Venice Biennale: 10 Artists Everyone Will Be Talking About and Why

In 2015 Sarah Lucas caused a stir in Venice with fags stuffed in holes - these are this year's contenders

The participating artists of the Venice Biennale have finally been announced! This edition’s curator Christine Macel has put together an eclectic mix of young bright stars of the industry, famous deceased post-ww2 artists and almost unknown positions we look forward to discovering. Among these 120 artists who’re showing their creations at the Arsenale and Giardini (the so-called “Trans-pavilions”) your author has selected ten special people and guessed what they are most likely to exhibit, provoke, or attract.

Most likely to take over a third of the entire Arsenale with a large scale installation

KADER ATTIA Kasbah, 2008 via Lehmann Maupin
Kader Attia – Kasbah

Kader Attia
Born in 1970 in France, lives and works in Berlin and Paris
If you enter a museum and are confronted with 200 cardboard boxes, ancient doors, or vitrines filled with twigs, chances are you’re contemplating a work by this French-Algerian artist. It will be hard for Attia, a 2016 Marcel Duchamp Prize winner and avid lover of object agglutination, to hold back on scale in Venice, given how tempting Arsenale’s frame is for such endeavours. Plus Christine Macel probably won’t oppose to big, big crowd and press pleasers. Expect something gigantic, lit like a Puccini opera, and possibly listing couscous as a material (let’s hope not though as the pricey snacks at the event will have us salivating all day).


Most likely to make you look for the closest spa

Karla Black, Practically In Shadow, 2013, installation view, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. Photo- Aaron Igler:Greenhouse Media.
Karla Black, Practically In Shadow, 2013, installation view, (Photo: Aaron Igler, Greenhouse Media)

Karla Black
Born in 1972 in the UK, lives and works in Glasgow
Are you familiar with this weird and unnamable feeling between deep relaxation and existential angst? It’s a strangely pleasant and disturbing sensation nestled in one’s gut, and it’s also something Karla Black’s work conveys. In Venice, chances are you’ll find yourself standing under a cloud-like pastel structure smelling of soap, and then suddenly experience a pressing need to grab some rose-scented lotion and start sensually rubbing it on yourself while humming a Lana Del Rey song.


Most likely to terrify critics

Kananginak Pootoogook - Evening Shadow, 2010 via dorse fine arts
Kananginak Pootoogook – Evening Shadow

Kananginak Pootoogook
1935 – 2010, lived and worked in Canada
Pootoogook has all the characteristics that will leave critics lost for words: he’s Inuit, he’s dead, and he’s largely unknown. Including off-the-radar artists has become sort of a habit in biennials: it comes close to a PR move that’s supposed to underline a curator’s independent mind and research abilities. However, Pootoogook’s drawings and etchings, mainly representing arctic fauna and scenes of everyday life in a slightly naïve style, are beautiful, and might indeed provide a refreshing break from overexposed darlings of the contemporary art press. Also, never underestimate the soothing effects of peacefully gazing at a flock of eider ducks, whether they’re drawn on paper or flying through the tundra sky.


Most likely to release your inner camp diva

John Waters - Badly Framed
John Waters – Badly Framed

John Waters
Born in 1946 in the United States, lives and works in Baltimore
After a certain time spent looking at hundreds of works of art, your system will inevitably get clogged with your own and others’ convoluted opinions, and you will start to wish for Golden Girls and sweat pants instead of archival materials and an itchy neoprene dress. The inclusion of John Waters in this Biennale comes close to a queer god-sent. Instead of debating about “agency and the activist approach to composition”, let your inner drag queen unfold and claim your love or hatred loudly and abundantly. The pope of bad taste would certainly approve a bit of camp and outrageousness in a sea of well-behaved Goldsmiths graduates and stressed journalists.


Most likely to be labelled as the outstanding 2017 discovery 

AGNIESZKA POLSKA Watery Rhymes via art collection telekom
Agnieszka Polska – Watery Rhymes

Agnieszka Polska
Born in 1985 in Poland, lives and works in Berlin
She’s young. She does video art. She studied under Hito Steyerl. She’s from Poland. That combination is simply too cool for school, and too cool not to be noticed. Praise is assured, and probably also deserved.


