Installation view of “Marlene Dumas. open-end,” 2022. Photo: Marco Cappelletti with Filippo Rossi, © Palazzo Grassi, © Marlene Dumas

A Re-Enchanted 59th Venice Biennale, Part II: Collateral Projects and Museum Exhibitions

The joy of the Venice Biennale goes beyond the Giardini and Arsenale (explored in Part I), with collateral projects and exhibitions that entice you to get lost in the magnificent city and discover art shows within the extraordinary Venetian palazzos, churches, and museums. Here are five not to miss:

Anish Kapoor
Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia and Palazzo Manfrin
On view through October 9, 2022

Anish Kapoor, Sky Mirror, 2018. Stainless steel, installation view. Photo: Maureen Sullivan

Ah, Vantablack! Controversial ownership aside, it doesn’t disappoint, whether presented in white-box gallery spaces, alongside ancient Venetian works in the Accademia museum, or in the 18th-century palazzo recently acquired by the artist for his own foundation. I happily fall into its abyss. Equally seductive are a towering mound of red pigment encompassing and spilling out of a room, and small, playful sculptural works reminiscent of sand castles (White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers, 1982) in vibrant red, yellow, and black pigment, which appear to be magically freestanding. In converse to the black void, a round white form (Pregnant White Within Me, 2022) emerges from and disappears into a white wall, the architecture consuming or ejecting the body. And a reflective disc in the Accademia’s courtyard merges the sky with its surrounding historic architecture. Minimalist, pure, elegant, and ethereal, this is the Kapoor work I know and love. The other portion of the show at both venues is a descent into hell—explosive, gory, and all fleshy guts. Blood-red wax balls shot from a cannon splatter the gallery floor and walls in one work, and under a domineering red tondo, red resin carnage is dropped down a conveyor belt in Symphony for a Beloved Sun (2013). It seems to take a macabre page from Hermann Nitsch (whose death during the opening days of the Biennale turned his own show on the Venetian island of Guidecca into a memorial), and though resonating in these times of war, the sensationalistic and supersized work is missing the essence of Nitsch’s actionist politics and blasphemous rituals. If going for shock value, it succeeds.

Stanley Whitney: The Italian Paintings”
Palazzo Tiepolo Passi 
On view through November 27, 2022

Installation view of “Stanley Whitney: The Italian Paintings,” 2022. Photo: Maureen Sullivan

Some artworks compete with the beauty of the palazzos and their crystal chandeliers, some complement it perfectly. Whitney’s falls into the latter, and knowing they were all created over the past three decades in Rome and more recently in Parma, they seem even more at home. Large-scale paintings are presented alongside smaller paintings and works on paper of gridded abstractions created with spontaneous brushwork in a rich range of hues. A special treat are 20 of Whitney’s sketchbooks—many exhibited for the first time—which share his ideas, travels, and experimentation with color. The exhibition is presented by the future Buffalo AKG Art Museum, where Whitney will be the subject of a major retrospective survey exhibition in 2024.

Marlene Dumas: open-end”
Palazzo Grassi
On view through January 8, 2023

Marlene Dumas, Betrayal, 1994. Photo: Emma Estwic, New York, © Marlene Dumas, Courtesy David Zwirner

No matter how many of Marlene Dumas’s raw, racy, intimate, and tough paintings you’ve seen, this exceptional and expansive survey at Palazzo Grassi, curated by the artist with Caroline Bourgeois, brings an even deeper appreciation to the work. Room after room of portraits (heads and full figures), depicting sex, desire, suffering, death, and evilness, showcase her direct and stark style, softened by her use of diluted oil paint that leaves traces of each brushstroke. In a short documentary playing on site, an unassuming and charming Dumas speaks about her struggle with painting and moving beyond your own emotions, the tyranny of the night, and her belief that a happy ending dulls the viewer. 

Human Brains: It Begins with an Idea”
Fondazione Prada
On view through November 27, 2022

Taryn Simon, The Conversation Machine, 2022. Produced by Fondazione Prada for “Human Brains: It Begins with an Idea.” Photo: Maureen Sullivan

How brave for a visual art and cultural institution to take on such a daunting and intensive subject as the human brain—and to figure out a compelling way to visually engage audiences with the plethora of ideas on knowledge. And they did, in the expert hands of Taryn Simon in collaboration with curator Udo Kittelmann. Begun as an intensive investigative in 2018 by Fondazione Prada into the field of neuroscience, it brings together how we think and process information through a range of scientific approaches: neurobiology, philosophy, psychology, neurochemistry, linguistics, AI, and robotics. 

The exhibition excels on the upper floors, which are designed in the style of a natural history museum with over 110 objects displayed in illuminated vitrines, including lost chapters from Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, and the Japanese Edo period; medical equipment, including the first electroshock machines and other cringe-worthy devices; and paintings, sculptures, scrolls, skulls, and ceremonial knives, among others. The key to the exhibition, and its incredible charm, are the small videos installed in the wall alongside each vitrine, all featuring the same lone man/professor (played by audio book narrator George Guidall). In each, he recites short and fascinating literary texts, commissioned by 32 international fiction authors and responding to the objects, ideas, and wild misinformation, from “fixing” homosexuality to curing madness by removing a stone from the brain—the latter a popular subject matter of the 15th century, illustrated in the exhibition by Hieronymus Bosch’s allegory of a dishonest doctor preying upon a guileless patient in The Extraction of the Stone of Madness (c. 1501–05).

Surrealism and Magic: Enchanted Modernity”
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
On view through September 26, 2022

Leonora Carrington, Portrait of Max Ernst, c. 1939. Oil on canvas, 50.3 x 26.8 cm. Photo: © Leonora Carrington, by SIAE 2022

Beautifully in sync with the Biennale theme (but less gendered), this exhibition, organized by Grazina Subelyte, features around 60 works borrowed from over 40 museums and private collections. Taking a scholarly and historical view of the Surrealist movement, beginning in 1920s Paris and growing between and after the World Wars, it presents works by such seminal artists as Salvador Dalí, Yves Tanguy, Leonor Fini, René Magritte, and Dorothea Tanning, as well as the couple Max Ernst and Leonora Carrington. Offering escape from the horrors of war and dreaming of another world, the exhibition explores magic, symbolism, the occult, the notion of the goddess and witch, and desire through alchemical allusions, the tarot, the evil eye, and hybrid creatures. A special room dedicated to Carrington as the “Modern Enchantress” is painted red to evoke metamorphosis. Bonus: one of the best rooftop views in Venice!

To read Part I: Top 10 Pavilions and Exhibitions, click here.