As the Venice Biennale hosts its 60th edition, the art world descends on La Serenissima once again to be immersed in the discursive trends du jour. But some of the most rewarding discoveries take place beyond the borders of the Giardini and the Arsenale. The nine events below will have you purposefully drifting through Venice in pursuit of the unexpected.

Berlinde De Bruyckere
‘City of Refuge III’
Abbazia di San Giorgio Maggiore – Benedicti Claustra Onlus
April 20 – November 24, 2024

Best known for sculptural works that often resemble religious relics and venerated, if disintegrating, wax bodies, Berlinde De Bruyckere presents new installations that respond to the sacred spaces of the monumental 16th-century Benedictine church of San Giorgio Maggiore on the island of the same name. De Bruyckere, who represented Belgium at the Venice Biennale in 2013, confronts viewers with unnerving ambiguity only to expertly mold any uncertainties into visceral recognitions. Here, the artist’s archangels – hybrid beings connecting Heaven and Earth – vacillate with the venue’s spiritual intensity to offer meditations on art as a place of sanctuary and shelter.

Berggruen Arts & Culture
Palazzo Diedo
From April 20, 2024

Following a major restoration, the five-story historic Palazzo Diedo is now the permanent home of Berggruen Arts & Culture. The venue – replete with original 18th-century frescoes and 4,000 m2 of exhibition space – launches with ‘Janus’, a group show featuring site-specific commissions, some of which will become permanent, by Urs Fischer, Piero Golia, Carsten Höller, Ibrahim Mahama, Mariko Mori, Sterling Ruby, Jim Shaw, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Aya Takano, Lee Ufan, and Liu Wei. Concurrent to this is a solo exhibition by Rhea Dillon, organized together with the New York nonprofit The Kitchen. The artist and writer, whose work dissects conceptions of Blackness in aesthetic and theoretical realms, has created a sprawling sculptural exhibition for the space, which was also used as a school and a court in its lustrous history.

‘With My Eyes’
Holy See Pavilion
Giudecca Women’s Prison
April 20 – November 24, 2024

The Holy See Pavilion, presented by the Vatican, has been somewhat of a confusing presence at the Venice Biennale since 2013, often skipped over with a shrug. But this year, the pavilion promises to create one of the buzziest exhibitions. Installed inside the women’s prison on the island of Giudecca, visits to the show will be led by inmates and require advance registration. This is integral to the show’s concept, designed to question voyeuristic desires. Artists including Maurizio Cattelan, Simone Fattal, and choreographer Bintou Dembélé have worked with prisoners on newly commissioned pieces; others, such as Claire Fontaine and Sonia Gomes, have conceived site-aware installations for the prison’s architecture. Pope Francis is also scheduled to visit the exhibition – another first in the Biennale’s history.

‘Beati Pacifici: The Disasters of War and the Hope for International Peace, Selected Artworks from The Bailey Collection’
Chiesa di San Samuele
April 16 – September 29, 2024

Francisco Goya’s canonical series of etchings ‘The Disasters of War’ (1810-1820) is the centerpiece of this show, linking dozens of historical and contemporary artworks from the collection of Canadian philanthropist W. Bruce Bailey. Located a stone’s throw away from Palazzo Grassi at the San Samuele church, the exhibition focuses on works with anti-heroic depictions of violent conflicts. Jacques Callot’s series ‘The Miseries of War’ (1633) is exhibited alongside Otto Dix’s 1924 series ‘The War’, which quotes both Callot and Goya. Jake and Dinos Chapman’s series of etchings and watercolors titled ‘Disasters of War II’ (1999) – a direct response to Goya – and Marlene Dumas’s print The Fog of War (2006) are two of the contemporary works resonating with anti-war messages.

