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Pursuits
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At the Venice Biennale, Art Begins to Leave Identity Politics Behind

The much-anticipated, Covid-delayed global showcase sees artists firmly moving away from figuration and toward a new end: the message.

In the Icelandic Pavilion, a 20-foot-high video of drifting metallic dust by Sigurdur Gudjonsson.

In the Icelandic Pavilion, a 20-foot-high video of drifting metallic dust by Sigurdur Gudjonsson.

Photographer: Ugo Carmeni, courtesy of the artist and BERG Contemporary

Things quickly get weird when you step inside the 19,000-square-foot Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The installation by artist Gian Maria Tosatti has no obvious wall text, signs, or directions. There’s nothing to indicate how to walk through the chilly, fluorescent-lit rooms made to look like abandoned factories and sweatshops, with rows of desks and sewing machines. At the end you can walk—very tentatively—onto what appears to be a concrete pier surrounded by water in an almost pitch-black room.

It’s a nod to industrial decline and climate change that the artist intended to discomfit and unnerve. “When the curator asked me to do the Italian Pavilion, he asked me to make work around a statement about our future,” Tosatti says. “We had to create some sort of mirror that could show everyone what we are today—the ashes of a broken dream, a dream we had about a future, or a present, that isn’t sustainable.” He points to the pandemic, environmental degradation, and the war in Ukraine. “Now it’s all collapsed,” he says, “so what are we going to do about it?”