Venice Biennale: our picks of the shows to see in Venice from John Akomfrah to Ethiopia's first ever pavillion

Listening all Night to the Rain, John Akomfrah at the British Pavilion (Venice Biennale 2024)
Listening all Night to the Rain, John Akomfrah at the British Pavilion (Venice Biennale 2024)

The Venice Biennale begins today, thrilling art fans around the world. The seven-month-long, biannual, city-wide exhibition, will present astonishing and illuminating works of hundreds of artists from around the world.

For those planning to head to Italy’s glorious floating city, there’s more than a lot of material to get through: 331 artists will show work in the central exhibition, Foreigners Everywhere, which has been curated by Brazilian art director Adriano Pedrosa.

There are also 88 countries with National Pavilions, 30 official Collateral Events and many, many other concurrent exhibitions running throughout the city.

So with so much to do and so little time, here are some of our top recommendations.

The Pavilions

Listening all Night to the Rain, John Akomfrah at the British Pavilion (Venice Biennale 2024)
Listening all Night to the Rain, John Akomfrah at the British Pavilion (Venice Biennale 2024)

Australia: kith and kin, Archie Moore

Archie Moore is exploring genealogy and commemoration of Indigenous lives in Australia’s pavillion. Wholly in shades of black and white, the space’s walls are filled with a hand-drawing of Moore’s family tree. His heritage is Aboriginal, so the tree extends back some 65,000 years, a figure which looms large, both literally and metaphorically, over the 254 years of modern Australia’s existence. Moore has said the site is for “quiet reflection and remembrance.”

Britain: Listening all Night to the Rain, John Akomfrah

The pioneering British filmmaker, who founded the Black Audio Film Collective in 1982, has built a reputation for creating extraordinary, thought-provoking films. His pavilion piece, an exploration of post-colonialism and environmental devastation, runs across six connecting video installations. One paper called it “unhinging, sorrowful and utterly captivating”; another called it “a jumble of gibberish”.

For those who can’t make Venice, the British Council-commissioned work will tour the UK in 2025, with confirmed stops at Cardiff’s National Museum and Dundee Contemporary Arts.

Croatia: By the Means at Hand, Vlatka Horvat

Visual artist Vlatka Horvat’s piece at the Croatian Pavilion is a dialogue between artists. She has invited some of her friends from around the world to contribute pieces that deal with experiences of living away from home. The twist here is that the works won’t be sent via postal services, but will be brought by friends, colleagues and acquaintances travelling to Venice. The result, as the pieces slowly arrive, will be a continually changing exhibition, a meditation on friendship, community and trust.

Ethiopia: Prejudice and belonging, Tesfaye Urgessa

With 2024 marking Ethiopia’s first National Pavilion, it’s no great surprise that the work of its chosen artist, celebrated Ethiopian painter Tesfaye Urgessa, promises to be a standout. Urgessa’s distorted human figures, often depicted in surreal, domestic settings, seem to ask questions about the human psyche, intimacy, memory and identity.

Foreigners Everywhere

Yinka Shonibare in Foreigners Everywhere, photo by Marco Zorzanello (Venice Biennale 2024)
Yinka Shonibare in Foreigners Everywhere, photo by Marco Zorzanello (Venice Biennale 2024)

This year’s central exhibition, which has been curated by Pedrosa, is set to be a real humdinger. The first-ever Latin American curator is shining a light on artists from the global majority – many of whom are relatively unknown in the West, and have typically enjoyed less exposure at Venice.

“In the last decade or so it has become unthinkable that you might do a Eurocentric biennale of contemporary art,” he said to the FT. “We haven’t seen the same rules applied to historical shows, so I wanted to look at Modernism in South America, Africa, Asia, and how Modernism travelled in the 20th century.”

The exhibition, which boasts 331 artists, will also include the work of Lebanese-American poet Etel Adnan, trailblazing modernist painter Judith Lauand, and the celebrated Yinka Shonibare, whose work is also being shown in the Nigerian Pavilion.


William Kentridge: Self-Portrait as a Coffee-Pot

South African artist William Kentridge (AFP via Getty Images)
South African artist William Kentridge (AFP via Getty Images)

South African artist William Kentridge, now 68, has spent his career exploring social injustice, conflict and political oppression in a variety of media including tapestries, prints and drawings, sculptures and animated films. In Self-Portrait as a Coffee-Pot, a new nine-episode video series, he collaborates with friend and curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and muses on living in the digital age.

“I love his work,” says Jenny Waldman, the director of Art Fund. “This is a series he did during lockdown, so it’ll be very interesting to have a look at what he’s up to at the moment.”

Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation, to November 24;

Crip Arte Spazio: The DAM in Venice

The first-ever major international exhibition of the UK Disability Arts Movement (DAM) is not one to miss: it’s set to be a joyous and high-spirited affair, bringing together artists including Terence Birch, Tony Heaton, Jameisha Prescod, Ker Wallwork, Tanya Raabe-Webber, Jason Wilsher-Mills and Abi Palmer. Palmer’s 2023 Artangel [the London-based arts organisation] commission, Abi Palmer Invents the Weather, will be included in the exhibition.

CREA, Venice;


Carpaccio at the Schiavoni

“If you've had enough of the contemporary art as you go around, the museums and churches in Venice are just incredible,” says Waldman, who recommends taking some time to see the canvases painted by Vittore Carpaccio (1465-1526) which hang in the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni – particularly the 516-year-old St George and the Dragon.

“It's one of the most spectacular pieces,” she says. “It's in a lovely room with Carpaccio paintings around four walls. You can have a quiet afternoon sitting there.”

Jenny Waldman’s insider tips for doing Venice right

Jenny Waldman
Jenny Waldman

The Biennale veteran and director says that Venice is “a shared journey of discovery, a little bit like an Olympic marathon” – the hours of traversing the city are part of the fun.

Download the Bloomberg Connects app

The Bloomberg Connects app, says Waldman, is the best way to get around. Download it onto your mobile for seamless navigation of the city-wide exhibition. Not only does it have the pavilions, Collateral Events and central exhibition all marked on a map of Venice, but it includes artist and exhibition descriptions that can be searched through QR codes or numbers that are dotted around the city.

Buy a battery pack

But of course, the app will only work if the phone is actually turned on, and as Waldman hints at, phones will be getting a lot of use. So make sure to fully charge your mobile before you leave the house, and bring an extra (charged) battery pack for good measure.

A sturdy pair of shoes

It seems simple enough, but with Venice inspiring you to put on your finest, it’s important to remember the step count you’re about to tot up over the coming days – exhibitions really do stretch from one side of the city to the other. But fear not – you don’t have to abandon all sartorial considerations; loafers will do.

Venice Biennale, April 20 - November 24;