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Visitors are set to flock to Venice next week for the 58th edition of the Biennale, known as the Olympics of the art world, which opens officially on 11 May.

Of the 90 national pavilions, new additions this year come from Algeria, Ghana, Madagascar, Malaysia and Pakistan and there is also a new section dedicated to refugees with five artists in residence until 23 May. For their inaugural appearance, Pakistan will be represented by multi-disciplinary artist Naiza Khan whose work captures the experience of living and working in Karachi where everyday life is affected by natural disasters, urban migration and political struggle. The UK is represented by Cathy Wilkes, whose sculptures evoke a strong sense of loss and melancholy, while African American artist Martin Puryear will fill the US pavilion with his sculptures which blend abstraction, craft and tradition, while referencing democracy and liberty.

The Hermitage Museum is taking over Russia’s pavilion with an exhibition titled Lc. 15:11-32 which alludes to the parable of the prodigal son from the Gospel of Luke. It will be the first time an institution has organised a pavilion at the event; Rembrandt’s ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’  is the central theme of an installation created by the Russian film director Alexander Sokurov. This year’s curator Ralph Rugoff of The Hayward Gallery will present ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ as the central exhibition of the Biennale and each of the 79 artists or partnerships he has selected will exhibit at both the Giardini and the Arsenale sites. Rugoff has broken with tradition by only including the work of living artists in the show, and these include Julie Mehretu, George Condo and Danh Vo.  He has also introduced a performance art programme to the event for the first time, although this will only be running for a week in May and the closing weekend in November.

As if the central exhibition and the 90 pavilions weren’t enough to keep you busy there is also a myriad of other shows and events taking place in Venice to coincide with the Biennale.  Don’t miss ‘Jean Arp: The Nature of Arp’ at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection showcasing the works of one of the founders of the Dada movement and a pioneer of abstraction.  Edmund de Waal will be the first contemporary artist to create a major work for the Ghetto in Venice with his two-part exhibition called psalm at Canton Scuola Synagogue and Ateneo Veneto,  Sean Scully’s vibrant paintings make a bold statement at the Abbey San Giorgio Maggiore, and  at the medieval Abbazia di San Gregorio, London-based Old Master gallery Colnaghi have teamed up with interior designer Chahan to celebrate the enduring fascination with Venice and create the home of a 21st century Grand Tourist.