Editor’s Picks

Venice Biennale 2024 Review | Intimacy and violence

Typically, the Venice Biennale’s national pavilions play second fiddle to the main exhibition—which is ironic, considering that there is about as much art, if not more, on view in them than what’s contained in the Arsenale and the Giardini combined. But this year, with a main exhibition that called into question the notion of countries altogether, it was not possible to ignore the national pavilions.

Even before the Biennale began, controversy surrounded the Israel Pavilion, whose presence many denounced in the month leading up to the show. That pavilion shuttered on the first morning of the Biennale’s preview days, with its artist, Ruth Patir, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and a hostage release agreement, and leaving on view just one work visible from outside. That wasn’t enough to quell protests over Israel’s presence, but it was enough to ensure that other pavilions worthy of notice got the attention they deserved.

This batch of pavilions mulled colonialism and feminism, violent wars and climatological disasters, museums and their discontents. On the whole, the pavilions were much better this time around than what was seen at the last art Biennale, in 2022, whose sad national contributions were memorably labeled “appalling” by New York Times critic Jason Farago. Most seemed to receive this Biennale’s pavilions with more warmth.

Below, a look at the 10 best national pavilions at the 2024 Venice Biennale—minus the Holy See’s show, whose inaccessibility has rankled a number of people who wanted to see it. That pavilion, which sets works by Maurizio Cattelan, Sonia Gomes, Corita Kent, and others in a functioning women’s prison on the island of Giudecca, is available only by reservation, and there are few slots daily. If you can’t get there, and good luck trying to do that, there is, at least, Emily Watlington’s review in Art in America.

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