Your Guide to the Venice Biennale

Must-See Shows at the 2022 Venice Biennale

There’s lots to see in this city floating on water. Maybe too much to see. So we’ve broken it down to the very best of the best. A mix of our favorite pavilions and favorite collateral events (aka exhibitions outside of the main Biennale exhibition).

Anselm Kiefer at the Palazzo Ducale

Anselm Kiefer at the Palazzo Ducale

First time in Venice? Start your journey here. You’ll still be fresh with energy to find your way to the exhibition in the first place. The Palazzo Ducale is a maze, but at least you’ll be crossing off a major tourist attraction off your list too. The Kiefer show itself is an incredible display of floor-to-ceiling artworks made with thick globs of paint, molten metals, and found objects (models of U-boats, military uniforms, even shopping carts). While referencing the room’s historic murals that depict Venetian military might, Kiefer also obliterates them with a more brutal and honest view of conflict and suffering. The exhibit’s title translates as follows: “These writings, when burned, will finally cast a little light.” Though that light can be hard to see, Kiefer proves that art remains a potent force during times of horror. 

Tickets are €26.

Exhibition Site

Simone Leigh at the Venice Biennale

Simone Leigh at the US Pavilion

If you’re looking for the most talked about pavilion, then head straight for Simone Leigh’s thatched roof US Pavilion filled with depictions of Black women as towering bronzes, stoneware, and vessels. Their scale allows for fascinating interactions: the statues communicate a palpable, poignant humanity as you stand beside them. Leigh’s work, anchored in history and handmade technique, brings overlooked narratives of black labor, community, and identity to the art world’s premier stage. She won the Golden Lion for her artwork in the main exhibition (basically the top prize at the Biennale), so when a jury of art experts say she’s literally the best, we think it’s safe to say you should check out her work too.

Pavilion Site

Image Caption: Simone Leigh: Façade, 2022. Thatch, steel, and wood, dimensions variable. Satellite, 2022. Bronze, 24 feet × 10 feet × 7 feet 7 inches (7.3 × 3 × 2.3 m) (overall). Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo by Timothy Schenck. © Simone Leigh
Louise Nevelson in Venice

Louise Nevelson at the Procuratie Vecchie

Instead of getting lost in Venice’s canals and narrow streets, get lost in the architectural labyrinths of Louise Nevelson’s sculptures. Taking over the Procuratie Vecchie, a 500-year old building opened to the public for the first time ever after a total makeover by starchitect David Chipperfield, her show invites your curiosity. The best of Nevelsons’s hallmark works are on view – cubby-type compartments crammed with objects and painted all in black. The way the show is lit creates these alluring shadows that really hint at the works’ obscurities that reflect back on the complexities of your own inner emotions. The show also features lesser-seen 2D collage works that really helped us better understand her overall practice. 

Exhibition Site

Zenib Sedira at the Venice Biennale

Zineb Sedira at the French Pavilion

Step inside and take a seat – literally. Zineb Sedira, the first artist of Algerian descent to represent France at the Biennale, transforms the pavilion into a series of installations based on movie sets and theater interiors. There’s even a full on bar set where you can settle in to watch a live tango. Sedira explores the cinematic blurring of reality and fiction while confronting the traumas of colonialism and discrimination. Throughout the space, she also references depictions of Algeria in classic films from the 1960s. Though it addresses tough topics, the work is unabashedly exuberant, reminding us that there’s nothing frivolous about enjoying ourselves if, in doing so, we can also make sense of our struggles. 

Pavilion Site

Sonia Boyce at the British Pavilion

Sonia Boyce at the British Pavilion

Venice is not a quiet place. Tourists shout and jostle in the streets, boats churn up and down the canals, and you yourself might let out a tiny scream after hours of supersonic art-seeing. Sonia Boyce adds to this cacophony with a show that will leave you lifted by our shared, visceral urge to make noise. Her installation, which won the Golden Lion for best national participation, features recordings of black female artists across multiple screens. They sing, hiss, whisper, and moan. One plays lyrically on a piano, another bursts out in high-pitched ecstatic cries. Together, they deliver a striking testament to the human voice, sometimes dissonant and jarring, sometimes harmonious and reassuring. Despite the decibels, you come away with a very real sense of shared humanity and, rarer still for our current world, a bit of hope. 

Pavilion Site

Mary Weatherford at the Palazzo Grimani

Mary Weatherford at the Palazzo Grimini

Titian, the Renaissance master and Venetian darling, has the home court advantage. So props to Mary Weatherford for going toe-to-toe with him, creating a whole show inspired by one of his paintings. Weatherford’s canvases meditate on the coexistence of beauty and horror. Attaching neon tubes to the fronts of her moody abstractions, she interrupts and complicates traditional notions of painting. The interplay between the somber canvases and the artificial light reflects both the paradoxes that first drew Weatherford to Titian and her own curiosity about “the difference between ignorance and hubris.” The Palazzo Grimani itself is tucked into an alleyway just northeast of San Marco, so it’s a quick getaway if you’re also trying to avoid tourists.

Tickets are €12.

Exhibition Site

Claire Tabouret at the Palazzo Cavanis in Venice

Claire Tabouret at Palazzo Cavanis

Located right by the water with its own courtyard to pair, the Palazzo Cavanis offers a quintessentially Venetian exhibition space. We’re already huge fans of Claire Tabouret’s works, so we were excited to see the full range of recent fountain sculptures alongside her more iconic paintings showcasing haunting yet irresistible female subjects. They’ve also displayed ancient religious sculptures of the Madonna, whose mysterious presence shares an affinity with Tabouret’s paintings: both evoke narratives of womanhood and transformation. By turns seductive and disquieting, the show leaves you with more questions than it does answers: as always, Tabouret unsettles and enthralls. A perfect show for those drawn to beautiful weirdness.

Ca' d'Oro

From Donatello to Alessandro Vittoria at Ca’ d’Oro

We know, we know… here at ArtDrunk we’re all about the very new, and this is something very old. But even the most diehard contemporary art fans would be remiss to travel to Venice and not take some time out to see the Renaissance masterpieces that helped make this city what it is. This show focuses on sculpture, presenting statues and reliefs of saints, mythological characters, and Venetian bigwigs. The show is not enormous but the work displayed is of rare beauty, and will leave you in awe at both the level of refinement these artists achieved and the social conditions that enabled them. What’s more, the exhibit’s organizers have developed a wide-ranging itinerary that draws attention to other sculptures in churches and museums throughout the city, giving an opportunity to explore and appreciate this work in a variety of contexts. 

Exhibition Site

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