Most likely to ravish people who found inner peace while backpacking through South East Asia

Sopheap Pich - Cycle 2 Version 3
Sopheap Pich – Cycle 2 Version 3

Sopheap Pich

Born in 1971 in Cambodia, lives and works in Phnom Penh
Sopheap Pich uses traditional basket weaving techniques from his native Cambodia to create sculptures inspired by nature and organisms. The visitors’ Namaste faction will clutch their pearls at the look of his pieces, and tell you about how when they backpacked through Laos/Thailand/Cambodia a couple of years ago, a wise and very poor woman thought them the same technique Pich employs, and that although the woman didn’t speak English, they were still able to communicate, on an emotional level, sitting on the dirt floor in a remote village where no tourist had previously never been. Counter this shower of proto-Buddhist gibberish by taking a break: get yourself a drink and enjoy the latest episode of Rupaul’s drag race on your smartphone sitting by a canal. It will clean your chakras.


Most likely to show the most Instagrammed work

Soft Stone - Sheila Hicks. ©zanartu
Sheila Hicks – Soft Stone

Sheila Hicks
Born in 1934 in the United States, lives and works in Paris
When looking at Sheila Hick’s big, bright textile works, you may feel like you were just force-fed Angel’s dust in an ephemeral haberdashery at Burning Man. Very probably her piece will serve as the most popular photo background of the biennale, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if some people dressed to fit with it, Instagram fame oblige. I’m not making this up: a fair amount of art world jet-setters dress in order to match with whatever art work will serve as a background for self-promotion and validation. But Hicks’ creation might also become that one piece tourists who don’t give a damn about art and ended in the Giardini by mistake will love and photograph to death. As long as the inspiration it triggers doesn’t translate into a wave of acid-colored chunky knitwear this fall, that’s fine with me.


Most likely to be unfairly overlooked

Ciprian Muresan - Palimpsest
Ciprian Muresan – Palimpsest

Ciprian Muresan
Born in 1977 in Romania, lives and works in Cluj
Next to a Sheila Hicks extravaganza or an army of sculptures by Kader Attia, it’s going to be hard to even notice Muresan’s pencil on paper works, even if sometimes, they reach colossal proportions. From afar they can look monotonous; at a closer look though, you will realize that what you thought were doodles and scribbles are mind-blowing, overlapping copies of artforum covers or Agnes Martin canvases. Those are just examples of two impressive works by the Romanian artist, and his practice isn’t limited to drawing; but if by chance Macel decides to show his works on paper, jump on the occasion to lose yourself in their intricate details and bask in the glory of this encyclopedic form of understatement.


Most likely to spend the preview on the phone with the Albanian Minister of Infrastructure

Rama Sala Inversion - Creating Space Where There is None, Marian Goodman
Rama Sala Inversion – Creating Space Where There is None

Edi Rama
Born in 1964 in Albania, lives and works in Tirana
Next to being a successful and talented artist, Edi Rama also casually holds the office of Prime Minister of Albania. One must wonder how he still finds time to create art in between cabinet meetings and briefings on the industrial growth in Elbasan County; maybe, like Angela Merkel or a young giraffe, he only needs very little sleep and spends the hours between one and four in the morning creating poetic drawings on his desk in the presidential palace.


Most likely to recycle successful previous patterns

Alicja Kwade - Used and Tired via Koenig Galerie
Alicja Kwade – Used and Tired

Alicia Kwade
Born in 1979 in Poland, lives and works in Berlin
No tremendous suspense here: you’re bound to see a mirror. You will probably see stones and austere branches; you might also see ordinary objects whose original forms have been slightly twisted to look surreal or unusable, or ordinary objects that have been pulverized and neatly separated in containers. Kwade has a limited array of recipes, but she knows how to slightly alter them every time to enchant viewers and collectors alike. If indeed a mirror is included in the piece she’ll present, wherever her work is placed will be the #1 selfie magnet of this biennale.


Feature image: Sarah Lucas at Venice in 2015

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