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Unmissable: Italy’s Art Exhibitions of 2022


The Venice Biennale is back, having been delayed a year, and with it comes all the aspirations and dreams of an art world longing to bounce out of its lock-down box. So, I thought it a good time to look not only at this major event but what exhibitions four Italian cities (VeniceFlorenceRome, and Milan) have chosen to hopefully celebrate emerging from the Pandemic.



The Venice Biennale, the 59th International Art Exhibition and the oldest Art Biennale


23 April to 27 November 2022


When Spring hits the city this year the vaporetti and gondole will be heaving. Googly-eyed, open-mouthed tourists, travellers, and mortals alike will awe over a majestic city that floats, feeling waters away and worlds apart from any other place they know. The art crowds will pour in, and the Giardini’s Biennale pavilions, some of which were built over a century ago, will be full once more, whilst talk of contemporary art and current affairs will waltz their way into the thrust of a seemingly bygone time.


With over 150 countries sending their representatives to Venice it would be impossible here to describe them all, so I have included three which I much anticipate.  As usual there is a fair amount of controversy surrounding the Biennale, and France’s announcement that the French-Algerian artist Zineb Sedira would take possession of the French pavilion brought a litany of complaints from Pro-Israeli groups. They alleged she was connected to the controversial Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli occupation of the West Bank. These accusations Sedira has described as “unfounded and slanderous.” Ironically some of her most famous works have attacked precisely the kind of nationalistic hutzpah of which she stands accused. In one, Mother Tongue, 2002, she shows a three-screen video of her mother, her daughter and herself in the middle. The mother talks in Arabic, she in French and her daughter in English. The grandmother and granddaughter do not have a shared language. Fortunately, Sedira has refused to be dislodged from the French pavilion and will show why art is the last place to need border guards.


Francis Alys, representing Belgium, although he spends more time in Mexico, has made a career out of showing the absurdities of national boundaries. In one of his most memorable works, Children’s Games, Alys travelled around the world filming children playing games: Stick and Whell in Afghanistan, Marbles in Jordan, Musical Chairs in Mexico, Knucklebones in Nepal, Hopscotch in Sharzya Refugee Camp in Iraq, and Sandcastles on the beach in Belgium. He clearly illustrated that, before they are poisoned by nationalism, human beings behave much the same way in all parts of the planet.


Turkey this year has selected one of their most revered women artists, Fusun Onur, whose career has spanned over fifty years. She uses everyday materials in her painting, installation, and sculpture to reflect on space, place, and time, and tackle the boundaries between life and art. In War through the Eyes of a Child, she created a link between her personal experience of the Second World War and the collective memory, by exhibiting her own belongings and photographs in which she revealed the numerous layers of meaning these objects offer up.


Open-End. Marlene Dumas At Palazzo Grassi


27 March 2022 to 08 January 2023


While the Biennale has increasingly become one of the best places to see a cross section of art, much of the best is often supplied by supplementary events and museum exhibitions. Venice is pure sensation and where better to heighten the emotions this year than at the Palazzo Grassi which perches afloat the Grand Canal and is to host Marlene Dumas’ major solo exhibition Open End. Arguably one of the most powerful women painters on earth, it is emotion that Dumas does best. ‘I am an artist who uses second-hand images and first-hand emotions”. The exhibition will include over 100 works spanning four decades. Consisting principally of oil on canvas and ink on paper, her work focuses on the representation of the human figure dealing with extreme emotions and paradoxes: grief, ecstasy, terror, and despair.



Donatello, The Renaissance At Palazzo Strozzi and Musei del Bargello


19 March to 31 July 2022


A mere two-hour train ride from Venice, making a pitstop in Florence on route to the biennale, may just be the best thing you do this year. Besides bagging that breathtaking view of the surrounding rolling Tuscan hills, plus a good catch-up with the mighty and muscular David at the Accademia, the city brings you a one in a lifetime opportunity this Spring: the first major exhibition of the great Florentine sculptor, Donatello, for over forty years.


The exhibition aims to reconstruct the remarkable career of this Renaissance artist who worked in stone, metal, wood, terracotta, and bronze, and is regarded as an innovator in his use of the single vanishing point perspective system in relief sculpture. The exhibition will also include works by other Italian Renaissance masters whom Donatello influenced, such as Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Raphael, and Michelangelo. 


Olafur Eliasson At Palazzo Strozzi


22 September 2022 to 29 January 2023


They are quite big boots to fill. Eliasson’s exhibition at Strozzi follows that of Donatello. But like the great Florentine Renaissance sculptor, Eliasson is equally a man of his time. Brimming over with inventions, he is the artist whose unforgettable installation The Weather Project turned London’s Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall into a beach complete with an enormous artificial sun at one end. He creates rain discoes and many other fun interactive works, but primarily he is trying to make us change our ways and look after our world better, as illustrated by Ice Watch, 2015.



Cao Fei, Supernova At MAXXI


until 8 May 2022


Whilst walking down any given one of the golden lit cobbled streets in the Eternal City of Rome is an art experience in itself, Zaha Hadid’s Maxxi Museum offers a refreshing and contemporary alternative to the glories of antiquity.


Cao Fei, listed in the top 10 of the most powerful people in the art world in 2021 by Arts Review, has broken down many barriers between the ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ worlds. She has created a city on the internet, designed cars for BMW and used whole skyscrapers in Hong Kong as her canvas. It seems fitting that she should be showing in Rome as one of the very first curators to promote her work at the beginning of the century is the artistic director of Maaxi, Hou Hanru.



Tiziano e l’immagine della donna at Palazzo Reale


23 February to 5 June 2022


Take some timeout, away from the glitz and the glam of Milan’s Fashion scene and make your way to the beautiful Palazzo Reale. From February until June this year, the museum is home to seriously stunning paintings, half a millennium old and painted by the Renaissance genius and master of colour: Titian. 


Women in 16th-century Venice played an exceptionally prominent role in public life, enjoying rights concerning their own dowry and inheritance. The exhibition at Palazzo Reale will reveal how this helped give rise to the female image taking on an unprecedented importance in art. Titian, who is regarded as the greatest painter of this period, was largely responsible for the formation of the visual representation of women, from his realistic portraits such as that of the powerful Isabella d’Este to idealised images. Poets and humanists of the time frequently focused on the themes of women and love and Titian’s painterly interpretations of these subjects were staged in historical, mythological, and allegorical depictions. The show, the first to tackle this subject in Titian’s art, will reveal a closer understanding of gestures, looks, and attributes in his paintings of women, as well as of contemporary fashions, hairstyles, and jewellery.