The Venice Biennale is once again upon us, inaugurating the summer art-travel season, with its seemingly endless parade of official exhibitions, unofficial exhibitions, brunches, lunches, champagne brunches, champagne lunches, dinners, after-parties and taxi rides.

This year the main event in the Central Pavilion in the Giardini and the Arsenale is "ILLUMInazioni." . The exhibition's title is an obvious play on the words "light" and "nations," and the show claims to explore the insight fostered by viewers' encounters with art—both old and new. Curated by Bice Curiger, the art historian, critic, curator, and founder of Parkett and Tate Etc., this 54th edition opens to the public June 4 and remains on view through November 27. Curiger is only the second woman to occupy this role.


Focusing on what she has called "the ‘light' of the illuminating experience," Curiger's exhibition features 83 international artists, including more than 30 women and more than 30 artists born after 1975. Some standouts who fit both categories include Mariana Castillo Deball (b. 1975, Mexico), Marinella Senatore (b. 1977, Italy), and Kerstin Brätsch (b. 1976, Germany).

Monica Bonvicini, James Turrell, R.H. Quaytman, Haroon Mirza, Carol Bove, and Christopher Wool will present works specifically addressing the theme. Bonvicini's 2009 Light Me Black, for example, is a bowed bundle of white fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling; Mirza's Backfade 5 (2011), a multimedia sound installation, explores sonic rhythm through video, rotating turntables, flashing slide projectors and laser and infrared light displays.

To bring local art history into the mix, Curiger's exhibition will include The Last Supper and The Stealing of the Dead Body of St. Mark by 16th-century Venetian painter Jacopo Tintoretto. In her written introduction to the exhibition, Curiger talks about reviving "classical genres" in order to "dissect their codes and activate their dormant potential."

Curiger has also invited artists Monika Sosnowska, Franz West, Song Dong and Oscar Tuazon to create a series of "parapavilions"—artist-designed structures—to house mini-exhibitions of other artists' works.

This year the Biennale features some 89 national pavilions—up 12 from 2009—housed in the historic chambers of the Giardini, the Arsenale and the nearly countless off-site palazzi around the city. New countries will include Andorra, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Haiti. Participating after a long hiatus are India, Congo, Iraq, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Cuba, among others.

Commissioned by Lisa Freiman, Chair of the Department of Contemporary Art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the U.S. Pavilion will feature the Puerto Rico-based performance and multimedia duo Allora & Calzadilla. This summer they present Gloria, an installation and performance featuring eight Olympic gymnasts, a flying trapeze, an upside-down tank one of whose treads has been replaced with a treadmill will be occupied by an Olympic runner, a bronze sculpture inside a tanning bed, and a pipe-organ-cum-ATM, among other attractions. This will be the first time that either performance art or a collaborative duo will figure into the United States's presentation.

Curated by Russian-born, New York-based philosopher and art critic Boris Groys, Russia's pavilion presents the seminal but little-known conceptual artist Andrei Monastyrsky and his collaborative group "Collective Actions"—comprised of Elena Elagina, Sabina Hensgen, Igor Makarevich, Nikolai Pantikov and Sergei Romashko—who in the 1970s instigated over 100 off-the-radar experimental participatory "actions" documented through extensive photography and books.

The Nordic Pavilion—a partnership between Sweden, Norway and Finland—which has traditionally been tasked with presenting artists from all three countries together, has broken with tradition, initiating a series of solo exhibitions over the next three Biennials. The two countries not responsible for the pavilion at a given time will establish alternative venues in Venice during the Biennial. The rotation begins with Sweden, with Finland holding court in 2013 and Norway in 2015. Sweden presents Fia Backström, who will show a series of sound-based works throughout the Giardini, and Andreas Eriksson, who will display paintings, sculptures, photographs, installations and films in the pavilion itself. Meanwhile, Norway will present "The State of Things," a series of public lectures that will be held throughout the Biennale, by an impressive and broad roster of theorists and art historians including Jacques Rancière, Leo Bersani, Judith Butler and T.J. Clark.

Germany's selection, film and theatre director, actor, artist and author Christoph Schlingensief, passed away in 2010 at the age of 49. Though his plans for the pavilion were left unfinished, according to its curator, Susanne Gaensheimer, director of Frankfurt's Museum of Modern Art, he will still be the featured artist in the exhibition. Though she initially considered presenting an empty pavilion, Gaensheimer has acknowledged to The Art Newspaper that the more viable option is to "curate his work like a retrospective." His selection earlier this year had been viewed as a surprising choice, as his past projects have proved divisive. Schlingensief was best known for a 2000 work, Please Love Austria, a Big Brother-style reality show simulation in which real asylum-seeking immigrants, living in a shipping container placed in Vienna's central square, were monitored online and could be voted out by the public. The winner was promised a cash prize and Austrian citizenship. While Schlingensief himself described the invitation to represent Germany in the Biennial as "a fantastic surprise," Gerhard Richter called the pick "a scandal."

In addition to the national pavilions are 32 official collateral events, and many more other noted exhibitions and events scattered throughout the city. Highlights include:

Neoludica. Art is a Game
Venue: Scuola dei Laneri, Sala Laneri, Santa Croce 131, Tolentini (June 1–October 31)

Conceived by E-Ludo Lab and E-Ludo Interactive, this project-which aims to reveal the connections between video games, visual arts, music, and cinema-asserts that video games should be considered a valid and significant form of art.

Symposium: Art as a Thinking Process: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production

Venue: Aula Magna, The Università Iuav di Venezia, Tolentini (June 5–June 6)

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the formation of the? faculty of Arts & Design at IUAV, a symposium responding to the trend du jour-the pedagogic turn in art-will examine the role of the art school as a site for artistic discourse outside of the market system. A series of papers will be presented by a number of prominent thinkers including John Aiken, Carol Becker, Ute Meta Bauer, Cornelia Lauf, Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Gertrud Sandqvist.