At the 2024 Venice Biennale, ‘Foreigners Everywhere’ Is an Understatement

The collateral events provide less heavy material to ponder relative to the Biennale’s focus on migration, inequality and societal deterioration.

60th Biennale Art 2024
A view of the Central Pavilion. Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

The behemoth that is the Biennale d’Arte di Venezia has commenced its 60th edition, with its annual themed title—“Foreigners Everywhere”—drawn from a series of works made by Fulvia Carnevale and James Thornhill’s Paris/Palermo collective, Claire Fontaine. The expression also references an anti-racism and anti-xenophobia collective from Turin circa the early 2000s: Stranieri Ovunque.

Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter

By clicking submit, you agree to our <a rel="noreferrer" href="">terms of service</a> and acknowledge we may use your information to send you emails, product samples, and promotions on this website and other properties. You can opt out anytime.

See all of our newsletters

The 2024 Venice Biennale gathers eighty-eight participating countries, four of which are participating for the first time: the Republic of Benin, Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. The Republic of Panama and Senegal each have their own pavilions for the first time. Across the Giardini della Biennale with its thirty permanent pavilions and at venues around the city, artists have interpreted the Biennale’s theme in a host of ways.

Venice Art Biennale 2024
Archie Moore stands on stage with his Golden Lion at the Lion Award Ceremony. dpa/picture alliance via Getty I

Archie Moore’s exhibition “kith and kin” at the Australia Pavilion was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation, described by the jury as “quietly powerful” and lauded for “its invocation of shared loss for occluded pasts.” It is the first time an Australian artist has received this high-profile recognition in Venice, and Moore had been working in the pavilion for about two months ahead of the opening. Moore’s sweeping genealogical chart of the Kamilaroi and Bigambul, hand-drawn in chalk, spans no less than 65,000 years: a First Nations family tree unscrolling on dark walls and on the ceiling. These constellations encircle a huge table—sitting in a pool of still water—in the center of the room stacked with government documents, all relating to the deaths of Indigenous Australians in police custody, rendering an archive tangible.

The United States pavilion. Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images

The American pavilion, too, celebrates Indigenous history—artist Jeffrey Gibson is of Choctaw and Cherokee descent—as well as queer joy. Using beadwork and tribal aesthetics, his riotously bright color palette flips off “the chromophobia of contemporary art” and his psychedelic hues are meant to be “radically inclusive” in contrast with the ideals of the founding documents of the United States (cited: 1866 Civil Rights Act, 1924 Indian Citizenship Act). Gibson’s nearly three-minute brightly kaleidoscopic nine-channel video—pulsating with energy, vivacity, pride and movement—is perhaps one of the most effervescent moments in the Biennale.

At the Austrian pavilion, the artist Anna Jermolaewa, who was a political refugee from the USSR and moved to Vienna in the late ‘80s, created multiple groupings in the space. In one, bouquets of fresh flowers in various types of vases represent popular uprisings, either by color or plant genus; elsewhere, she alludes to non-violent resistance, notably in the way people in the Soviet Union created contraband vinyl albums using X-ray film as makeshift records.

60th Biennale Art 2024
The Austria pavilion. Getty Images

Continuing with the refugee reality, at the Polish Pavilion, there’s a chilling pair of films by Open Group (Yuriy Biley, Pavlo Kovach, Anton Varga) called Repeat After Me II, in which refugees intonate the sounds of war through childish onomatopoeia of mortar shellings and aerial bombing. “The lyrics are descriptions of lethal weapons” and the sounds are subtitled: WZZZZHHZZZH, TDDDURRSHHTTZHH, TUH! TUH! TUH!, conveying the terrifying soundtrack of living in a conflict zone where violence is a horrific and perpetual sonorous presence.

60th Biennale Art 2024
Canada’s pavilion. Getty Images

At the Canadian Pavilion, by contrast, Kapwani Kiwanga hosts a calming sanctuary with wall-length curtains of seed beads in a gradient of colors. These beads date from the 16th Century and were part of international trade. While the exhibition refers to world economies and transoceanic commerce, and the seed bead unit was a thing of value, the delicate filigrees are, also, simply beautiful and elegant as an aesthetic artisanal craft.

SEE ALSO: The Most Luxurious Hotels in Venice

Similarly divested of political urgency, the Japanese pavilion by Yuko Mohri feels part mad scientist—with funnels into tubes into buckets creating off pathways that are a wink to the way Tokyo subway stations use whatever items are at hand to stop leaks (crisis as creative hack)—and part market leftovers, with rotting fruits disintegrating upon fine wooden furnishings (clementines white with mold, deflated grapes, browning bananas, all studded with electrodes). The decomposing fruit converts moisture into sound and light; drums and chimes create audio whimsy to match the visual. Mohri’s work spotlights “the transformative nature of ordinary objects and common situations,” as curator Sook-Kyung Lee put it, and rather than transporting anything from Japan, she sourced everything locally.

Japan’s pavilion. AFP via Getty Images

Switching back to the concern of visibility, the Danish pavilion presents photography by Inuuteq Storch—who graduated from New York’s ICP—and snapshots of Greenland life. The self-governing and autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark is depicted through multiple series across various timelines, including playful photographs of Storch’s friends in his hometown Sisimiut of 5,000 inhabitants, plus images from six decades of family photo archives and digitized copies of images made by the first Greenlandic photographer, John Møller (who lived on the cusp of the 19th and 20th Centuries).

