The 59th Venice Biennale is almost upon us, and after the last two years, ‘much anticipated’ doesn’t seem to quite cut it. Soon, the labyrinthine waterways will be teeming with art-hungry crowds as the global art world descends once again for the world’s most prestigious art event (23 April – 27 November 2022). 

Cecilia Alemani will take the reins of the central exhibition, ‘The Milk of Dreams’ at the Arsenale and Giardini, borrowing its title from a book by Surrealist icon Leonora Carrington, with the surrounding palazzos filled to the brim with world-class Venice Biennale collateral events. 

This year will also see a number of firsts. Eight countries – Cameroon, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Namibia, Nepal, Oman, Uganda and Uzbekistan – will make their Venice Biennale debut, while the Nordic Pavilion will see the first-ever takeover by Indigenous Sámi artists. 

With more than 90 national pavilions popping up in the Giardini and the Arsenale this year, it’s not been the easiest task to whittle down our must-sees, but here’s a taste of what we’re most excited about: 

59th Venice Biennale: top national pavilion picks for 2022

Germany: Maria Eichhorn

Venice Biennale 2022 Germany
Maria Eichhorn, Maria Eichhorn Aktiengesellschaft [Maria Eichhorn Public Limited Company], 2002, detail, exhibition view, Documenta11, Kassel,  Maria Eichhorn / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021. Photography: Werner Maschmann

Known for her deft wit and striking conceptualism, Maria Eichhorn is bound to offer pause for thought at the Giardini this year. If her Germany pavilion takeover is anything like her 2016 show at Chisenhale Gallery (where the artist simply closed the non-profit space, offering staff 5 weeks, 25 days and 175 hours of paid leave), or at Documenta11 (for which she established a public limited company in which the company itself was the sole shareholder and was prohibited from increasing its capital), we’re in for something special. 

Great Britain: Sonia Boyce

Venice Biennale 2022 Great Britain Sonya Boyce
Sonia Boyce, For you, only you (installation view), 2007. Three-channel video installation. 14 mins 35 secs © Sonia Boyce. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2022. Photography Mike Pollard

Sonia Boyce’s pavilion will be a typically collaborative, improvisational and social practice-led installation involving video, sound, wallpaper and sculptural objects. As the artist explains: ‘Few would question the enormous challenges we have collectively faced over the past two years. What has shone through, for me, in this journey to create a new body of work is the irrepressible spirit of human creativity.’ 

Hong Kong: Angela Su 

Venice Biennale 2022 Hong Kong Angela Su 
Photo of performance for the video The Magnificent Levitation Act of Lauren O by Angela Su 2022 Courtesy of the Artist. Photography: Ka Lam Video commissioned by M+

Angela Su’s multifaceted work explores perception and the body, through metamorphosis, hybridity, transformation and levitation. Alongside her pavilion exhibition, Su will also stage a collateral show ‘Arise, Hong Kong in Venice’, also presented by M+, Hong Kong’s global museum of contemporary visual culture, and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC). As Doryun Chong, deputy director and chief curator of M+, said: ‘Angela Su, who is widely known for her intricate biomorphic drawings and performative works, signifies a maturing art scene in Hong Kong gaining increasing international recognition.’

Denmark: Uffe Isolotto

Denmark Uffe Isolotto Venice Biennale 2022
Uffe Isolotto’, Pangaia (New Age Headache), 2016. Installation shot from the exhibition ’GOSH! Is It Alive?’, ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, Ishøj, Denmark, 2017. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

If any two words could describe recent world events, it’s hyperrealism and surrealism. The same might be said for Uffe Isolotto’s Danish pavilion, ‘We Walked the Earth’, which will invite audiences to step into an uncanny world where elements from idyllic Danish farm life merge with eerie sci-fi phenomena – a haunting image of an uncertain future. 

Canada: Stan Douglas

Stan Douglas London, 9 August 2011 (Pembury Estate ), 2017. © Stan Douglas Venice Biennale 2022 . Courtesy of the artist, Victoria Miro and David Zwirner
Stan Douglas London, 9 August 2011 (Pembury Estate ), 2017. © Stan Douglas. Courtesy of the artist, Victoria Miro and David Zwirner

In a Canadian Pavilion first, Stan Douglas’ exhibition will unfold across two venues in Venice. Douglas will present four large-scale photographs in the Giardini, while a 16th-century salt warehouse on Dorsoduro will be transformed by a major two-channel video installation. The artist’s compelling work will draw comparisons between the sociopolitical events of 2011 and those of 1848, delving into themes of news dissemination, fights against a lack of democratic freedoms and the dissolution of a sovereign elite. 

Ghana: group presentation

Nana Opoku, (Afroscope) Dreamer Series, 2021 Venice Biennale 2022
Nana Opoku, (Afroscope) Dreamer Series, 2021

Following its debut at the Biennale Arte 2019, Ghana will present the group exhibition ‘Black Star – The Museum as Freedom’, featuring large-scale installations by three artists: Na Chainkua Reindorf, Afroscope and Diego Araúja. The show borrows its name from the Black Star that symbolises Ghana through its flag, national football team, and most notable national monument, and also the connection of Africa with its diasporas. 

