May You Live in Interesting Times – Proposition B

The second half of Ralph Rugoff’s epic ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ show. Each artist is featured in both Proposition A and Proposition B. I found my mind reaching back to recall their work from show A. Sometimes the work immediately sprung to mind, sometimes the artist’s name felt familiar and sometimes I had zero recollection of either. Totally fascinating. Plus this show felt more immediately familiar, easier going, easier to digest perhaps. I think a function of there being more things on walls and the whole place feeling more like a conventional gallery space. A really enjoyable conclusion to my visit to the Arsenale and Giardini sites.

Write-up in order of things I saw along the way – what I loved, what I remembered and new discoveries too

001 Ryoji Ikeda, Japan

I entered through the bright dazzling light of Ikeda’s installation. So dazzling it had a warning! I remembered his name, and checking back the work I liked in show A was his Data-Universe.  Quite different but both in a way about overloading the senses. Photo doesn’t quite capture the blinding glow!

Spectra III 2008/2019. Corridor of fluorescent tubes


002 Nicole Eisenman

Not somebody I’d picked out from show A, but I was totally in love with her huge paintings. Everyday life with references to classic paintings

003 Kaari Upson, USA

Another artist I hadn’t spotted before. I loved this huge drawing. Mostly because there was layers and layers to it, and it was the first bit of pencil drawing I’d seen at the Biennale!

004 Ulrike Muller

Great prints. Hints of Matisse. Love the colours and organic shapes

005 Zhanna Khadyrova, Ukraine

More of Khadyrova’s amazing tiled work. There was also a washing line of tiled clothes hanging over the Venetian canal.

006 Jill Mulleady

So many amazing paintings. I loved the interiors and clocked the Munch-like angst in the landscapes from afar. And the colours and red hair! All amazing, and I’m so intrigued to know what work of hers I barely noticed in the first show. Another whole new name for me,

007 Lara Favoretto, Italy

Felt like ‘headspace’ made literal – with a little bit of dictionary stirred in.

008 Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, China

The big statement piece of the show – ‘Can’t Help Myself’. A hulking metal machine, yet strangely human in its gestures. Graceful. Brought to mind the myth of Sisyphus and futility. Questions about the human condition in the age of machines. What defines us as boundaries blur? Mesmerising

009 Nabuqi, China

Another brilliant piece – I loved her work in show A. More artificiality at play with a giant plastic cow on a toy-like circular train track. Made me think about where ‘real things’ happen? Found my mind jumping to economic models – but that’s probably just me!! A lot of economic theory assumes people are entirely rational, utility maximising individuals. About as a ‘real’ as this plastic cow and plastic trees… where is the life, the roots, the flies, rest of the herd and cowpats?!

Do real things happen in moments of rationality? 2018

010 Christine and Margaret Wertheim, Australia

More great coral.  See more, with commentary over in my Show A write-up


011 Alex Da Corte

More playing with all-american imagery, an almost cartoon-like town model. The shining lights were signs for fast food chains – McDonalds, Wendys Burgers etc.

The Decorated Shed, 2019


012  Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Epic domestic portraits. I love her use of pattern, texture and collage with echoes of Western African fabrics. I saw one of her pieces in MOCA in LA last year, wonderful to see more of her work in the flesh.

013 Anicka Yi

More questioning of the boundaries between organic life and the machine. These panels contain ecosystems of algae and microcultures with the water, temperature and light levels controlled by an AI system, activated by the scents emitted by the bacteria.


Biologizing the Machine, 2019

014 Zanele Muholi

More exploration of self and identity. Just as knock-out as Show A.

015 Mari Katayama, Japan

Born with a rare congenital disorder, Katayama chose to have her legs amputated at the age of 9. Powerful self-portraits.

Left: You’re mine 001, 2014. Right: Bystander 023, 2016

016 Otobong Nkunga

Lovely little paintings. I loved the gentle colours and precise images.

017 Jesse Darling, UK

The weight of office life. Measuring things, accounts, records. Not always what they seem.

018 Michael Armitage

Ink drawings. Studies for his epic paintings in Show A.