Venice’s crowded corridors will be teeming more than ever as design and art-hungry crowds descend on the lagoon city for the biggest event on its cultural calendar. The 58th Venice Biennale (11 May – 24 November) gets underway this week, with Ralph Rugoff taking the curatorial reins of central exhibition ‘May You Live In Interesting Times’ at the Arsenale and Giardini. There’s plenty of action spilling over into Venice’s labyrinthine waterways too, from inventive installations and soaring sculptures, to monastic manuscripts and a design collection inspired by the city’s high tide. Here’s the Wallpaper* pick of the must-see national pavilions and exhibitions beyond the biennale.

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  • Punta della Dogana

    ‘Luogo e Segni’ brings together over 100 works by 36 artists in an evocative survey presented by the Pinault Collection, and curated by Mouna Mekouar and Martin Bethenod, director of Punta della Dogana. The exhibition takes its name from the painting Luogo e Segni by Carol Rama (included in the show), an artist who was overlooked in her time. Highlights include Alessandro Piangiamore’s serene paintings, and Roni Horn’s metal and cast-glass vessels (pictured), both of which resonate with the lagoon city outside.
       
    Until 15 December; Punta della Donna, Dorsoduro, 2

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  • French Pavilion

    It’s been just over a decade since a female artist (the great Sophie Calle in 2007) was chosen to represent France solo at the Venice Biennale – not that gender has had any bearing on the remarkable trajectory of Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost’s career. A fictional film tracing a ‘joyous saga’ between Paris and Venice forms the cornerstone of her French Pavilion project, Deep See Blue Surrounding You/Vois Ce Bleu Profond Te Fondre, which was developed under the watchful eye of curator Martha Kirszenbaum.
      
    11 May – 24 November; Giardini della Biennale, Calle Giazzo

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  • Narine Arakelian: The Pharos Flower

    Visitors to the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo will see its famed 15th-century spiral staircase in a whole new light. Armenian artist Narine Arakelian is reimagining the historic venue as a multi-hued lighthouse for the headline act of her nation’s pavilion, creating a striking installation that will be visible across the Venetian skyline. The exhibition continues inside the palazzo with the artist’s Murano glass works and coloured fabrics. Arakelian is set to bare all for a performance piece, shedding pieces of her costume until nothing is left.
      
    11 May – 24 November; Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, Corte Contarina, del Bovolo 4303

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  • Njideka Akunyili Crosby: The Beautyful Ones

    Los Angeles-based artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby is taking a nostalgic trip at Victoria Miro Venice, with a solo exhibition of recent portraits of Nigerian youth that includes members of her own family. Having lived in Nigeria until the age of 16, the artist is uniquely positioned to explore the complexities of a modern diasporic experience. Her densely layered figurative compositions are worth a closer look, revealing photographic images from sources including Nigerian politics and pop culture that have been applied using a labour-intensive acetone transfer technique. Pictured, detail of The Beautyful Ones, Series #7, 2018.
        
    8 May – 14 July; Victoria Miro Venice, Il Capricorno, San Marco 1994

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  • Politics of Dialogue: The Merry-Go-Round

    Lebanese artist Nadim Karam is debuting a large-scale kinetic sculpture on the waterfront in the Marinaressa Gardens – part of the group exhibition ‘Personal Structures’, hosted by the European Cultural Centre. A group of elongated gold-painted figures rendered in megaphone-like forms will engage in an ultimately futile discussion, literally going round and round in circles. Karam’s installation reflects on the political impasses dominating the global discourse, such as Brexit, explaining that ‘democracies are losing themselves in dialogue’.
       
    11 May – 24 November; Giardini Marinaressa, Riva dei Sette Martiri

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  • Irish Pavilion

    Irish sculptor Eva Rothschild is thinking big for her nation’s pavilion with The Shrinking Universe, an immersive environment that invites visitors to be both viewer and participant. The ‘sculpturally excessive’ experience will address environmental and political concerns, reflecting the current global climate of uncertainty. London studio A Practice for Everyday Life has been tasked with creating the pavilion’s identity, including the requisite tote bag. Pictured, Border, 2018. Read more in Wallpaper’s June 2019 issue, on newsstands from 9 May.
      