Japan: Dumb Type

Dumb Type, Trace/ React Ⅱ. Photography: Kazuo Fukunaga 
Dumb Type, Trace/ React Ⅱ. Photography: Kazuo Fukunaga 

Trailblazing art collective Dumb Type is known for immersive installations, video works, and performances that examine consumer culture in the modern and technology-fuelled era. Based on an 1850s geography textbook, its new work for the Japanese Pavilion promises sensory saturation fitting for ‘a time of post-truth and liminal spaces’. 

Brazil: Jonathas de Andrade

Jonathas de Andrade, O Peixe [The Fish], 2016. Video still. Courtesy of the artist

Alagoan artist Jonathas de Andrade’s new installation Com o coração saindo pela boca [With the heart coming out of the mouth] draws on the multitude of Brazilian expressions and idioms that reference the human body to express feelings and behaviours. Visitors can expect photographic impressions, sculptures – some interactive – and a video piece engaging with themes surrounding pop culture, nostalgia, eroticism and political criticism. 

United States: Simone Leigh

Simone Leigh, 2021. Artworks © Simone Leigh. Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo credit: Shaniqwa Jarvis

Set to be one of this year’s headliners, sculptor Simone Leigh’s Venice exhibition will explore and elevate ideas about history, race, gender, labour, and monuments, reclaiming powerful narratives for Black women, staged ahead of a major solo show at the ICA Boston in 2023. As Jill Medvedow, ICA Ellen Matilda Poss director and co-commissioner for the US Pavilion, said: ‘The scale and magnificence of Leigh’s art demands visibility and power; it is probing, timely, and urgent.’ 

Kazakhstan: ORTA

ORTA collective, Alexandra Morozova inside the Circular Cardboard - Light Generator of Genius, 2022. Photo: ORTA collective. © ORTA collective / Courtesy of the Artist

Transdisciplinary collective ORTA (Alexandra Morozova, Rustem Begenov, Darya Jumelya, Alexandr Bakanov and Sabina Kuangaliyeva) will dedicate their pavilion exhibition to the life and work of Almaty artist, writer and inventor Sergey Kalmykov (1891-1967). LAI–PI–CHU–PLEE–LAPA Centre for the New Genius is an experimental research station exploring Kalmykov’s central ideas and the most important of his many alter-egos, ‘the great and immortal constructor of flying tower-vortices’. Intrigued? You’re not alone. 

Oman: group exhibition

The Sultanate of Oman makes its debut at the Venice Biennale with the group exhibition ’Destined Imaginaries’, which brings together the work of five Omani artists spanning three generations: Anwar Sonya, Hassan Meer, Budoor Al Riyami, Radhika Khimji, and the late Raiya Al Rawahi. Their contributions range from familial reminiscences of the 1960s and 1970s – a turning point in Oman’s modernisation – to an installation of rock formations and film that contemplates how Omani identity has been shaped by geography, and a film about an imagined future in which art and technology have progressed to such a point where artists have been displaced from their jobs; all presented in a pavilion within the Arsenale, designed by Muscat-based architect Haitham Al Busafi.

Writer: TF Chan

Iceland: Sigurður Guðjónsson

Sigurður Guðjónsson, Fluorescent 3, 2021. Photo courtesy of BERG Contemporary and the artist

Located in the Arsenale for the first time, the Icelandic Pavilion will host a multi-faceted composition created by Sigurður Guðjónsson, who is known for orchestrating an organic yet highly-technical synergy between visuals, audio and space. The artist’s exhibition promises a synaesthetic experience to stretch the senses, revealing ’the richness and elegance of matter’ according to project curator, and curator of CERN, Mónica Bello. 

Ireland: Niamh O’Malley

Niamh O’Malley, Shelf, 2017. Photograph by Ros Kavanagh. Courtesy the artist

Niamh O’Malley’s exhibition ‘Gather’, begins in the artist’s workspace in Temple Bar Gallery + Studios (TBG+S), Dublin, where stone, steel, wood and glass are shaped, composed and assembled. Known for often minimal sculptures and video works, the artist’s interest lies in negotiating between landscapes, and how objects and spaces can speak. 

Switzerland: Latifa Echakhch 

Latifa Echakhch’s installation for the Swiss Pavilion is one of harmony and dissonance. Conceived in collaboration with percussionist and composer Alexandre Babel and curator Francesco Stocchi, The Concert, will take visitors on a counterclockwise journey through time surrounded by sculptures veiled by eerie spreading darkness. 

Italy: Gian Maria Tosatti 

Photography: Maddalena Tartaro

For the first time in history, the Italian Pavilion will present the work of a single artist. The privilege goes to Gian Maria Tosatti, whose vast environmental site-specific installation will occupy the entire Tese delle Vergini space. This powerful and unsettling work, titled History of Night and Destiny of Comets, is a tale of dualities: between man and nature; sustainable development and territory; ethics and profit.