What to see at the Venice Biennale, according to 9 art aficionados

A cast of art devotees share their must-go happenings at the 59th Venice Biennale.

The 59th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, “The Milk of Dreams.” Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia. Andrea Avezzù

Last week the Venice Biennale opened its doors to a select audience of journalists, experts, artists, VIP guests, and a few celebrities. We spotted Chance the Rapper, Miuccia Prada, Tilda Swinton, and Werner Herzog.

Curated by Cecilia Alemani, the 59th International Art Exhibition edition is titled “Milk of Dreams” and brings together the work of 213 artists from 58 countries. We asked those who have visited the Biennale over the last few days to share the must-go happenings in Venice we shouldn’t miss, and choosing only one was not easy.

Alessandro Sciarroni

Italian choreographer and Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement awardee at the Venice Biennale.

Diego Marcon at the Arsenale

“I know I’m not original.” Of Cecilia Alemani’s portion of the exhibition at the Arsenale, the Italian choreographer who was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale for Dance in 2019 chose the work of Italian artist Diego Marcon. “The Parents’ Room” is a dark recital of tragedy and ambivalence. The narrative follows the lyrical tale of a man, perched on the edge of an unmade bed, singing about the murders of his wife and two young children, and his own suicide. The scene is quiet; snow slides past the open window and the song of a blackbird provides the melody for the father’s tale. The juxtaposition of the domestic environment with the disfigured forms of the characters and the unfolding of their twisted destiny elicits feelings of confusion and revulsion. The use of CGI effects and prosthetics results in an eerie, cartoony characterization. Hyper-realistic masks give them a puppet-like form, rendering their movements reminiscent of stop-motion animation and further cultivating a distortion of reality that is characteristic of Marcon’s work. “I found the video poignant,” Sciarroni commented. “I still carry it with me.”

Follow Sciarroni on Instagram @alessandro_sciarroni.

Diego Sileo

Curator at the PAC Contemporary Art Pavilion in Milan.

Marco Fusinato at the Australian Pavilion

Marco Fusinato’s “DESASTRES,” curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor is an experimental noise project that synchronizes sound with image.

“An incredible chance for audiences to come together within a high-intensity concentration of energy,” commented Diego Sileo. “What can’t be seen, can be felt: sound as physical matter which creates a total experience.”

Originally from the Veneto region in Italy, Marco Fusinato’s parents migrated to Australia where he was born. He currently lives and works in Naarm/Melbourne. Fusinato is a contemporary artist and noise-musician whose work takes the form of installation, photographic reproduction, design, performance, and recording. “DESASTRES at the Australian Pavilion (Giardini della Biennale, Viale Giardini Pubblici) is a culmination of his interests in noise/experimental music, underground culture, mass media images, and art history.

Follow Diego Sileo on Instagram @diego.sileo and visit his latest exhibition “When Fear Eats The Soul,” the first solo exhibition in Italy of Artur Żmijewski, at the PAC in Milan.

The Pavilion of Belgium, The Nature of the Game, at the 59th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, “The Milk of Dreams.” Photo by Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia.
The Pavilion of Belgium, The Nature of the Game, at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, “The Milk of Dreams.” Photo by Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia.

Gabi Scardi

Acclaimed art historian, curator, and writer.

Francis Alÿs at the Belgian Pavilion

For the exhibition in the Belgian Pavilion (Giardini della Biennale, Viale Giardini Pubblici), artist Francis Alÿs presents a selection of new short films shot in 2017 in Hong Kong, Democratic Republic of Congo, Belgium, and Mexico. Filming without interfering in the games, Alÿs reveals the hidden rules of playing, the ingenious interaction of the children with their environment, their deep complicity, and their hopeful mood and joy. “A direct grip on reality with its urgency, cogency, poetry,” said Gabi Scardi. The installation in the Pavilion invites the visitor to walk through a labyrinth of screens as if they were in the middle of a global playground. The sound and image of the different films interact with each other, fragments forming together a whole, allegories translating the complexity of a sometimes harsh reality. A series of small paintings covering a period from 1994 to 2021 accompanies the video presentation providing the context in which some of the films were made. From Kabul to Ciudad Juárez, from Jerusalem to Shanghai, they unfold Alÿs’ distinct poetic sensibility toward social and political concerns.

Follow her on Instagram @gabscardi and visit her ongoing exhibition projects: Atelier dell’Errore at the Procuratie Vecchie, in Venice, and the Antonio Scaccabarozzi’s retrospective at the Museo del Novecento in Milan.

Jerry Gogosian

Artist, meme-maker extraordinaire, and podcast host.

“The Milk of Dreams” at the Arsenale

“Arsenale is better,” said Hilde Lynn Helphenstein (AKA Jerry Gogosian), an artist, meme-maker extraordinaire, and podcast host. “[It’s] not so chaotically over hung.”

The Milk of Dreams is based on Leonora Carrington’s children’s book of the same name, in which the Surrealist artist tells hallucinatory tales of hybrid, mutant animals. “Carrington’s stories describe a magical world where life is constantly re-envisioned through the prism of the imagination and where everyone can change, be transformed, or become something or someone else. The Exhibition takes Carrington’s otherworldly creatures as companions on an imaginary journey through metamorphoses of the body and definitions of the human,” writes Cecilia Alemani, Curator of the 59th Art Biennale, in a statement to the press.

The exhibition “imagines a transhistorical journey that does not revolve around systems of direct inheritance or conflict, but around forms of symbiosis, solidarity, and sisterhood, meeting along the way artists who have radically reinvented the categories of the human and the self,” writes Alemani.

Follow Hilde on Instagram @JerryGogosian and discover more about her work at larrysaltz.com.

