Impressions of the 60th Venice Biennale: some highlights that are a must to see

Few months ago, the 60th Venice Biennale opened its doors to visitors. This year the world's largest international exhibition features 88 national pavilions. As every year, we attended the pre-screening with colleagues and friends of the Noewe Foundation. If Italy is on your travel itinerary this year, don't skip Venice.

MDM MAHKU 10 Ph by Matteo De Mayda
Photo by Matteo De Mayda. Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Ever since 1895, the Venice Biennale has attracted thousands of stylish visitors to its opening week; inviting them to spectacular parties at the national pavilions and showcasing the best of the participating countries. And this time, we have brought to life a plan that has been in the back of our minds for several years – to sail to the opening of the Venice Biennale on a yacht. We boarded our vessel in Caorle, Northern Italy, overnighted on the island of Chioggia and finally arrived in Venice the next day. Despite a violent storm on the eve of the Biennale, we managed to arrive before the storm hit Venice and enjoyed sun-blessed views of the Piazza San Marco and Punta della Dogana, San Michele, San Giorgio Maggiore, San Servolo and other islets. During the Venice Biennale, we moored our yacht at the Sant'Elena Marina, right next to one of the Biennale's main venues, the Giardini. An unexpected delight was the showing of Jonas Mekas' last film, Requiem, just a few metres away from the Marina, at the Società Dante Alighieri, which this year, for the first time, has opened its doors to contemporary art.

And the yacht proved to be the perfect hotel for the whole trip. Even though we had a wonderful time in Sant'Elena, we were in a hurry to visit the 60th Venice Biennale. It welcomed us not only with wonderful national pavilions, accompanying exhibitions, numerous opening parties, astonishing performances (which, by the way, will also take place during the closing week), but also with impressive queues at some of the pavilions. On occasion, we had to queue for more than an hour, but fortunately, we’d do anything for art.

The theme of the main exhibition is "Foreigners Everywhere"

Foreigners Everywhere, curated by Adriano Pedrosa from Brazil, is the main theme of this year's Venice Biennale exhibition at the Giardini and the Arsenale.

The title of the exhibition, comes from a series of works by Claire Fontaine, born in Paris and based in Palermo. The installation consists of neon signs in different colours and languages displaying the words "Foreigners everywhere". The series was launched in 2004 and has so far been written in 53 languages, including several extinct indigenous languages. The Italian phrase, Stranieri Ovunque, comes from the name of a Turin-based group that fought racism and xenophobia in Italy in the early 2000s. This installation welcomes visitors to both the Arsenale and the Giardini.

According to Pedrosa, the saying Stranieri Ovunque has several meanings. First of all, no matter where we are, we are always dealing with foreigners – they/we are everywhere. Secondly, no matter where we find ourselves, we are always truly and deeply foreigners inside. In the context of the main theme, the international exhibition focuses on art inspired by indigenous people in different countries, with a predominance of folk and craft, art motifs, techniques and artists who have themselves become, in one way or another, foreigners, immigrants, the diaspora, emigrants or refugees.

In accordance with tradition, we began our visit to the Biennale with the national pavilions in the Giardini Gardens. As soon as you enter, you are greeted by the brightly coloured central pavilion of the international exhibition, with the façade fresco marking the start of the exhibition. For the first time, this façade is completely covered with a large mural by the Brazilian Huni Kuin artist group, MAKHU. It depicts the myth of the Earth being formed from an alligator.

Lithuania is represented by Pakui Hardware and Marija Teresė Rožanskaitė

Despite our colleagues, acquaintances and friends asking us – as we ran into one another at a pavilion, a party or break, clutching a local drink and traditional Venetian cicchetti (snacks) – "Have you seen the Lithuanian pavilion yet?", we did not succumb to this intrigue. We saved the Lithuanian pavilion for dessert, and it was well worth it.

The Lithuanian pavilion did not receive an award this year, however the international attention received by the artistic duo, known as Pakui Hardware – Neringa Černiauskaitė and Ugnius Gelguda – has still not abated.

News portals such as, have already written about the Lithuanian pavilion, including it in their top five must-see national pavilions, and the German magazine, Monopol, began its review of the most important pavilions participating in the Venice Biennale, with Lithuania. It is widely rumoured among art professionals that it is the most beautiful pavilion at this year’s Biennale.

And they are not exaggerating one bit. The installation, Inflammation, by the intergenerational duo, Pakui Hardware, in collaboration with the 20th century artist, Marija Teresė Rožanskaitė (1933–2007) is located in the defunct Baroque church of Sant'Antonin, which had previously opened to contemporary art only once, a decade ago, with an exhibition of works by Ai WeiWei.

The installation is based on the idea of inflammation, which is a hot topic when thinking about the challenges facing humanity, such as wars, fires, ecological catastrophe, global warming, migration, plastic and the other pollution of our oceans. At the same time, it is the inflammation that humanity is inflicting on the Earth. Through a dialogue between generations, including Pakui Hardware's "burning" glass and aluminium sculptures and Marija Teresė Rožanskaitė's modern paintings, the overall installation develops a dialogue between sculptures that resemble a nervous system damaged by inflammation and the painter's work, which is dominated by the degraded, diseased bodies, organs and hospital wards of people. These intergenerational visions reflect on the relationship between humanity and nature in these unpredictable and challenging times.

Golden Lion goes to Australia

While the German pavilion had the largest queues, the Golden Lion award went to the Australian pavilion, which first and foremost, attracted attention to its subtle aesthetics.

The pavilion's thousands of rectangular white boxes represent more than 2,400 generations – and is probably the largest hand-drawn family tree ever. A large chalk drawing in a black cube on the walls and ceiling is part of the installation Kith and Kin, by local Australian artist, Archie Moore. The title of the installation is derived from the Old English term for one's family and compatriots, reflecting the notion of extended family and community among the people of the very first nations.

