The Venice Biennale Is Making Italy Even More Instagrammable

Even before it officially opened on Saturday, the 2019 Venice Biennale has already put Frieze Week to shame, even though its number of participants pales in comparison to those who took over New York City earlier this month. But the 79 artists featured in "May You Live in Interesting Times," the main exhibition of the biennale's 58th edition, are particularly important; for the first time ever, half of those who contributed works to both the Corderie dell’Arsenale, a former shipyard, and the Central Pavilion of the Giardiani, are women.

According to curator Ralph Rugoff, rather than sticking to a specific theme, each of those works reflects "the precarious aspects of existence today." Still, themes have already begun to emerge—particularly in the realm of international crises such as migration, surveillance, and one that's particularly poignant in the city of Venice: global warming.

But all that's just beginning of the biennale's sprawl over the city. Ninety nations have also set up individual pavilions to showcase their own curated exhibitions—which, also for the first time ever, include Ghana, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Madagascar. (Though for the time being, the entrance to Venezuela's pavilion is still padlocked, amidst the political turmoil between Juan Guaidó and the country's disputed president, Nicolás Maduro.) Still, even amidst such vast company, several artworks are generating enough buzz to set themselves apart—and not just in Italy. Here, a guide to those that have managed to take over Instagram feeds across the world.

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Shoplifter, aka Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, has transformed Iceland's pavilion into this year's selfie destination of the biennale. Her installation, titled Chromo Sapiens, is essentially a makeshift grotto shrouded by strands upon strands of synthetic, technicolor hair, which echoes with a soundtrack by the Icelandic heavy metal band HAM.

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Somehow, in a perplexing and rather disturbing turn of events, the Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel has created another selfie destination, in the form of a massive fishing boat. In stark contrast to the city's ostentatious fleet of superyachts, the vessel that Büchel has displayed on land is more or less a mass grave—the real-life vestiges of the deadliest Mediterranean shipwreck in decades, which claimed the lives of more than 800 migrants, when it crashed into a cargo ship en route from Libya to Italy, in April of 2015. Unsurprisingly, its resurrection has already made for quite a bit of controversy.

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This year's Golden Lion winner for national participation can be found nearby the Arsenale in another former naval site taken over by three Lithuanian artists: Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė. With the help of 35 tons of Lithuanian sand, they've transformed it into a venue for Sun & Sea (Marina), a performance piece made up of "beachgoers" singing an opera that, upon close listen, is about climate change.

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Another odd showstopper off the beaten path is The Death of James Lee Byars, a gilded tomb installed at the center of the Église Santa Maria della Visitazione which its titular artist created in 1994, while dying of cancer.

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On a lighter note, artists Cyprien Gaillard and Tavares Stratchan have both illuminated the biennale with light-based installations. Whereas Stratchan's contribution of a neon skeleton hangs from the ceiling of the Arsenale, Gaillard's is only fleetingly present; his take on Fireside Angel, painted by Max Ernst in 1937 as a critique of fascism, is essentially a hologram.

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The Philadelphia-based artist Alex Da Corte also turned to neon for a portion of his installation, which references everyone from Mister Rogers to Bart Simpson to Prince.

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Meanwhile, outdoors, Lorenzo Quinn brought his signature pairs of monumental hands back to Venice, which the last biennale found grasping onto a building from the depths of one of the city's many canals, as a call to action for addressing climate change. This year, his installation, Building Bridges, evolved into something slightly more hopeful; Quinn hopes that each of the six 50-foot tall structures spread the message of "overcoming differences and build[ing] a better world."

Related: The Most Absurd Culprits Behind Damaged Artworks, From Cornflakes to Champagne Corks

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