Jordan Anderson

Writer, curator, and founder of MQBMBQ (My queer blackness, my black queerness).


At the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (P.za San Marco, 52) “HISTORYNOW” marks a new chapter in Quinn’s decade-long “History Paintings” project. Forty-eight new paintings and an accompanying STELE sculpture are presented in dialogue with the museum’s collection from classical antiquity, inviting reflections on society’s past and present. Quinn’s works, which begin their life as iPhone screenshots, replicate the digital portals through which humans absorb, consume, and share news, a phenomenon markedly accelerated by the events of the last two years. Through screens, society witnesses world-shifting cultural events, incidents of human tragedy, and natural disasters, alongside moments of pop-cultural levity in one endlessly refreshing stream. “This was surely my favorite,” said Anderson.

“The paintings and prints are screenshots from the iPhone and he paints on them. Some of them he called them ‘glass,’ like actual glass, that looks like a broken iPhone,” he added. “Headlines or Instagram posts that are monumental to our times like Kim Kardashian at the Met Ball” he tittered. “It’s a conversation about history in general, about what we see as history, and I thought that was really interesting.”

Follow Jordan on Instagram @symbiosity and learn more about MQBMBQ at mqbmbq.com.

The Pavilion of Malta at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, “The Milk of Dreams.” Photo by Andrea Avezzù. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia.

Edoardo Monti

Founder of the Palazzo Monti artist residency program and self-described ‘art cowboy.’

“Diplomazia Astuta” Malta Pavilion

“Apocalypse. Rain of fire,” answered right away Edoardo Monti. For him, this is “the best pavilion” and the must-see stop in the lagoon. Curators Keith Sciberras and Jeffrey Uslip, artists Arcangelo Sassolino and Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, and composer Brian Schembri re-articulate Caravaggio’s seminal altarpiece “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” as an immersive, sculptural, site-specific installation that bridges biblical narrative with contemporary culture (Arsenale, Sestiere Castello, Campo della Tana 2169/F).

Follow Edoardo on Instagram @edoardomonti and discover more about Palazzo Monti.

Rossella Farinotti

Writer and art critic.

Lucio Fontana and Antony Gormley

“Gormley’s drawings and Fontana’s ceramics make sense,” said writer and art critic Rossella Farinotti. “Scarpa’s shop obviously helps.” The exhibition, conceived and curated by art historian Luca Massimo Barbero, takes shape inside the Olivetti store (P.za San Marco, 101), an architectural jewel nestled into the porticoes of Piazza San Marco, designed by Carlo Scarpa. The curator proposes a comparison between the work of Lucio Fontana and the work of Antony Gormely, built around a concise and essential association of space and light to be found in the work of both sculptors. You can see Gormley’s more “intimate works such as his notes and drawings from which you can understand the soul of his sculptures. And the dialogue with Fontana’s shapes is very refined.”

Follow Rossella on Instagram @rossella_farinotti.

Alessandro Cane

Writer, and researcher who works in the communications department of the Pirelli HangarBicocca contemporary art foundation in Milan.

Melanie Bonajo at the Dutch Pavilion

The artist selected to represent the Netherlands at the Venice Biennale in 2021 is the queer, non-binary, Dutch filmmaker and activist Melanie Bonajo. For the 59th Venice Biennale, Bonajo produced a new film and presented it in an extensive installation. Kick off your shoes, lay down on the cushions, and enjoy their work. “It’s an immersive project that welcomes you to stay and immerse yourself in the artist’s work,” said Alessandro Cane. “Compared to many other that are hit-and-run projects.” The Netherlands lent its well-placed pavilion in the Giardini to Estonia, which does not have a permanent exhibition space in the city, so they moved to the deconsecrated 13th-century Chiesetta della Misericordia (Campo de l’Abazia, 3550, 30121 Venice). 

Follow Alessandro on Instagram @male_cane_ and read more about his upcoming project “Take Ecstasy with Me” a series of events around “Cruising Utopia” by José Esteban Muñoz.

Venice Biennale
Jonathas de Andrade at the Pavilion of Brazil, Com o coração saindo pela boca / with the heart coming out of the mouth. Photo by Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia.

Matteo Bergamini

Editor of the Italian art magazine exibart.

Jonathas de Andrade at the Brazilian Pavilion

Matteo Bergamini, the editor of the Italian art magazine exibart, picked “With the Heart Coming Out of the Mouth” by Jonathas de Andrade. “Because it examines a traditional aspect of language that is very much present in Latin countries – that of using idiomatic expressions that borrow ‘parts’ of the human body to express emotions that cannot be translated except with metaphors – in a playful but not trivial way.” De Andrade’s installation suggests that the path towards “representing” Brazil today inevitably passes through the body. A body literally and repeatedly fragmented, silenced, ignored, torn into pieces, again and again, year upon year, decade after decade, century after century. Yet these isolated and objectified parts also transcend the body, as the other structural element of this exhibition comes into play: language. The living everyday language of countless idiomatic expressions which, in speaking of the personal and collective weaknesses, virtues, attitudes, and failures of the Brazilian people, resort to these very body parts: feet, hands, tongue, head, ears, backs, stomach, legs, arms, teeth, chest, bottom, eyes, jaw and this heart that, for being so big, generous and despairing, at times won’t fit in the chest and ends up coming out of the mouth.

“A very original pavilion, very different from all the others and at the same time very much in line with the very present theme of corporality of “The Milk of Dreams,” Bergamini added.

Follow Matteo on Instagram @matthewbergamino and read his 6-part review of the Biennale on exibart. He is also a contributor for Umbigo Magazine and Revista das Artes, where you can read his interview with De Andrade.

Gianmaria Biancuzzi is executive editor of Milano Art Guide.