The Venice Art Biennale has now been running for more than 100 years and is often regarded as the Olympics of the Art World. It is the time when different countries from all over the world have a chance to show to the rest of the world art by some of their most exciting artists and it is a stark reminder how small the international art world really is.

Collectors, critics, museum directors, gallerists, artists, art aficionados and A-Z list celebrities jostle against each other in endless queues for the most hyped exhibitions, performances and “happening’ parties.  For many people, the Biennale is just another glamorous international event and a place to be “seen”, but for artists, its one of the most important and high profile international platforms for their work and can enable a mid-level artist’s career to literally soar overnight.

This year, Ralph Rudoff’s May You Live In Interesting Times certainly reflects the strange times we’re living in.  The multitude of participating countries’ pavilions, endless collateral exhibitions and performances as well as exhibitions in institutions, galleries and foundations meant that there was far too much to see in a 4-day visit!  Thank goodness the shows will be on for over 6 months - we’ll be heading back over the summer.

After reflecting on the dozens of exhibitions and projects we saw during the inaugural week, we’ve opted to pick out five which made a real impact...


Yun Huong-Keun : A Retrospective, Palazzo Fortuny

Palazzo Fortuny.jpg

The first international retrospective of Huong-Keun (born 1928 in Cheongju, South Korea) since his death in 2007.

Having grown up during one of the most traumatic periods of Korean history, Huong-Keun was unable to dedicate himself to his art until he was 45.  Up until that time, he had nearly been executed and had experienced several horrendously traumatic persecutions.  But once he started painting, he completely threw himself into it with everything he had. I was struck by his quote ‘Art isn’t made with power, like a boxer, or with resourcefulness, like a politician, Art is only made with a person’s heart.’

He quickly established his own distinct artistic voice, calling it the gate of heaven and earth, which played a major part in the development of the Danaekhwa movement. However, his palette reflected the sadness he felt following the horrors he’d endured over the harsh years in Korea and he used a wide brush to apply thick bars of ‘black’ paint to canvases, although this colour was never actually black, but subtle variations on the same two colours (blue, representing heaven and umber, representing earth). While these works seemed offhand, he succeeded in finding for Korean aesthetics within the lexicon of international contemporary art.  Donald Judd, who he met in the 70s, was a huge fan and helped to get Huong-Keun recognised as the brilliant innovator he was. 

This exhibition is powerful and breathtakingly moving, and amongst the backdrop of the beautiful and atmospheric Palazzo Fortuny, it is an exhibition that mustn’t be missed.

Ghana Pavilion, Arsenale

Selasi Awusi Sosu,  Glass Factory II

Selasi Awusi Sosu, Glass Factory II

 Curated by Nana Oforiatta-Ayim and with the pavilion designed by David Adjaye, this was the first time that Ghana was represented with a pavilion in Venice.  Consisting of works by Lynetter Yiadom-Boakye, El Anatsui, Felicia Abban, Ibrahim Mahama, Selasi Awusi Sosu and John Akomfrah, the result is a triumph.

 French Pavilion, Giardini


Laure Prouvost’s deep, multi-sensory See Blue Surrounding You questions who we are, where we come from and where we are going. With an immersive fictional film as the centrepiece, and leftover objects from the film (cigarettes, sea creatures, pigeons and rubbish etc.) scattered in amongst the viewer, the surreal and seemingly sinking pavilion is spellbinding. The exhibition is accessed from below and makes us think about what we are doing to our planet.  

Pakistan Pavilion, Castello


Another country’s first pavilion this year (previously Pakistan collaborated with India), Manora Field Notes, consists of new work by Naiza Khan who often focuses on public space and its relationship within history. The film installations allow the viewer to encounter a region guided by the lens of the artist. It’s powerful and engaging stuff.

She Persists, Palazzo Benzon

Anna Boggon,  Souvenir

Anna Boggon, Souvenir

Presented by HEIST gallery, this collateral all-female exhibition brings together works by 20 women artists from a variety of cultures and different corners of the globe and explores empowered female identities through acts of celebration, resilience and rebellion. Curated by Mashael Al-Rushaid and Sona Datta, the exhibition feels both inspiring and empowering.  Artists include Judy Chicago, who’s practice examines the role of women in history and culture, Shirin Neshat, Lynda Benglis, Rose McGowan, Annie Morris and Anna Boggon.

The Venice Biennale runs until 24 November 2019.