Venice Biennale 2017: The Cultivist picks 7 spectacles not to miss

Installations that play with space

Ahead of the 57th Venice Biennale next month, when the city will erupt with exhibitions and installations, we asked global arts club The Cultivist for its guide to the unmissable shows.

Scant information is divulged ahead of the preview, so The Cultivist has tapped its extensive art world contacts to make its predictions. These span the main Arsenale and Giardini venues, as well as spaces across the city.

The Cultivist has focused on the Venice Biennale installations that bring the city’s rich architecture to life. These shows – taking over everything from pavilions, palazzos and churches to public squares and former factories – dynamically alter their surroundings, while making potent statements about today’s world and what it means to be an artist.

James Lee Byars: The Golden Tower

Venice Biennale preview, featuring The Golden Tower by James Lee Byars
‘The Golden Tower’, 1990, by James Lee Byars. Installation view: Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin. Image courtesy of Michael Werner Gallery, New York and London

Campo San Vio, Dorsoduro
13 May – 26 November
You won’t fail to miss this totemic golden installation, rising 65-feet-tall. It was conceived by enigmatic American artist James Lee Byars, who died in 1997 and is best known for his performance pieces. Byars always wanted to exhibit the work – first realised for a 1990 Berlin show (pictured) – in a public space and finally this wish has come true with a spot on Campo San Vio, right next to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The Golden Tower’s iridescent surface will reflect the mosaic of the adjacent Palazzo Barbarigo. Byars’ structure is also tall enough to serve as an orientation device for those lost in Venice!

Loris Gréaud: The Unplayed Notes Factory

Venice biennale preview, featuring a Loris Gréaud installation
Loris Gréaud in the Berengo Studio furnace, 2017. Photography: Oliver Haas

Campiello della Pescheria, Murano
11 May – 26 November
French artist Loris Gréaud will revive an abandoned glass furnace on an island in Murano district during the Venice Biennale for his immersive installation The Unplayed Notes Factory. It will play host ‘to a whole new trade: an unofficial production line,’ Gréaud teases. ‘The continuous performance of the glass gaffers [blowers] on site will soon turn into a strange “tableau vivant”’. Curated by Nicolas Bourriaud, his installation is part of the Glasstress initiative organised by Fondazione Berengo, which will show glassworks by 27 artists, largely at Palazzo Franchetti. Head to its garden to see an ambitious installation by Koen Vanmechelen.

Damien Hirst: Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable

Venice Biennale preview including Damien Hirst's Treasures From The Wreck of The Unbelievable
Damien Hirst, ‘Demon with Bowl (Exhibition Enlargement)’. Photography: Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS/SIAE 2017

Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi
Until 3 December
Damien Hirst leads visitors on a trail around two museums filled with treasures plundered from an ‘ancient shipwreck’. His coral-covered heroes, gods and leviathans aren’t quite what they seem, however. Look closely and you’ll spot some familiar faces peering back at you.

Venice – a city slowly sinking beneath the sea – is an apt setting for this watery spectacle and Hirst’s high-voltage artworks give the buildings a heady charge. Barnacle encrusted figures fill the Punta della Dogana, an old customs house, while a headless ‘Demon with bowl’ dominates the atrium of the 18th-century Palazzo Grassi. The show has divided critics since its opening earlier this month, but it remains a Venice Biennale must-see.

Phyllida Barlow

Venice biennale preview, featuring the work of Phyllida Barlow
Installation view: Phyllida Barlow, scree, Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines IA, 2013. Photography: Paul Crosby, © Phyllida Barlow. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth

British pavilion, Giardini di Castello
13 May – 26 November
Phyllida Barlow’s sculptures and installations – built from plywood, cardboard, plaster, cement, fabric and paint – alter and challenge their environments. When her commission by the British Council was announced, Barlow declared: ‘It is going to be a remarkable experience to begin to consider the work for the imposing architecture of the British pavilion.’ We’re looking forward to seeing how her works inhabit their neoclassical surrounds.

Phyllida Barlow’s British Council commission is at La Biennale di Venezia from 13 May to 26 November 2017.

Kader Attia

Venice Biennale preview featuring Kader Attia
Installation view of Kader Attia’s 2016 ‘Sacrifice and Harmony’exhibition at MMK1, Frankfurt. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016, courtesy Kader Attia, Galerie Krinzinger, and Lehmann Maupin. Photograph: MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst / Axel Schneider

13 May – 26 November
We’re expecting big things from man-of-the-moment, Kader Attia – a 2016 Marcel Duchamp Prize-winner known for his large-scale, often architectural installations. The French-Algerian artist will find the Arsenale’s gigantic industrial frame hard to resist. We’ve heard he will be creating one of his installations made from cardboard boxes, ancient doors, or vitrines filled with twigs.

Michelangelo Pistoletto: One and One makes Three

Venice Biennale venue Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore
Michelangelo Pistelotti will take over the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore during the Venice Biennale. Photography: Didier Descouens

Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, Isola di San Giorgio
10 May – 26 November

Arte Povera master Michelangelo Pistoletto will suspend a series of mirrors from the centre of the 16th-century Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore in a work titled ‘Suspended Perimeter – Love Difference’. His site-specific Venice Biennale exhibition also extends to the chapter room, where you’ll find ‘The Time of Judgement’, representing the world’s largest four religions. Pistoletto’s works reflect on the conflict between different religions and the need for acceptance and multiculturalism.

Pablo Echaurren: Du champ magnétique Works 1977-2017

Venice Biennale preview featuring Scala Contarini del Bovolo
Scala Contarini del Bovolo. Photography: HarshLight

Scala Contarini del Bovolo
9 May – 15 October
Italian artist Pablo Echaurren will present an ode to Marcel Duchamp at the 15th-century Scala Contarini del Bovolo, inviting the public to participate. Venice Biennale visitors will be asked to climb and descend the building’s famous spiral staircase – recalling Duchamp’s seminal ‘Nu descendant un escalier, No. 2’ – via a series of signs, conceived by the artist. Also on view will be works produced over forty years in which he holds a dialogue with the father of conceptual art.

Read the hot topics from the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale



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