Josèfa Ntjam
‘swell of spæc(i)es’
Presented by LAS Art Foundation
Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia and Palazzina Canonica – CNR ISMAR

April 20 – November 24, 2024

Fresh off the heels of her debut US solo show at Fotografiska in New York, the French artist Josèfa Ntjam unveils ‘swell of spæc(i)es’, a new commission across two locations: a purpose-built structure in the courtyard of Venice’s art academy and an interactive element at the Institute of Marine Sciences of the National Research Council of Italy (CNR ISMAR). At the academy, a moving-image assemblage, scored by Fatima al Qadiri, depicts a deep-sea creation myth shaped by ancient narratives and future-oriented storytelling in which plankton become a point of convergence between the depths of the ocean and outer space. With the otherworldly environment dreamt up in ‘swell of spæc(i)es,’ the artist also pays tribute to Afrofuturism through references to the electronic music duo Drexciya, who speak of an underwater population born from the wrecks of the Atlantic human trade, and Sun Ra, who envisioned Saturn as a host planet for Afro-diasporic people. At ISMAR, meanwhile, visitors will be able to generate unique hybrid plankton species with AI.

Martha Jungwirth
‘Herz der Finsternis’
Palazzo Cini Gallery
April 17 – September 29, 2024

Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart of Darkness about the brutality of European colonialism in Africa greatly impacted artist Martha Jungwirth’s perspective on migration and displacement today. In her new stirring series ‘Herz der Finsternis’ (the German title of Conrad’s novella), the Austrian painter responds to the precarity of people seeking a better future by transporting profound emotional states through abstraction. Departing from the skin tones that have become synonymous with her style of abstraction – one that she has honed for six decades and is grounded in the corporeal experience – Jungwirth here uses a palette of greens and petrol, evoking both Conrad’s use of the jungle as a problematic metaphor and the dark depths of the Mediterranean Sea.

Lee Bae
‘La Maison De La Lune Brûlée’
Wilmotte Foundation
April 20 – November 24, 2024

Daljip taeugi, or ‘moonhouse burning,’ is a ritual held annually in Korea on the first full moon of the year. In ‘La Maison De La Lune Brûlée’, Lee Bae pays homage to this tradition, connecting folklore and natural phenomenon with new artworks that are as serenely contemplative as lunar rhythms. Lee Bae began the work by collecting wishes for the new year from around the world and transcribing them onto hanji paper, a traditional Korean medium. These messages then became part of the moonhouse burning in late February 2024, which he filmed. The resulting seven-channel video work will be unveiled here, alongside gestural brushstrokes on the walls and floors that the artist made with ashes collected from the ritual. With the brushstrokes as guides, visitors follow a path toward a monolithic sculpture carved from black granite titled Meok, while another sculpture, titled Moon, looks out to the water.

Rick Lowe: ‘The Arch within the Arc’
April 17 – November 24, 2024
Wael Shawky: ‘I Am Hymns of the New Temples’
April 17 – June 30, 2024

Museo di Palazzo Grimani

Palazzo Grimani, with its rare Tuscan-Roman Renaissance architecture, hosts two unmissable exhibitions this year. ‘The Arch within the Arc’, Texas-based artist Rick Lowe’s first solo show in Italy, features new Venice-inspired paintings that reflect on the visual influences of ancient architecture on urban landscapes. With their complex, undulating patterns and warm tones, the large-scale works evoke the sense of moving through the city and across its waters. Meanwhile, Wael Shawky – who is also presenting new work in Egypt’s pavilion in the Giardini – shows the film I Am Hymns of the New Temples (2023), which premiered last year inside Pompeii’s amphitheater. A dense visual feast, the work was filmed inside the archeological site of Pompeii and explores, in song, dance, and fantastical creatures, the interconnections between Egyptian and Greco-Roman mythology.

Credits and Captions

    Hili Perlson is a writer and editor based between Berlin and Palermo.

    Caption for top image: Sonia Gomes, Sinfonia das cores, Installation View, Pinacoteca de São Paulo, Brazil, 2023. Photo: Levi Fanan, Courtesy of Pinacoteca de São Paulo.

    Published on April 9, 2024.