Cecilia Alemani is not only the first Italian woman to curate the Venice Biennale, but is also its first curator to ensure that an overwhelming majority of the 213 artists exhibiting are women or gender non-conforming.

Now is a time of new beginnings, as the world tentatively emerges from the pandemic. Alemani describes the artist demographic of the main exhibition, ‘The Milk of Dreams’ as ‘a choice that reflects an international art scene full of creative ferment and a deliberate rethinking of man’s centrality in the history of art and contemporary culture’. 

 The Milk of Dreams Cecilia Alemani by Andrea Avezzù. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
Cecilia Alemani by Andrea Avezzù. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

The exhibition borrows its title from The Milk of Dreams, a pivotal book written by the British-born Mexican surrealist Leonora Carrington, who was also involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement in Mexico. Alemani was drawn to how the book captures ‘a magical world where life is constantly re-envisioned through the prism of the imagination’. Carrington’s paintings likewise convey female sexuality from her own perspective. She met the surrealist Max Ernst in London in 1937 and they fell in love. They were separated by the Second World War, after which he married the eminent Peggy Guggenheim, whose eponymous Venice collection will team up with the Museum Barberini to exhibit the joint show ‘Surrealism and Magic: Enchanted Modernity’ during the Biennale. 

Alemani has placed a strong emphasis on surrealism, but as she declares, ‘I don’t need to include Salvador Dalí’, because she was overwhelmed by the brilliance of the contemporary women artists whom she met over hundreds of Zoom studio visits during the pandemic, ranging from by the emerging Hungarian artist Zsófia Keresztes to the groundbreaking Samí artists Máret Ánne Sara and Pauliina Feodoroff at the Nordic Pavilion.  

The Milk of Dreams
Nordic Pavilion, Venice, by Lindman Photography

One of the most exciting artists to be exhibited across the 80 national pavilions in the Giardini, Arsenale and wider Venice is Latifa Echakhch, who will represent Switzerland with The Concert. A winner of the Marcel Duchamp Prize who has also exhibited at the Centre Pompidou and Tate Modern, the Moroccan-French visual artist described how she has ‘no other goals, but questioning the world around me’. Echakhch’s work is ‘inspired by how everyday objects can be transfigured into signifiers of identity, history and mythology’. 

Another unmissable show will be that of American artist Mary Weatherford at Museo di Palazzo Grimani. Her powerful exhibition ‘The Flaying of Marsyas’ reflects on her conversation with the Italian Renaissance painter Titian’s late titular masterpiece of 1570 – 76. Similarly ambitious is the retrospective of 100 paintings and drawings by the thought-provoking South African artist Marlene Dumas, on view at the iconic Palazzo Grassi. 

The Milk of Dreams
Installation view of Latifa Echakhch, L’air du temps, Winner of Prix Marcel Duchamp 2013, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2014, Photo Fabrice Seixas, Courtesy of the artist

American art will have a substantial presence at the Venice Biennale 2022. The work of American modernist sculptor Ruth Asawa is part of the main exhibition, while Simone Leigh will take over the widely anticipated US Pavilion. The influential artist describes how she has, ‘created a multi-faceted body of work incorporating sculpture, video, and installation, all informed by her ongoing exploration of Black female-identified subjectivity’.   

Ensuring a turning point in the history of art, Alemani’s extensive roster of contemporary women artists participating in the 59th Venice Biennale will set the tone for future editions. As Alemani underlines, her approach to curating the postponed 59th edition was, ‘not built around systems of direct inheritance or conflict but around forms of symbiosis, solidarity and sisterhood’. Whilst Europe is overshadowed by war, the much-anticipated Venice Biennale will offer a defiant sense of hope and inclusivity. §

The Milk of Dreams
Padiglione Centrale. Photography by Andrea Avezzù. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia