What to see at the Venice Biennale © Peggy Guggenhiem Museum

What to see at the Venice Biennale

Venice's pretigious culture celebration is back, read our guide on what not to miss this year

The Venice Biennale, now in its 120th year has become known as much for its glittering parties as for the art. In the days prior to the opening, super yachts jostle for space in the city’s narrow harbours and as attendees skip from party to party, hosted nightly by an array of jet-setting gallerists, wealthy foundations and corporate sponsors.

Collecting contemporary art has become a past-time for the wealthy, as billion-dollar auction sales would attest. To an extent, the art world has responded to the insatiable demand by promoting work that is pleasing, humorous, and often, easy to consume. But this year’s Biennial theme “All the Worlds Futures” dramatically changes that by being more inclusive and political.

The 56th International Art Exhibition is titled All The World’s Futures and is open to the public from the 9th May until 22nd November 2015 at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues but are also seemingly endless numbers of national pavilions scattered across the city. Here we look at the best exhibitions to grace Venice this year.

Dialogue of fire

Perhaps the most affecting of exhibitions this year is ‘A Dialogue of Fire’ at the Palazzo Tiepolo Passi on the Grand Canal. Curated by Didier Guillon The Dialogue of Fire depicts the link between art and beauty by delving deep into ancient craftsmanship. In the first room the Plats d’Artistes displays an ensemble of 30 plates created by different artists to display express the different elements of the human condition. In other rooms you find local Murano glass and ceramics sculpted to express the link between everyday beauty and art. An interesting exhibition that veers from the usual of the Biennale not to mention offering mesmerising views over Venice. www.dialogueoffire.org

Judi Harvest Camera dei Sogni (The Room of Dreams)

© Judi Harvest Camera dei Sogni (The Room of Dreams)

Palazzo Fortuny

Once owned by the Pesaro family, this large Gothic palazzo in Campo San Beneto, was transformed by Mariano Fortuny into his own atelier of photography, stage-design, textiles and painting. The building retains the rooms and structures created by Fortuny, together with tapestries and collections, while playing host to a number of elegantly curated contemporary exhibitions.

Palazzp Fortuny

Pieter Willemsz Van Der Stock, Willem Cornelisz Duyster, “Elegant Figures in a Classical Colonaded Gallery”, 1632 , Courtesy Rafael Valls ltd, London © Palazzo Fortuny

Arsenale

Upon entering the massive Arsenale exhibition space, located within the Castello neighbourhood of the city, one is greeted by neon signs by Bruce Nauman, proclaiming “War” “Death” and “Pain”. Spectators weave around machetes clumped together in menacing bushes. The next room opens to metal gas masks in various formations with words like “war” etched on the side. Tar-drenched chainsaws hang in clusters from thick metal chains; an army tank sits closed, its barrel pointed towards viewers. In short: dauntingly serious stuff.

Flickr/Rob Hogeslag

Bruce Nauman © Flickr/Rob Hogeslag

Related: Castello, Venice: a guide

Mika Rottenberg

We loved Mika Rottenberg’s pearl shop, where, mesmerised by the stacks of pretty baubles of every colour, you enter to find a cinema space for the film about the pearl factory in China (No NoseKnows, 2015). The artist delicately balanced the piece as part parody/ part documentary to illustrate the working conditions undergone by the women in the film.

Mika-Rottenberg-Pearls-Biennale

© Mika Rottenberg

Related: Beyond the Biennale: Venice’s best bars and restaurants

Im Heung-soon

Im Heung-soon’s Factory Complex (2014) introduces us to several lovely young women who were employed in a factory in Vietnam that produced popular items of western branded clothing. More of a standard documentary, it traces the worker’s protests for a living wage - and the high tolls they paid. While you’ll leave the building slightly stunned you’ll nevertheless laud the artist on producing such a strong commentary. The feeling does not quickly subside while experiencing the privileges of a trip to a city as glorious Venice.

Giardini

The work at the Giardini, selected by national curators, is less successful. The clear outlier was the Japanese pavilion whose elegiac ship bestrewn with red string and keys was an allegory for bridging time, and space. Other pavilions, such as Canada and the UK served up more of the flimsy work we have seen in previous years, without rising to the powerful content and aesthetic on display at the Arsenale.

Giardini della Biennale Venice 002

© Giardini della Biennale

Overall, this year’s Biennale is an elegant reminder of the power of art to initiate important dialogue, cultural commentary and critique. We delighted at the broader, multi-faceted narrative, with contributions from many different voices expressed examining the world today and revealing our blind spots and searching for alternatives, with elegance.

Important tip: Tickets for the Biennale are hard to acquire - we suggest asking the concierge of one of the large, central hotels. They have acquired the tickets in bulk and can offer them at a discount, helping you to avoid queues and the frustration of trying to buy tickets online.

More information about schedules, tickets and programmes can be found here: www.labiennale.org