When Swiss curator Bice Curiger chose art in a global context as her theme for "ILLUMInations," the official exhibition in the Arsenale at the 54th Venice Biennale, she didn’t know just how timely it would turn out to be. In terms of national representation, the Biennale is bigger than ever this year, with 86 countries participating. There are 10 new-comers, including Andorra, India, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa, but uprisings in the Middle East have complicated matters. Although Bahrain and Lebanon pulled out, Egypt is still putting on a show of work by Ahmed Basiony, the young artist who was killed during protests in the country early this year. The United Arab Emirates, making its second appearance, will feature work by 30 Emirati artists, including Lateefa Bint Maktoum’s "The Last Look," 2009. Curiger’s show contains pieces created specifically for the Biennale by Monica Bonvicini, James Turrell, Nicholas Hlobo, Norma Jeane, R.H. Quaytman, Haroon Mirza, Loris Gréaud, Carol Bove, Gelitin, and Dayanita Singh, as well as such previously seen work as Jack Goldstein’s untitled 1985 acrylic on canvas.
If you are allocating only a few days, the most promising of the national pavilions include Denmark’s, with a show about freedom of speech featuring 18 artists including Robert Crumb, and the Chinese pavilion, with artists Cai Zhisong, Liang Yuanwei, Pan Gongkai, Yang Maoyuan, and Yuan Gong creating works in response to a typical Chinese scent or flavor. The United States has what may prove to be a strenuous display: Puerto Rico-based duo Allora & Calzadilla are creating an installation based on the Olympics — complete with actual athletes.
There are two other globalization-themed shows in town. French megacollector François Pinault, who seems to revel in vying with the Biennale for attention, has asked Caroline Bourgeois to curate two new exhibitions from his collection for his private museum spaces, the Palazzo Grassi and the Punto della Dogana.
"2011 Preview: Venice Biennale" originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Art+Auction. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Art+Auction's June 2011 Table of Contents.