas-reliefs, De Bruyckere layers existing histories with new narratives suggested by current events to create a psychological terrain of pathos, tenderness, and unease.

Through November 24

Willem de Kooning, Pirate (Untitled II), (1981). Photo: Museum of Modern Art, New York. Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund, 1982

7. “Willem de Kooning and Italy” at Gallerie dell’Academia di Venezia

Beginning with works by Willem de Kooning from the late 1950s, before the Dutch American artist initially visited Italy in 1959 and ending with his late paintings from the 1980s, this stellar exhibition reviews the influence that the first extended trip and a second stay in 1969 had on the celebrated Abstract Expressionist’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures. With loans from important private and museum collections, experimental black and white works on paper made during four months in 1959 are featured with abstract and figurative canvases he painted in New York in the years that followed. On the artist’s second visit he started sculpting figures in clay and produced 13 small sculptures cast in bronze editions, which are on view with larger expressive bronzes and related gestural drawings he made upon his return to his East Hampton studio.

A small room in the strikingly designed show offers related experimental bronzes by Auguste Rodin, Medardo Rosso, Alberto Giacometti while the exhibition’s final gallery features De Kooning’s late, large, light-filled canvases. It’s a rare opportunity to see such magnificent paintings from this late period of the artist’s oeuvre—on view from the collections of Jasper Johns, MoMA, Philadelphia Museum of Art, SFMOMA, and Museum Ludwig—all in one marvelous room.

 Through September 15

Jim Shaw painting a mural at Berggruen Arts & Culture, Palazzo Diedo. Photo: Jeff McLane

8. “Janus” at Palazzo Diedo

The inaugural exhibition at the Berggruen Arts & Culture, Palazzo Diedo, which is Venice’s first major art space for more than a decade, “Janus” features site-specific commissions and temporary exhibitions by 11 internationally acclaimed artists: Urs Fischer, Piero Golia, Carsten Höller, Ibrahim Mahama, Mariko Mori, Sterling Ruby, Jim Shaw, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Aya Takano, Lee Ufan, and Liu Wei. Sited in an 18th century palace built for a family of prominent Venetian nobles, the work responds to the architecture and original features of the building, some taking inspiration from traditional crafts associated with Venice, but exploring themes such as colonial history, religion in mythology, queer thought, black representation, and the self.

Through November 24

Sarah Sze, Untitled, (2024). Photo: Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

9. “Sarah Sze” at Victoria Miro

After initially studying painting, Sarah Sze launched her career as a sculptor, but over the years she’s added photography, video, printmaking, painting, and installation art to her experimental process to bring the studio directly into the gallery. A winner of the MacArthur Fellowship in 2003 and the United States representative at the 2013 Venice Biennale, Sze recently returned to her painterly roots in expansive solo shows and public installations, including her highly acclaimed photographic sculpture at LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal B in New York. Her first exhibition at Victoria Miro Venice includes a new, immersive moving-image installation and an equally captivating suite of new paintings in a space that simulates her studio environment, which lends the feeling that the works were painted in Venice.

Through June 16

Daniel Arsham, Eroded Blue Calcite Superveloce 800, (2023). Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli; Courtesy the artist and Perrotin

10. Daniel Arsham: Venice 3024 at Chiesa di Santa Caterina

Celebrated for his dynamic sculptures of decaying technological devices and crumbling cultural artifacts, Daniel Arsham makes art that looks as though it has just been discovered in an archeological dig. Equally known in the dance, fashion and design worlds for his collaborations with Merce Cunningham, Dior, Tiffany, Adidas, Porsche and Kith as he is for his numerous gallery solo shows at Ron Mandos, Nanzuka and Perrotin, the talented artist and designer is now being honored with his first solo show in Venice. Presented in a deconsecrated Roman Catholic church, the exhibition debuts new techniques into the artist’s Fractured Idols series, along with works in his signature Fictional Archaeology series.

Throughout the 15th century church, Arsham presents a suite of sculptures inspired by artworks from antiquity, while debuting a new suite of mosaic works in glass, a collaboration with Italian design company Bisazza. In addition, the artist offers the latest in his series of functional automobiles and motor sports vehicles, the Eroded Blue Calcite Superveloce 800, which was introduced at Art Basel Miami Beach last year.

Through September 15

Cover: Installation view, "Julie Mehretu. Ensemble", 2024, Palazzo Grassi, Venezia.
Photo: Marco Cappelletti


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