Denmark’s pavilion. AFP via Getty Images

Representing Spain, Peruvian-Spanish Sandra Gamarra Heshiki’s Migrant Art Gallery provides a charged “subversion of a historical Western pinacotheca,” per curator Augustín Pérez Rubio, using more than 150 Spanish heritage works (paintings and objects) drawn from public collections and museums that are then disrupted by Gamarra’s hand. The first five rooms of the pinacotheca showcase romanticized landscape (superimposed with texts about the abuse of primary resources and agricultural exploitation), portraiture (highlighting the lack of representation of otherness), still life (symbolizing decay, overproduction, plunder and collapse), scientific illustration (often used in support of the racist Western ideas of evolution and hierarchies) and 18th- and 19th-century botany (with working hands adjacent to the plants to indicate labor) as a “contemporary West inseparable from colonial wounds.” The final room serves as a restitution for the colonized subject with women’s bodies painted on glass and strewn books on the floor by French political scientist/activist Françoise Vergès and Brazilian philosopher Denise Ferreira da Silva.

60th Biennale Art 2024
The Spanish pavilion. Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

The Arsenale, Venice’s historic shipyard, is the other major Biennale venue —notable for the building’s original corderie (a 1,000-foot-long hall used for rope making).

There, Alioune Diagne’s representation of Senegal deploys a “complex sign process” technique inspired by elegant calligraphy that constitutes both the background and the figurative bodies to form a pointillist-style representation of tradition, heritage and daily community. His multiple canvases, positioned together as a large, almost mosaic, whole across two perpendicular walls, is foregrounded by a long, slender and broken wooden canoe that nods to waves of migration.

Senegal’s pavilion. AFP via Getty Images

For Turkey’s pavilion, Gülsün Karamustafa’s site-specific installation crystallizes her “perception of the world as broken and empty.” The gorgeous chandeliers are made of barbed wire and broken glass and represent the three conflict-riddled religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Hollow plastic columns are like toyish versions of architectural glory and political power, rendered flimsy and ineffectual, while wheeled carts are padded inside with shattered Venetian glass shards.

Ukraine’s pavilion was indelibly immersed in war and included facts from the country’s State of Emergency Service, like that nine entire cities were destroyed, as were 116,000 residential buildings throughout the country, and that over 50,000 Ukrainians have lost arms or legs as of August 2023. Andrii Dostliev and Lia Dostliev created videos, produced in cooperation with Polish Theatre in Warsaw, casting ten actors about the ‘favorable’ types of refugees and “what behavior, look, and social status were expected from them” (think: a blonde girl in a bubblegum pink tracksuit with long nails and Versace cap; a little old woman in a cardigan clutching her striped wheely cart).

60th Biennale Art 2024
Ukraine’s pavilion at the Palazzo Contarini Polignac. Getty Images

More blithely, in the Albanian pavilion, Iva Lulashi (who was born in Albania but has been living in Italy since 1998) channeled a concept from feminist thinker Alexandra Kollontai, who posits that satisfying sexual impulses should be as normalized as drinking a glass of water to slake thirst. Her paintings recreate stills from erotic films: they don’t feature anyone in flagrante delicto but rather the moments of before or after (think a painting of a girl pulling open her shirt as it liberates itself from being tucked into a skirt).

Off-site, Ethiopia was represented by Tesfaye Urgessa for the country’s inaugural participation: “I believe that this is the beginning of a new era for Ethiopian art, and I am thrilled to be part of it,” the artist wrote on Instagram. His packed compositions of figurative silhouettes are influenced by German Neo-Expressionism (he studied in Stuttgart and still lives in Germany) and characterized by muted colors and prone bodies in domestic settings: clutching a swaddled baby, or near splayed-open books.

Also off-site, in the stunning Palazzo Franchetti, perched on the city’s Grand Canal up a marble staircase from which to take in postcard-ish views, the upper floor is dedicated to the Portuguese Pavilion. It is overrun with a bounty of green vegetation: garden beds hosting groupings of plants and herbs. Set against a beautiful wooden study with apothecary drawers and curved staircases, the garden is an installation created by artist-curators Mónica de Miranda, Sónia Vaz Borges and Vânia Gala. Here, the trio has proposed a Creole garden which, historically, was a plot given to enslaved people to cultivate for self-sustenance, illustrating a concept of colonization.

60th Biennale Art 2024
The Hungary pavilion. Getty Images

The collateral events provided less heavy material to ponder relative to the Biennale’s focus on migration, inequality and societal deterioration. The most light-hearted was the self-explanatory Breasts, divided into five rooms hosting, among other works, Cindy Sherman photo Untitled 1 #205, Sherrie Levine’s cast bronze Body Mask and Chloe Wise’s painting Soccer. The opportunity to see images by Peter Hujar is always one to grab: in Portraits in Life and Death, there are notably black-and-white visions of unchanged-seeming young Fran Lebowitz and John Waters circa the mid-1970s. Francesco Vezzoli’s intervention at Musei delle Lacrime juxtaposes his campy extraness with masterpieces from the Museo Correr’s collection, prompting a holy/unholy contrast amongst the Christian iconography: Kim Kardashian crying embroidered blue tears and Richard Gere emerging from The Birth of Venus shell amidst rooms of solemn saints.

Nearly next door, “Robert Indiana: The Sweet Mystery” at the Procuratie Vecchie showcases thirty works installed across nine rooms. Several of the pieces date from when he was living in Coenties Slip in the Financial District of Manhattan and using discarded nautical material like ship masts and bronze stencils as cheap fodder to make totemic sculptures; there is also a display of the flashing The Electric American Dream (EAT/DIE/HUG/ERR) and iconic LOVE sculptures articulated in English, Hebrew and Spanish.

The Venice Biennale runs through November 24. 

At the 2024 Venice Biennale, ‘Foreigners Everywhere’ Is an Understatement