    11 May – 24 November; Arsenale, Campiello Tana 2169

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  • Georg Baselitz: Baselitz – Academy

    A major retrospective of Georg Baselitz at Gallerie dell’Accademia marks the first time a living artist will exhibit at the centuries-old Venice institution. Curated by Kosme de Barañano, the survey pulls into focus the relationship between the artist’s oeuvre and Italian art history, recalling a particularly pivotal moment early in his career when he became preoccupied with Renaissance art during a residency in Florence. Seven rooms are dedicated to Baselitz’s paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures and divided into themed sections, including his ‘upside-down’ portraits and large-scale nudes. Pictured, detail of Großer Kopf (Large Head), 1966.
     
    8 May – 8 September; Gallerie dell’Accademia, Campo della Carita 1050

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  • Ghana Pavilion

    The western African nation is stepping into the international spotlight with its first-ever pavilion at the Venice Biennale, designed by none other than one of its most celebrated exports: architect Sir David Adjaye. Each artist will exhibit in elliptically-shaped interconnected spaces, which will be plastered with locally-sourced earth from classical structures in Ghana. Located in the Artiglierie of the historic Arsenale, the Ghanian pavilion will feature large-scale installations by El Anatsui and Ibrahim Mahama; representation and portraiture by photographer Felicia Abban and painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye; a three-channel film projection by John Akomfrah; and a video sculpture by Selasi Awusi Sosu. Pictured, Non Orientable Paradise Lost, 1667, 2017, by Ibrahim Mahama.
       
    11 May – 24 November; Arsenale, Campiello Tana 2169

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  • Brigitte Niedermair: Me and Fashion

    Artist and stalwart Wallpaper* contributor Brigitte Niedermair is taking up residence in the former private apartments of Venice’s storied Mocenigo family, where 30 images spanning two decades of her career will be in dialogue with the venue’s 17th and 18th-century architecture. Curated by Charlotte Cotton and under the scientific direction of Gabriella Belli, ‘Me and Fashion’ will reflect on themes of identity, gender and art history. Niedermair, who works with a 4x5 large-format camera, most recently turned her lens on Albrech Dürer-inspired pleats and drapes for our March 2019 issue.
      
    9 May – 24 November; Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo, San Croce 1992

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  • Glasstress

    A former glass furnace on the island of Murano is setting the scene for the sixth edition of Adriano Bengo’s collateral event Glasstress. Vik Muniz will step into the curator’s seat for one part of the show, calling on artists like Ai Weiwei, Tony Cragg and Xavier Veilhan to explore ‘how glass redefines our perception of space’. In a second section, curated by Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen, highlights from the past ten years will also go on display. A special new project by Robert Wilson will additionally feature as part of the glass art exhibition.
       
    9 May – 24 November; Fondazione Berengo, Campiello Della Pescheria, Murano

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  • Ocean Space

    A multimedia installation by Joan Jonas inaugurates a new ‘embassy for the oceans’ in the a revitalised 9th-century Venetian church largely closed to the public for more than a century. Curated by Stefanie Hessler, the American artist’s Moving Off the Land II – bringing together drawings, sculpture, video and sound works – is the culmination of three years of research in aquariums worldwide and a residency off the coast of Jamaica. The interdisciplinary arts centre Ocean Space was initiated by the eco-minded TBA21-Academy, which seeks to foster a greater understanding of our oceans through the lens of art.
      
