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This week sees the opening of the 57th Venice Biennale (until 26 November) – the original showcase for international contemporary art, and probably one of the most frenzied art events in the world. The first Biennale took place in 1895, and it soon became a hugely popular showcase of international art, with countries taking national pavilions in the Giardini to showcase works by their best contemporary artists. The list of greats who have shown there include – among so many others – Gustav Klimt, Renoir, Courbet, Pablo Picasso, Lucio Fontana, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, and Lucian Freud.

This year the exhibition includes 120 invited artists from 51 countries, and 103 of these will be participating for the first time.  And throughout Venice there will a feast of art to see, including a fascinating exhibition on Philip Guston at the Accademia, and of course Damien Hirst’s new show at the Palzzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, the two Venetian venues of the Pinault Collection.

With so much going on, we recommend downloading the app produced by The Art Newspaper which will help guide you around. Meanwhile, here are a few of our own chosen highlights:

The US Pavilion has selected Mark Bradford for their pavilion, who is one of the most celebrated artists of the moment. Outside the pavilion he has set in stone a poem on Hephaestus, the god of artists and of the forge, who was expelled from Mount Olympus.  It sets the scene for the theme of the artist’s show ‘Tomorrow is Another Day’ which is inspired by today’s political landscape and centred on themes of expulsion and rejection.

Lumps of concrete and cardboard litter the steps of the British Pavilion in Venice as part of ‘Folly’, the installation by Phillida Barlow. Both fun and ugly, they are an introduction to the sculptural creations of concrete, scrim, wire, fabric, paper, and a host of other materials, that fill the six rooms of the pavilion.  Crowded, amusing, threatening and intriguing in equal measure, it’s one not to miss.

Representing Mexico, Carlos Amorales has created a sculptural, film and musical installation ‘Life in Folds’.  The initial impression is of a light-hearted fairy tale creation, but it carries darker undertones and includes a fleeing family being mobbed on screen, reflecting the traumas currently happening around the world.

Other highlights not to miss include ‘The Golden Tower’ by James Lee Byers, which was first conceived in 1976, and has finally come to fruition in Campo San Vio, as well as ‘The Unplayed Notes Factory’ by Loris Gréaud, an immersive installation in a previously abandoned glass furnace on Murano.

And if you need a break from the Biennale, when we’re in Venice we never fail to visit the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, a personal favourite where one can marvel at the glorious paintings by Vittore Carpaccio.

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