BY ALEXXA GOTTHARDT
Each year, the Venice Biennale’s national pavilions provide a platform for countries around the world to showcase their most relevant and influential art. This year, as the 51 pavilions scattered across the Giardini and Arsenale opened their doors, we sought out the highlights you can’t miss—from breakout artist Anne Imhof’s performative takeover of the German pavilion to Tunisia’s interactive meditation on global migration.
Phyllida Barlow’s fantastical sculptures stretch high towards the lofty ceilings of the British Pavilion. The group of five bulging, grey columns, topped with tilting rectangular blocks, dwarfs viewers in the central gallery. They also set the tone for an installation in which Barlow explores the precarious relationship between the architectural and the theatrical, between real and fake.
Barlow is known for augmenting and ennobling everyday materials in her large-scale constructions and she pushes this skill to its apex in the Biennale presentation. Across the show, huge forms forged from wood, fabric, foam, mesh, and plaster resemble giant improvised toys and architectural decorations designed for elaborate stage sets.
But while many of Barlow’s sculptures might initially read as whimsical, they can also suddenly turn ominous. Entering one side room, you glimpse an enticingly colorful patchwork of panels, only to look up and realize that anvil-shaped forms extend from the panels and loom overhead.
Litter covers gravel outside of the Palladian-style building that has housed the U.S. pavilion since 1930. This unkempt atmosphere, of course, is intentional, and introduces Mark Bradford’s bold takeover of the stately space, which he has transformed into a ruin.
The otherwise resplendently clean and white walls of the building’s central rotunda are now peeling and covered in splotches of grey that look like bruises. In another gallery, the ceiling seems to have given out, a bulbous, scarred mass emerging from it. Titled Spoiled Foot (2016), it’s one of the Los Angeles-based Bradford’s most ambitious and arresting works to date. Visitors are invited to walk around and touch its rough red and black surface, which is covered in indentations resembling lesions.
Like much of Bradford’s work, the installation addresses the discrimination and violence against black, gay, and other marginalized bodies. But in a space that represents the United States—where prejudice towards minorities is often bolstered by federal legislation—the political message of his practice is powerfully amplified………