Dissent, Diplomacy and Drama at the Venice Biennale

The “Biennale of Dissent” highlighted artists from the Soviet Union and other Communist bloc countries, such as Czechoslovakia, showcasing Soviet art, theater and film made by dissidents at home and abroad.

The art exhibition, “New Art From the Soviet Union. an Unofficial Perspective,” featured some 300 works by 70 Soviet artists who were not sanctioned by the state, angering Soviet authorities, which pulled out of the Biennale for a few years.

After the Cold War ended, the Biennale reflected a changed world. The German conceptual artist Hans Haacke created the installation piece “Failed Hope” by smashing the stone floor of his country’s pavilion, where Hitler had once stood, and leaving it in fragments. Alexander Alberro, a professor of art history at Barnard College and Columbia University, explained that the installation was one of several works that year that “dealt with the new world order in a number of ways. You could call it the first Biennale in a truly global context.”

In the midst of wars in Yugoslavia, the Serbian artist Marina Abramovic presented “Balkan Baroque,” an installation in which she sat in a pile of animal bones in a white dress, crying and singing Balkan folk songs while trying to scrub the bones clean, as blood stained her dress. Since it was summer in Venice, the piece had a powerful stench, leaving a lasting impression on visitors.

The Covid-19 pandemic postponed the 2020 Architectural Biennale for a year. While all national pavilions in the Giardini were closed in 2020, the central pavilion was devoted to one exhibition: “Le muses inquiete (The Disquieted Muses). When La Biennale di Venezia Meets History,” co-curated by Alemani, which used archival documents and art.

The 2021 edition of the Art Biennale was also postponed and took place in 2022. Alemani, its first Italian woman artistic director, curated the exhibition “The Milk of Dreams.” More than 80 percent of the works were by women and nonbinary artists. That event also marked another kind of opening up. Cameroon, Namibia, Nepal, Oman and Uganda participated for the first time.

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