Curator Bice Curiger takes an old-meets-new approach to the city’s 54th International Art Exhibition, titled “ILLUMInations.” The Swiss critic (and cofounder and editor of the contemporary art magazine Parkett) mixes works by veterans James Turrell and Christopher Wool with those of Biennale first- timers, 32 of whom were born after 1975. Of course, contemporary art in conversation with both itself and its forebears has always been part of the Biennale. This exhibition, which opens on June 4, simply underscores the idea, most notably with the inclusion of Jacopo Tintoretto (1518–94), who makes his Biennale debut as a reminder of the city’s art-historical glories.
In an inspired twist on how painters and sculptors influence and interact with one another, Curiger asked four artists—Song Dong, Monika Sosnowska, Oscar Tuazon, and Franz West—to create “parapavilions” around the Giardini to host the work of others. All four are known for their provocative uses of space and bravura sculptural productions—from Song’s obsessively arranged displays of detritus to Sosnowska’s heady play with building elements.
The national pavilions are a balance of the established and the up-and-coming. Reversing its recent tendency toward career-surveying retrospectives, the U.S. pavilion, organized by Indianapolis Museum of Arts curator Lisa Freiman and sponsored by Hugo Boss, has tapped the team of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla for a new installation combining performance, sculpture, sound, and video. Elsewhere, new works by Mike Nelson (representing Britain) and Thomas Hirschhorn (Switzerland) keep company with projects by the late theater impresario Christoph Schlingensief (Germany) and the stalwart installation artist Christian Boltanski (France).
Other exhibitions opening in tandem with the Biennale draw on Venice’s legendary architectural magnificence. For example, most contemporary art would look orphaned amid the rococo mirrors and Tiepolo frescoes of Ca’ Rezzonico—the white-marble palazzo housing a museum of 18th-century Venetian art, across the Grand Canal from François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi—but the work of American sculptor Barry X Ball should be comfortably at home. For his exhibition of 24 works installed in 19 rooms, Ball spent three years researching the palazzo’s riches. The results, including dramatic statuary carved from milky Iranian onyx, inky black Belgian marble, and veined Mexican onyx, offer a vibrant contrapuntal note to Ca’ Rezzonico’s operatic interiors.
Of course, the Ca’ Rezzonico is not the only site mixing the historic and the contemporary. The formerly grand Ca’ Corner della Regina once belonged to a pope; now the Fondazione Prada is collaborating with the municipal Fondazione Musei Civici on a six-year project to rejuvenate the 1720s palazzo (though not at the expense of its shabby charm). To christen the space, Prada is expected to exhibit highlights of its extensive art collection, selected by star curator Germano Celant, as well as newly commissioned work by Francesco Vezzoli and Thomas Demand. And in a nod to Venice’s place in history as an international crossroads of global trade, Prada is said to be importing art and antiques on loan from far-flung institutions—juxtaposing, say, a Jeff Koons sculpture with china and ceramics from Saint Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum.