Venice Biennale 2024 : When being traditional makes you radical

The 60th Venice Biennale, titled Foreigners Everywhere, opened to public on April the 20th at Giardini and Arsenale;  As a guiding principle, the Biennale Arte 2024 and its curator Adriano Pedrosa has favored artists who have never participated in the International Exhibition. With a Nucleo Storico gathering works from the 20th century from the Global South including Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia which modernisms remain largely unknown.


This presents a unique opportunity to delve into the dynamic exchange between foreign artists arriving in Europe and the emergence of a new kind of Modernism in the Global South. Most of artists represented here comes without major gallery representation or a foothold in the museum circuit, proposing a transversal approach as it was the case in the cross cultural series of exhibition “Histories” at MASP since 2016 where Adriano’s overturned the dominant narratives of Western culture.

Numerous critics highlighted the overwhelming presence of deceased artists (50) at the biennale. However, it begs the question: how can we make sense of the Global South contemporary art scene without grounding it in the foundational history of these lesser-known artistic realms?  More specifically regarding Brazilian artists, although many are recognized in their own countries, their notoriety is still limited on the other side of the Atlantic.

In this article, we’re focusing on the curatorial selection of Brazilian artists, spanning from iconic modernists like Emiliano Di Cavalcanti and Tarsila do Amaral to prominent figures in the contemporary scene, such as Ana Maria Maiolino and Beatriz Milhazes. The delegation has assembled thirty Brazilian artists who have made significant contributions to the trajectory and evolution of art in Brazil with particular emphasis on emerging narratives, including the recent inclusion of Indigenous and Afro-descendant scenes.

Nucleo Storico : A Stroll Through the History of Brazilian Art

The Nucleo Storico for Brazilian Artists is split in three big themes between Portraits and Abstraction at Giardini and Italian Diaspora at Arsenale – where the artworks are standing like a forest of trees exhibited on the famous Lina Bo Bardi’s glass easel. This presentation aims to desacralised the art and offers a more democratic approach to it, allowing viewers to literally see the back of the work, a perspective not typically on display.

Lina Bo Bardi‘s a cavaleta Exhibition’s view at Arsenale

In this context, it’s important to highlight that the selected artists from Nucleo Historico have diverged from conventional academic paradigms. They have eschewed purely European aesthetic ideals in favor of cultivating a distinct national identity. Each of these artists has exerted profound influence within their respective epochs and subsequent artistic movements, leading to paradigm shifts and reconfigurations within artistic expression. Therefore, let’s reframe the Brazilian Art Scene by briefly revisiting its art history.

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Impressionism, born in France in the 1870s, flourished in Rio de Janeiro in the 1880s, fueled by plein air painting and vibrant pigments. Despite academic pushback, artists like Grimm, Castagneto, and Parreiras led the charge in outdoor landscape painting. Eliseu Visconti, influenced by French Impressionism, honed this style in Brazil, establishing himself as a notable Impressionist.

Eliseu Visconti‘s autoportrait

The Brazilianart scene took a turning point, with the Modern Art Week of 1922 in São Paulo, when artists such as Tarsila do Amaral, Anita Malfatti,  and others, marked a new era emphasizing a distinct national identity and a break from academic conventions. At the heart of this exchange is the concept of anthropophagy, a process akin to cultural cannibalism, where modern intellectuals on the peripheries of Europe absorb and reinterpret metropolitan culture, creating something uniquely their own.

At this period notable figures like Candido Portinari, Cícero Dias, Di Cavalcanti, Amadeo Luciano Lorenzato challenged traditional norms, laying the foundation for a uniquely Brazilian visual language centered on the fastidious observation of the everyday life, including brazilian Folklore and rural scenes.

Candidio Portinari‘s autoportrait

Other works, such as Victor Brecheret‘s Nativity, exemplify European influences like Cubism, alongside a formal synthesis akin to Constantin Brancusi, with a touch of the simplification seen in Art Deco, all seamlessly fused into a flawless unique national finish.

Maternity by Brecheret (Arsenale)

© Ding Musa

In the 1930s, inspired by the events of the Modern Art Week, surrealist ideas gained traction in Brazil, with artists like Maria Martins and Ismael Nery incorporating such fantasticals elements into their works. 

However by Maria Martins in the portrait room (Giardini)

Abstractionism emerged in Brazil in the 1940s, gaining momentum notably after the 1st São Paulo Biennial in 1951, where Max Bill’s “Unidade tripartida” (1948-1949) stood as a leader. In 1952, the Ruptura exhibition gave birth to the concrete movement, which aimed to bring scientific rationality to painting, emphasizing fundamental elements such as lines, dots, colors and geometric shapes. Artists including Waldemar Cordeiro and Judith Lauand’s exemplified this approach embraced geometric abstraction as a means of expressing precise pure form and color, free from representational constraints.  In response to Concretism, the Neo concrete group aimed not to reject geometry or rationality but to explore their limits in art. This is the case when Maria Polo explored the interplay between geometric forms and organic shapes, reflecting her interest in the relationship between art and nature.

From the second half of the 20th century onwards diverse kinds of abstraction emerged prioritizing the subjective and emotional over rationality and geometry. Within that gestural abstraction movement, the contributions of Tomie Ohtake, and Ione Saldanha significantly enriched the Brazilian art landscape, underscoring the values of creative autonomy. 

Installation by Ione Saldanha (Griardini)

Others like Alfredo Volpi merged abstraction and figuration through his folkloric paintings, infused with a minimalist essence, blurring traditional boundaries while Rubem Valentim incorporates elements of Afro-Brazilian culture and traditional forms, expressing individuality while exploring themes of identity, history, and spirituality. 

The New Brazilian Objectivity movement of the 1960s expanded Brazilian abstract art, merging political and social dimensions, with Ana Maria Maiolino emerging as a prominent figure within it.

The result of this myriad of modernist expressions in Brazil, incorporating European influences and Brazil’s diverse heritage is connected to the original concept of Antropofagy, which draws parallels with the cannibalistic practices of the indigenous Tupinambá people of pre-invasion Brazil. This connection serves to reestablish our link with the pre-colonial era, and more particularly highlight the contributions of Indigenous and Afro-descendant artists who have long been marginalized from mainstream narratives. 

Post-Colonial Revision : Embracing Indigenous and Afro-Descendant Artists

The indigenous presence in Venice reflects not only a growing movement to recognize the importance of cultural diversity and the preservation of indigenous traditions, but also a reaction to the decades of marginalization of these forms of artistic expression. This belated recognition is gradually gaining ground in galleries, museums and has penetrated the Art Market since a few years. Let’s remember that this year, the Golden Lion for the best National Pavilion was awarded to Australia, with Archie Moore’s genealogical tree reaffirming the history of indigenous Aboriginal culture.

The Makhu (Movement of Huni Kuin Artists) collective from Brazil created a monumental mural on the façade of the main pavilion narrating the Huni Kuin’s journey across continents in pursuit of resources and knowledge, serving as a vivid representation of the amalgamation of cultures in various aspects. Notably, the MAHKU collective utilizes painting as a conduit, enabling the translation and transmission of the myths embedded within their ritual chants. Leading this initiative is Cacique Iban Uni Kuin driving the revitalization and appreciation of Uni Kuin culture. The alligator, selected by the group as the emblematic MAHKU logo, embodies the Huni Kuin’s crucial role as intermediaries between indigenous and non-indigenous realms, facilitating connections between the visible and invisible worlds, and their transmission to the Western civilizations.


The Indigenous occupation of the Brazilian pavilion reinforces the central idea of the biennale theme “Straniero Ovunque,” which means that no matter where you find yourself, you are always, deep down, a foreigner, much like the indigenous artist who is often treated as a foreigner in their own land.It carries with it a profound political aspect, as it challenges dominant narratives and highlights voices and perspectives that are often marginalized in official history. 

Denilson Baniwa, in collaboration with artists Arissana Pataxó and Gustavo Caboco Wapichana, assumes the role of curators of the Brazil Pavilion, now renamed the Hãhãwpuá Pavilion. This name, adopted by Brazil’s indigenous Pataxó people, represents the land, the soil, or more precisely, the territory that became Brazil after colonization. The pavilion hosts the exhibition titled “Ka’a Pûera: we are birds that walk,” which emphasizes the territorial rights and resilience of Brazil’s indigenous communities. The exhibition features works by artists Glicéria Tupinambá, Olinda Tupinambá, and Ziel Karapotó providing an opportunity for reflection on resistance and right to preservation of their cultural traditions.

Ziel Karapoto’s Cardume

This movement towards a more inclusive and respectful appreciation in the artistic sphere is a step in the right direction, promoting a deeper understanding and celebration of the cultural and artistic richness of indigenous peoples. Similarly, this trend extends to Afro-descendant artists, further enriching the artistic landscape with their unique perspectives and contributions.

The 5 paintings Full-Body Portraits (2023-24) of Dalton Paula presented at Arsenale is part of a a series investigation developed since the Afro-Atlantic Histories (2018) exhibition at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, were the artist  continues his exploration of Afro-Brazilian history and resistance. Historical figures of anti-slavery resistance in Brazil are portrayed in large-scale paintings, evoking the style of nineteenth-century photography studios, bridging a gap to unite memories and histories. Both scenography and accessories are depicted in a critical and symbolic manner, revealing the potential relationships between image, memory, and power.

Dalton Paula’s Full Body Portraits series (2023-24)

© Ding Musa

The artist presents the installation “Sinfonia das Cores, 34 acordes” as part of the group show “With My Eyes,” inside the women’s prison on the island of Giudecca, where visits to the show will be led by inmates and require advance registration. This is integral to the show’s concept, designed to question voyeuristic desires. By challenging voyeurism and judgment, the exhibition aims to dissolve boundaries between observer and observed, judge and judged, reflecting on power structures in art and institutions

Sônia Gomes at the Vatican pavilion and Guglielmo Castelli at the Palazzetto Tito Venice

Contemporary Established Artists

At the Pavilion of Applied Arts, established through a partnership between the Venice Biennale and the Victoria and Albert Museum where Adriano Pedrosa, invited artist Beatriz Milhazes to establish a dialogue between her artworks and a selection of textiles from the museum’s collection and other private collectors. All large scale works demonstrate how both the textures and motifs from various countries influence the artist’s creation and process. The canvases and tapestries on display reflect not only Milhazes’ enduring interest in abstract patterns, but also new aesthetic possibilities. 

Anna Maria Maiolino, showcases her installation at Casetta Scaffaliis, part of the Terra Modelada series (1993-2024), delves into the primordial realm of clay, exploring its organic, elastic, and tactile qualities. By creating small and diverse sculptures, Maiolino emphasizes manual gesture and repetition, keeping her work unfinished and in constant evolution, highlighting the natural cycle of transformation it represents. Video and soundscapes complement the sensory experience, showcasing Maiolino’s foray into audiovisual media since the 1970s. Maiolino’s recognition with the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2024 Biennale attests to her enduring contribution to contemporary art. By addressing universal themes through a variety of media and techniques, Maiolino continues to push the boundaries of artistic expression, leaving an inspiring legacy for future generations.

Although there are lots of critics regarding the selection and absence of the big players, it is evident that  Adriano Pedrosa succeeded in uniting artworks from across time and space, overturning the dominant narratives of Western culture. He is also expanding the understanding of Brazilian art through projects that bring lesser-known voices and facets of history to the forefront. 

It is certain that the 60th edition was a counter-current bet against the usual biennales, where the audience, content with recognizing artists in tune with the times, remains satisfied with its own previous acquisitions. It is interesting to observe how the lack of one’s own references create a kind of a contemporary iconoclasm within the exact people that perceive themselves as the elite in the construction of identity but struggle to connect with novelty or even reject the reinterpretation of (Art) History. In the end, the autonomy of the artistic directors is the strongest guarantee that La Biennale di Venezia formula continues to work and produce sometimes surprising effects, underlining unique perspective symptoms of the dominant art industry consumers.

As we reflect on the transformative power of the Venice Biennale and its impact on the art market, it becomes clear that there’s a demand for deeper understanding and engagement with the art world. If you’re curious about the intersection of art and finance and want to learn how to navigate the art market with confidence, our Masterclass on “How to Start Investing in Art” offers valuable guidance and expertise. Join us and discover the keys to successful art investment in today’s ever-evolving art market.

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