In Moore's family tree, the visitors can also find deliberate omissions, empty spaces that reflect the gaps in cultural knowledge caused by colonisation, massacres, epidemics and even natural disasters. It depicts 65,000 years of ancestral history in a single work of art.

National pavilions not to be missed

One of the most important parts of the Venice Biennale is the national pavilions. As with every year, the Biennale was not without a political context. This time, visitors were surprised by the Israeli pavilion, which has remained locked since the first day of its opening. Just before the Biennale opened its doors, on the opening day of the largest and most prominent global gathering in the art world, the artists and curators of the Israeli pavilion announced their decision not to open until a "ceasefire and hostage release agreement" had been reached in the Gaza conflict. These words were written on a white sheet of paper hanging on the closed door of the pavilion, which was guarded by three armed soldiers for at least the opening week. Israel's planned participation in the Biennale had been widely criticised.

The exhibition has many national pavilions worthy of attention and separate mention. As the emotions settle and memories are reflected upon, the Egyptian Pavilion comes to mind first. Artist, Wael Shawky, directed and composed Drama 1882, an original musical play about the Egyptian Revolution against imperial influence (1879–1882). The British, who put down this uprising in 1882, subsequently occupied Egypt until 1956. I believe that everyone who enters the pavilion will feel the narrative power of this work and its accompanying sculptural installations.

The Polish pavilion is probably the most sensitive, subtle and impactful. Open Group presents the interactive installation Repeat After Me II. It shares eyewitness films of the war in Ukraine, all featuring people who are refugees, talking about their experiences to the sound of guns, and then encouraging the audience to follow their example. The installation puts the viewer in a very uncomfortable position, both as a witness to the traumas caused by the Russian aggression in Ukraine, and through a karaoke-formatted game of repetition, however the video is not accompanied by the usual karaoke music, but by the sounds of bombs, shots, missiles and helicopters.

The previously mentioned German pavilion attracted a large number of visitors, so you had to wait in long queues to see not only the exceptional video projections but also the spectacular performance. Artists Yael Bartana and Ersan Mondtag explore themes of national identity, trauma and the intersection of past and future. So, I urge you to take the time to wait for your turn.

The soundtrack used by France, creates a particularly great impression. Julien Creuzet, one of the youngest artists ever to represent France, builds bridges between different cultures, nations and continents.

The Belgian pavilion is atypical, with a group of artists (Denicolai & Provoost, Antoinette Jattiot, Nord, Spec uloos) combining art, curating, architecture, typography and cartography to change the traditional format of a pavilion-based exhibition.

The UK is represented this year by John Akomfrah, an artist and film-maker whose work explores memory, racial injustice, the migrant diaspora experience and climate change. The pavilion's title Listening All Night to The Rain, continues the artist's concern with post-colonialism, ecology and politics, but with a renewed focus on listening and sound itself, conveyed in the pavilion via a multitude of screens. By the way, John Akomfrah's work is also available in Lithuania – we acquired his work for the Noewe Foundation's collection in 2020.

Japan is also among the memorable pavilions, as artist Yuko Mohri, asks what it means for people to be and work together in a world experiencing multiple crises. Inspired by the ingenious flood prevention measures of Tokyo subway workers, she uses her creativity to create an installation of sound, movement, light and smell through the medium of fruit.

The Luxembourg Pavilion at the Arsenale was the most impressive, both in terms of its impressive exhibition architecture and its performances. The pavilions of the Netherlands, Estonia, Kosovo and Brazil are also outstanding and worthy of attention.

Special accompanying museum exhibitions

After visiting the Giardini, the Arsenale, and the national pavilions scattered around the city, it is essential to make time for the museums, offering the best exhibitions of the year in conjunction with the opening of the Venice Biennale. This time, the most impressive was the exhibition Liminal by solo artist, Pierre Huyghe, curated by Anne Stenne. The spectacular exhibition opened simultaneously with the Venice Biennale's previews and is on show at the private, Francois Pinault Museum at Punta della Dogana in the heart of Venice. The artist has transformed the museum into an ever-changing environment. He has populated the exhibition with human and non-human beings, and the museum becomes a hybrid place, which is why we met later in the evening at a party and talked about the monkey from one of Pierre Huyghe's films. You'll see…it's worth it. 

Don't miss Fondazione Prada, this year presenting Monte di Pietà, a project conceived by artist, Christoph Büchel, in a spectacular palace. The project is presented in an immersive environment and consists of a fictitious bankrupt pawnshop based on the original plan of Monte di Pietà in Venice, thereby exploring the history of ownership, including the possession of property, artificial or real.

There are always endless impressions after the Venice Biennale, although probably only half of what should be seen and is worth seeing has been seen. That's why I always want to go back, to see one or another performance again, to visit the pavilion of a country that I missed due to lack of time. And while this year's Biennale was, one could say, surprisingly moderate, visitors were anything but indifferent. Everyone took away with them their own interpretations and strategies on how the world of the future will evolve, what best to turn your eye on, or where to start. Even though the opening week is over, the Venice Biennale will be welcoming visitors for a long time to come, and hopefully without the enormous queues at the pavilions.


The Venice Biennale will be open to visitors until 24 November.


Text author: Ugnė Bužinskaitė
Photos by: Andrea Avezzù, Marco Zorzanello, Matteo de Mayda. Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Aurelija Bulaukaitė and Kichang Choi's exhibition "Phenomenon" in Seoul, South Korea Žygimantas Augustinas' exhibition "Guarantee" at Vilnius Picture Gallery
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