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Explore La Biennale Di Venezia 2024 on The Berkshire Edge!

Virginia Bradley continues her exclusive Edge coverage of the art she is seeing at the Venice Biennale.

Editor’s note: Virginia Bradley will be reporting on the Venice Biennale for The Edge through the end of May. Click here to read her introductory article.

The Pinault Collection

One of the treats of La Biennale Di Venezia is the rare pleasure of seeing the beautiful palazzos on the grand canal that open their doors for exceptional Biennale exhibitions. For many of these palazzos, the Biennale is the only occasion the public is invited through majestic portals into an opulent world filled with Venetian mystery. On the other hand, there are palazzos, such as the Palazzo Grassi, that have become impressive year-round exhibition spaces housing various permanent art collections.

Palazzo Grassi, like the Punta della Dogana, above, also houses part of the Pinault collection. The purchase of one ticket provides access to both locations. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

French businessman François Pinault’s extraordinary contemporary art collection is housed in three different museums: the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana in Venice and the historical Bourse de Commerce in Paris. Pinault’s collection includes over 10,000 works of art from the last 50 years. Since 2006 the Pinault Collection has become a corner stone of the Venetian Contemporary art world. The Pinault Collection has created an ongoing dialogue by juxtaposing Venice’s rich cultural history with contemporary art through successive blockbuster exhibitions that draw heavily from the collection’s holdings.

Palazzo Grassi:

Julie Mehretu’s “ensemble”

Julie Mehretu, “Hineni,” 2018, 96” x 120”, acrylic on linen . Photo by Virginia Bradley

Palazzo Grassi presents another outstanding exhibition for the 2024 Biennale – Ethiopian American artist Julie Mehretu’s “ensemble”. The exhibition spans 25 years of Mehretu’s practice and includes many new works. “ensemble” also features works by several renowned artists (many who are close friends) who have played a role in Julie’s development. Artists included in “ensemble” are Nairy Baghramian, Huma Bhabha, Tacita Dean, David Hammons, Robin Coste Lewis, Paul Pfeifffer and Jessica Rankin.

Julie Mehretu, “Mural,” 2008 – 2010, ink and acrylic on canvas, 23’ x 80′. Photo courtesy of wikipedia

Mehretu’s practice is composed of multi-layered abstractions that often reference architectural forms and current events. Meticulously designed layers combine to create a lyrical faceted world for the viewer to explore and contemplate.

“Mural,” above, was commissioned by Goldman Sachs and is thought to be the largest work ever composed by a woman artist. The work was created when Mehretu lived and worked in Berlin from 2008-2010. Berlin offered a collaborative atmosphere for Julie and her partner Jessica Rankin (also a renowned artist). The welcoming hum of activity and energy in Berlin enabled Julie’s work to thrive while raising young children—a setting they were not able to find in New York City. Several of the artists represented in ‘ensemble” were also living in Berlin at the same time.

The large portion of the exhibition is dedicated to Mehretu’s monochromatic work from 2012 -2016. Here the architectural framework is replaced with references to the artist’s body and physical gestures. The works are composed of dense moody grays that encompass current events such as the Arab Spring.

Julie Mehretu, “Iridium over Aleppo,” 2012 – 2018, acrylic and ink on linen, 108” x 144”. Photo by
Virginia Bradley

It was a refreshing relief to enter the second floor of the exhibition and encounter the breath-taking large scale (approximately 5’x 6’) prints Mehretu created with Danish master printer Niels Borch Jensen. These complex prints combine the gesture of the artist’s hand with the aquatint and photogravure processes to create 4 separate impressions. These impressions are then merged into unique combinations to create four prints, each final image is printed in an edition of 18.

Julie Mehretu, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (3 prints below), aquatint and photogravure, (approximately 5’ x 6’), 2020.  Photos by Virginia Bradley





Those of you who know my practice can understand why Mehretu’s new Transpaintings (reoccurrence) were the most interesting works to me in the exhibition. The paintings are created on transparent polyester with acrylic paint and share my appreciation of shifting images that read from multiple points of view. The works are presented in sculptural aluminum frames create by Nairy Baghramian. The frames enable the viewer to see the image change as the natural light moves through the room. The Transpaintings are reminiscent of Sigmar Polke’s Magic Lantern works where the viewer accesses the work from each side of the image.

Julie Mehretu, below, TRANSpaintings (recurrence), acrylic on polyester with aluminum frames, 2023. Photos by Virginia Bradley





Other Artists represented in “ensemble”:

Huma Bhabha

Huma Bhabha’s figurative sculpture began to be recognized in the early 2000s. Her works range from the surreal and fantastic to the primordial. The figures often appeared to be scarred from the struggle to survive.

Huma Bhabha, “I Even Dream of You Sometimes,” 2023, mixed media. Photo by Virginia Bradley

Robin Costa Lewis

Robin Costa Lewis is a poet and visual artist. The film stills below were part of an archive discovered in her maternal grandmother’s home. Robin’s film installation grew out of her friendship with Mehretu during their years in graduate school. photo credit :Virginia Bradley

Robin Costa Lewis. Photo by Virginia Bradley

Jessica Rankin

Jessica Rankin uses a vast number of media to weave a personal narrative. Jessica often chooses media that is historically linked to women’s activities such as sewing.

Jessica Rankin, “Passage Dusty (Hummings),” embroidery on organza, 42” x 60”, 2007. Photo by Virginia Bradley

Paul Pfeiffer

Pfeiffer is a multi-media artist who works in video, photography, installation and sculpture. Paul refers to the sculptural tradition of Spanish “encarnadores” in this series of iconic works.

Paul Pfeitter, “Leg on Limb,” 2021, mixed media . Photo by Virginia Bradley.


Paul Pfeitter, “Children’s Feet,” 2021, mixed media. Photo by Virginia Bradley

David Hammons

David Hammon’s subversive body of mixed media works has set the tone for African American artists since the early 1970s. David works in performance, assemblage and sculpture. The work below is part of his body print series.

David Hammons, “I dig the way this dude looks,” 1971 Photo by Virginia Bradley

Tasita Dean

I’ll end here with the soulful and enigmatic mixed media work by filmmaker Tacita Dean.

Work by Tasita Dean. Photo credit: Virginia Bradley

Author’s note: I will be in residence in Venice until May 29th. Feel free to contact me at virginiabradleyart@gmail.com if you are planning to attend the Biennale and would like practical information. I have had the good fortune to attend The Biennale several times. You can read more about my exhibition at https://www.virginiabradley.com/rapturous-alchemy-the-corallium-series-in-venice-2024/


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