Ten Opinions: Favorites at the 55th Venice Biennale


“I am conviced that the Venice Biennale, as a format, will persist, because it conforms to all of the criteria asked of it,” says the artist Ali Kazma in Turkey's pavilion. His face is barely visible due to his exhibition, “Resistance”, which consists of pitch blackness and six large-format screens – which also serve as the only source of illumination. “The Biennale is like an incubator for active communication among the galleries, artists, collectors, sponsors and the press,” he continues. “It creates a lot of movement in a short period of time. I'm not saying that's good or bad, but I've made observations that make me think that the model will definitely last. Whether or not the Venice Biennale is decisively necessary – is an another question.”

88 countries are taking part in the Venice Biennale this year, 10 of which are newcomers. The Giardini and the Aresenale are filled with buzzing crowds that critique, search for new discoveries, and establish new contacts. Here in the Arsenale and in the pockets of other pavilions scattered throughout the city, as well as at the various openings and on the streets of Venice, one can see a myriad of big players from the global art scene; the fact that they have all come together in one place confirms the central importance of the Venice Biennale. spoke to ten art professionals that we happened upon in Venice, and asked them what they've liked most about this year's Biennale, or what they definitely would still like to see.

Victor Pinchuk, Ukrainian collector and founder of the the Future Generation Art Prize

I'd like to give kudos to the Russian pavilion's exhibition, Danaë. I've been to the last six Biennales, and I can say that the exhibition made by artist Vadim Zakharov and curator Udo Kittelman is Russia's best so far. It is very on-target, powerful and contemporary. I wish all the best to my Russian friends and colleaugues!

Damien Hirst, British artist

I haven't yet had the chance to see the Biennale's expositions, but I'd like to see all of them! Does that sound utopian? You can have countless revolutions, but things can also be changed with just one piece of art, by one painting. It's like a dream, like reaching for the impossible – and I like that.

Patrick Kelley, publisher of the magazine Art Review

The British pavilion's artist, Jeremy Deller, who also happened to be the guest editor for Art Review's Summer Issue, has touched on economic, political and social themes in both a very intelligent and clever way. The British pavilion speaks from an aesthetic point of view, but also makes one think. I think it's very good art because rarely can an artist cover political issues without a heavy-handedness. In the same way, one can sense attempts at reflecting the issue of money and its interaction with social aspects in the pavilion of hard-hit Greece. Vadim Zakharov's installation in Russia's pavilion is also linked to the value of money in our lives (it is based on an interpretation of the Greek myth, “Danaë” – ed.). Their approach – with the golden coins falling from the ceiling – did seem a bit too direct, however...

Germany's decision to present artists from other countries this year (Ai Weiwei, Romuald Karmakar, Santu Mofokeng, Dayanita Singh) is interesting. Nevertheless, their exhibition seemed a bit scattered to me – lacking in concentration. France's exhibition with Anri Sala's piano, “Ravel Ravel Unravel” is a really beautiful work!

The Dutch pavilion, with sculptures by Mark Manders, is interesting, as are the sculptures in Belgium's dark pavilion, in which one can see human bodies entwined like the trunks of trees. It's no secret that Belgium's pavilion was put together with the help of the S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art, from which they chose a work by the South African artist Berlinde De Bruyceker. Most likely, the curating of the whole exhibition happened via e-mail, without the interested parties even meeting in person – a very contemporary method, you could say!

The Bahamas' first time at the Biennale is definitely a highlight – their exhibition is in the Arsenale.

Vadim Zakharov, artist presenting at Russia's national pavilion

Of course, the expositions by Anri Sala for France, and Ai Wei Wei for Germany, spoke to me. But I was impressed by Rumania's performance-retrospective, in which the actors reenact scenes from previous Biennales. I only saw a very small part, but I want to go back and see more. The pavilions of Poland and Belgium are my favorites. Spain... well, no – while we were setting up our exhibit for the last two months, they were extremely loud (laughs).

Eckhard Schneider, director of the PinchukArtCentre in Kiev

The first exhibit that I went to see was Massimiliano Gioni's curated “Il Palazzo Enciclopedico”. A very well composed exhibition, in my opinion. He has found an approach in which to combine the most varying generations of artists in a meaningful way. Usually the Biennale's central exhibition places too much emphasis on making it conceptually open to the world. But this time, the exhibition is very natural and unexaggerated, which I very, very much like.

Austris Mailītis, architect from Latvia

The Dutch pavilion is exceptional with its cleanliness, finesse and use of materials.

The object on view in Belgium's pavilion kind of made me stop at first. I walked all around it, examining it... It turns out you can find even very fine wax moldings in it, and its sculptural aspect is quite interesting.

Denmark's pavilion is interesting in terms of its space. It's hard to find the entrance – according to the directions given by the exhibition's employees, you have to head through these yards in which new concrete walls have been erected next to the old building... Inside, plants are being grown with the help of infrared radiation. It seems like the exhibition addresses a very good question – why do we build so many walls to house plants that we end up having to grow with the help of artificial light?

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, British artist, winner of The Future Generation Art Prize 2013

The British pavilion is fantastic! It's very special – saturated, beautiful, and made very intelligently. And it's definitely worth seeing The Future Generation Art Prize 2013 exhibition, located in the Palazzo  Contarini Polignac, which is a wonderful place in itself. This satellite of the Biennale is an opportunity to see so many different kinds of works in various genres all in one place, as well as to meet the powerful and individualistic personalities that make up this new generation.

Richard Rhodes, editor of Canadian Art Magazine

Of course, Shary Boyle's exposition “Music for Silence”, at Canada's pavilion, is worth a visit. The exhibition “Il Palazzo Enciclopedico” at the Arsenale, and its first three rooms, was a new and exciting experience. As my third favorite I'll mention the Netherlands' pavilion with Mark Manders' installation, which I had seen before at other international exhibitions, but the Dutch pavilion especially emphasizes its aesthetic value. 

Jasper Sharp, commissar for Austria's national pavilion's

I must mention that I have yet to see the exhibitions at the Arsenale, but from what I've seen at the pavilions in the Giardini, I'll highlight Denmark's pavilion with Jesper Just's exposition “Intercourses” – film and digital works that have been cleverly integrated into the pavilion's building's architecture. In a superb act of combination, the artist has added a digital illusion of modernism to the neo-classical building. And the film itself is fantastic as well! I was also impressed by Spain's pavilion.

In terms of satellite events, I think Robert Motherwell's exhibition in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection museum is wonderful. The Prada Foundation's idea to reinterpret the legendary exhibition in Bern is genius; I haven't yet seen it, but that's what I want to see the most.

Laura Boxborg, organizer of Finland's national exhibition

I haven't yet done it, but I want to see everything! Definitely Chile – everyone says it's so worth it. And of course, the grand attractions – “Il Enciclopedico Palazzo”, and the pavilions of France and Germany