    Until 29 September; Church of San Lorenzo, Castello 5069, Campo San Lorenzo

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  • Sean Scully: Human

    Venice is certainly not short of exquisite churches, though the Andrea Palladio-designed San Giorgio Maggiore arguably trumps most. Painter and printmaker Sean Scully will transform every inch of the 16th-century High Renaissance church with new paintings and drawings, alongside his first Madonna and Child, and tallest sculpture to date, and a vellum tome of watercolour works inspired by historic examples from library of the Benedictine monks who run the abbey. The garden’s and adjoining buildings will house everything from painted triptychs and ‘soulscapes’ to a room devoted to the soft syllables of Scully’s pastels on paper. Pictured, Wall 3, 2017. Read more about Scully’s exhibition ‘Human’ here.
      
    11 May – 13 October; Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

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  • Scotland + Venice

    Fresh off her Turner Prize win, Glasgow-based artist Charlotte Prodger will debut a new single-channel video that expands on her continuing exploration of ‘queer wilderness’. The artist, who was raised in rural Aberdeenshire, explains ‘the productive crux’ of her new video work is the inherent link between landscape and queerness. Commissioned by Scotland + Venice – a partnership between Creative Scotland, British Council Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland – the exhibition will be held at a former shipyard in Capello, adjacent to the official Venice Biennale venues.
      
    11 May – 24 November; Arsenale Docks, San Pietro di Castello 40

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  • Giudecca Art District

    Touted as Venice’s answer to London’s Shoreditch, the island of Giudecca is host to forward-thinking galleries, artisans’ studios and ateliers, art-led restaurants and hip hotels. Giudecca will assume the mantle of the city’s first official permanent art quarter, launching during the vernissage in May. The newly christened Giudecca Art District encompasses 11 art galleries (in addition to the national pavilions of Iceland, Estonia and Nigeria during the 58th Venice Biennale), with over 60 artists due to take part in 20 inaugurating exhibitions. Read more about Giudecca Art District here.

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  • Luc Tuymans: La Pelle

    Step off a vaporetto and it won’t take you long to spot Luc Tuymans’ first intervention at Palazzo Grassi: a vast mosaic installation (his first) in the atrium, based on a painting the artist made in 1986, which in turn was inspired by the sketches of Holocaust survivor Alfred Kantor. A sombre reflection on history’s darkest chapters, the Belgian artist’s retrospective spans more than 80 paintings from 1986 to present day, covering everything from fascism to folly. Read our exhibition review of ‘La Pelle’ here.
      
    Until 6 January 2020; Palazzo Grassi, Campo San Samuele 3231

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  • Edmund de Waal: psalm

    British ceramicist and author Edmund de Waal will be the first contemporary artist to create a major work for the 500-year-old Venetica Ghetto, where he will present a two-part exhibition based on the Psalms – ‘the poetry of exile’. Over at Scuola Canton (a historic synagogue in the Ghetto Nuovo), new installations of porcelain, marble and gold will pay homage to the area’s rich literary and musical heritage. Elsewhere, de Waal is erecting a porcelain-covered pavilion (pictured) within the Aula Magna room of the 15th-century Ateneo Veneto that will house some 2,000 books by exiled writers, from Ovid to the present day.
       
    8 May – 29 September; Scuola Canton, Calle Orto 1191, and Ateneo Veneto, Campo San Fantin 1897, Venetian Ghetto

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  • Carpenters Workshop Gallery

    When does design become art? That’s the far-reaching question posed by Carpenters Workshop Gallery in ‘DYSFUNCTIONAL’ – an immersive exhibition of collectible design at Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro, presented in partnership with Lombard Odier. The 15th-century palazzo and its noteworthy collection of Italian masters will form a dialogue with site-specific works by the likes of Studio Drift, Maarten Baas, Nacho Carbonell, Rick Owens and Michèle Lamy, Mathieu Lehanneur, Random International and more. Virgil Abloh marks his return to Venice with his first-ever functional sculpture collection, inspired by the lagoon city and its acqua alta (‘high tide’). Pictured, work in progress at Frederik Molenschot’s studio.
      
    8 May – 24 November; Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro, Calle Ca’ d’Oro 3934

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