So you’re thinking of visiting the Art Biennale in Venice in 2019?… The history, architecture, culture, and geography of Venice is a powerful platform for contemporary art and design, and the Art Biennale is certainly the ‘Art Olympics’. The event is an underline, an exclamation mark and a highlight in the art lover’s calendar!

The Art Biennale is a wild ride, centred around a key, themed exhibition, and supported by an array of related conversations and events. Its heady and immersive mix of contemporary visual art drew over 600,000 people in 2017.

The curator of the 2019 Venice Biennale, Ralph Rugoff, explained that the 58th International Art Exhibition will move away from a ‘theme’ as such, but will rather “highlight a general approach to making art and a view of art’s social function as embracing both pleasure and critical thinking. Ultimately, Biennale Arte 2019 aspires to the ideal that what is most important about an exhibition is not what it puts on display, but how audiences can use their experience of the exhibition afterwards, to confront everyday realities from expanded viewpoints and with new energies”.

Megan Dicks, Otomys Contemporary Director, is still savouring her experience of Viva Arte Viva 2017 – so here, in conversation with Jessica Leighton, Otomys Contemporary Art Consultant in Queensland, Megan shares her highlights, as well as an insight into the richness of the experience.

My highlights began from the moment I bought the tickets under the trees at the I Giardini della Biennale… I had longed to experience this spectacular global celebration of art and here I was at last!


New Zealand Pavilion – Lisa Reihana: Emissaries. 

This exhibition by Māori artist Lisa Reihana, featuring the epic, panoramic video installation ‘in Pursuit of Venice ’ is a contemporary exploration of the French scenic wallpaper ‘Les Sauvages De La Mer Pacifique, 1804—1805’ (also known as ‘Captain Cook’s voyages’). This installation was of extraordinary truth, complexity, scale and detail. Examining representations of Pacific and indigenous history and culture, the colonial narrative, and power, Reihana described: “For me it was really reclaiming our stories and making us more real again. Talking about the past, talking about now and how we can think of ourselves in the future.” Further, “the Pacific people in ‘in Pursuit of Venice ’ are also no longer passive, they gaze back at viewers and are active participants in a plethora of encounters that relate to a multiplicity of indigenous experiences within the colonial narrative; the good the bad and the ugly.”

Argentina – National Pavilion – Claudia Fontes: The Horse Problem.

The scale, emotion and detail of this installation in the semi-industrial space was breathtaking. A girl touches the nose of a giant white horse, frozen in mid-air, in this large-scale sculpture by Claudia Fontes, which examines cultural identity, colonialism, war, feminism and the relationship between animal and human. The two central figures are surrounded by 400 white rocks (which are hung and scattered around the figures) and a young boy. Fontes shared with Artreview: “The scene is inspired by the nineteenth-century cultural icons around which Argentina’s cultural identity was artificially built, and challenges them with a surreal scene that will hopefully have the quality of an apparition.”

Nordic Pavilion – Sweden, Norway, and Finland – Siri Aurdal, Nina Canell, Charlotte Johannesson, Jumana Manna, Pasi “Sleeping” Myllymäki, and Mika Taanila:  Mirrored. 

In this group exhibition, striking sculpture and moving images explored the relationships between each of the nordic countries of this region, and how their artistic practices connect. “The artists in Mirrored present a mapping of connections that override the national and regional boundaries, and instead track a more multi-faceted view of how artistic practice may connect”, said curator Mats Stjernstedt.

Palazzo Grassi on the Grand Canal – Damien Hirst: Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable.

This was one of the more dramatic and divisive installations, featuring 189 works, including an 18-metre high statue of ‘Demon with a Bowl’, which climbed up and beyond the three levels of this 18th-century palace, and could be viewed from each level. This, alongside an extensive collection of Hirst’s sculptures, which explored the fictional tale of a shipwreck and a 2nd-century collector, looked at themes of reality, value, context and fantasy.

German Pavilion – Anne Imhof: Faust.

The German Pavillion was awarded Best Pavilion 2017, and it was certainly the most sensational, violent and unnerving of them all. We took turns standing in a queue for almost an hour, and as we walked closer to the show, and the black Doberman dogs behind wired cages at the front of the pavilion, the tension became palpable. Once we were inside to view the performance, the silence of the portico was suddenly broken by shrill screams and thumping sounds as heavy bodies were thrown onto the glass floor. A small platform high above us held a young man with a chain around his neck who looked as though he was about to jump, and on the floor, two large men wrestled each other in amongst the mesmerised viewers. Below the double thick reinforced glass floor lay a young adult on a worn mattress against the wall sprayed with graffiti. This tiered performance was powerful in its portrayal of the darkness of dejected youth.

Pavilion of Time and Infinity – Edith Dekyndt: One Thousand and One Nights.

This was my most beautiful and peaceful highlight. The simplicity was a theatre in itself – a performer sweeps materials, to align with the light, and engage the viewer in a quiet, reflective, attentive moment. Dekyndt: ‘A carpet made of dust collected at Arsenale, Venezia, is placed under a light whose beam espouses perfectly the shape of the carpet. Regularly, the lamp slightly turns on its axis. Someone then comes to softly move the dust with a broom back under the light.’

If I’d had more time I would have taken a ferry to visit ‘Qwalala’ by American artist Pae White, a coloured glass installation on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, but this required at least a half day. My four days were jam-packed and punctuated with plenty of Aperols, deep-fried mozzarella and pasta – a fifth day would have been superb!

Accommodation in Venice varies enormously, and a great location offers the option to breakfast in the nearby courtyard with locals or to sit on the verandah overlooking the energetic and often glamorous water traffic.

I’d highly recommend:

  • San Clemente Palace  Kempinski which is set on its own private island; just a short ferry ride to the mainland.
  • If it was good enough for George and Amal Clooney for their wedding night then it may be worth considering the fabulous Aman Venice and booking this one well ahead. This hotel has a luxurious and confident blend of high Italian renaissance interior detail highlighted by its contrast with contemporary art and design.
  • Live like a local and stay in one of the centrally located and well-appointed apartments through Views on Venice.

The Biennale is unique in its power to bring together artists from varied disciplines, from across the globe, at such a large scale. It was an opportunity to relish and delight in cultural and artistic diversity, and a chance to gain endless inspiration from international influences. Venice Biennale 2019 – lock me in!

Otomys Contemporary is most excited to introduce and welcome the work of Karin Haas! Karin is a New York City based multimedia artist. Living in Manhattan, her work is heavily inspired by her surroundings of architecture, and the geometric surfaces of stone, marble, terrazzo and tiled patterns. Karin deconstructs these patterns and builds them back up to create minimal yet complex abstract forms that explore movement and balance. New York City is full of colour and has influenced Karin to freely choose a palette for her works, without overthinking it.