This week, the Venice Biennale announced the artist list for its main exhibition, which is due to open in April. Curated by Cecilia Alemani, the show is titled “The Milk of Dreams,” alluding to a series of drawings and a children’s book by Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington, and the exhibition will be heavy on work by Surrealists and artists affiliated with other movements of the 20th-century avant-garde. There will also be a hugely unprecedented ratio of women artists participating in the exhibition, with work by just 21 men being included. To learn more, ARTnews crunched the numbers.
Though the official number of artists given is 213, three artists are included as collaborators with official artists, and one duo is listed as a single artist, bringing the total number of people to 216. ARTnews has included these four additional artists in its tallies.
213: The official number of artists in the Venice Biennale’s main exhibition this year—a staggering amount, given that in 2019, there were only 83. (A small caveat here: in 2019, artists were given the opportunity to present twice the amount of work as usual, since that Biennale’s main exhibition was split in two.) This Biennale will have the most artists of any edition held since 2005.
21: The number of men in this year’s main exhibition. Historically, it’s been the case that gender parity is a real issue at the Venice Biennale. In her book Curatorial Activism, curator Maura Reilly called such imbalances “appalling,”noting that the 2017 Venice Biennale included women as only 35 percent of the total list. But that will certainly not be the case this year, when almost every artist is a woman or gender-nonconforming. Most of the dead artists this year are women, too—of close to 100 dead artists in all, just seven of them were men.
95: The total number of dead artists included in this year’s Biennale, making up a staggering 44 percent of the participants. A majority of those who have passed were born before the Great Depression, and many of their contributions to art history remain underknown and underrecognized, including artists like Toyen, Tecla Tofano, Ovartaci, Baya Mahieddine, and Safia Farhat.
23: The percentage of artists in this year’s Biennale who can be connected to an avant-garde movement active in Europe or the U.S. during the first half of the 20th century. It’s not entirely unusual for main exhibitions in Venice to include dead artists, but this is a remarkably high amount. Alemani has stated that her reason for curating the Biennale in this way is to allow for “time capsules,” or groupings of works by historical artists that can be seen as inspirations for painters, sculptors, and others working today.
180: The number of artists who are showing in the Biennale’s main exhibition for the first time.
61: Many of the living artists included in this iteration of the Biennale are based in Europe, with different cities as hubs. Among those with the largest proportion of representation are London (11), Berlin (10), Amsterdam (7), and Paris (5), and 10 artists work in various cities throughout Italy.
375: The age the earliest-born artist included would be if she were alive today. That honor goes to Maria Sibylla Merian, who was born in Frankfurt in 1647, when the city was still part of the Holy Roman Empire. The naturalist and scientific illustrator passed away at 69 in Amsterdam in 1717. (The Biennale’s oldest living participant is Paris-based artist Vera Molnár, who was born in 1924 in Budapest and turned 98 in January.)
60: The number of artists who could technically be considered part of the Millennial generation (roughly 1980–1995), including the likes of Wu Tsang, Christina Quarles, Elle Pérez, Jadé Fadojutimi, and the late Noah Davis. That’s exactly double the number included in the 2019 edition. The Biennale’s youngest artist is Simnikiwe Buhlungu, who was born in 1995 in Johannesburg, meaning that this won’t be the first Biennale to include work by someone born in the Gen Z generation in the main exhibition. The next largest (still living) generation is Gen X (1965–1979) with 30 artists.
5: The number of artists represented by David Zwirner gallery, whose roster includes participants such as Ruth Asawa, Noah Davis, Barbara Kruger, Andra Ursuta, and Portia Zvavahera. The fellow mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth isn’t far behind, with three artists: Christina Quarles, Tetsumi Kudo, and Sophie Taeuber-Arp. (Hauser & Wirth would have had four artists at the Biennale if Simone Leigh hadn’t defected for Matthew Marks Gallery last year.) Such numbers aren’t necessarily so high considering the galleries’ size. A more astounding feat comes courtesy of the small but mighty JTT gallery, which has three artists at the Biennale this year: Sable Elyse Smith, Jamian Juliano-Villani, and Elaine Cameron-Weir. Those three account for nearly one-fifth of the gallery’s influential roster. In a similar vein, the Hong-Kong based gallery Antenna Space is sending nearly one-quarter of its roster: Dora Budor, Allison Katz, Mire Lee, and Wu Tsang.
32: The portion of the 43 artists based in the U.S. who call New York City home. The next-most-represented city is Los Angeles, with five.
2, 5, 10: The numbers of living artists currently based in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia, respectively. Both of the Caribbean-based artists, Frantz Zéphirin and Myrlande Constant, live in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with no artists based in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Bahamas, or any other islands in the region. Of the Africa-based artists, three live in South Africa (Bronwyn Katz, Simnikiwe Buhlungu, and Igshaan Adams), while others live in Harare, Zimbabwe (Portia Zvavahera) and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Elias Sime).
37: Artists born in the second-half of the 19th century, including Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Hannah Höch, Sonia Delaunay, Claude Cahun, and Augusta Savage.
5: The number of artists who passed away while the Venice Biennale was being planned: Jaider Esbell and Aage Gaup in 2021, and Kaari Upson, Ilse Garnier, and Tatsuo Ikeda in 2020.
1: The number of artists who will also show this year at Documenta 15 in Germany, in a rare moment of synchronicity when the two global exhibitions align. That artist is Saodat Ismailova, a filmmaker who grew up in the Uzbek city of Tashkent following the fall of the Soviet Union.
3.5: How many times larger the Venice Biennale is than this year’s Whitney Biennial, which opens a few weeks earlier. For that exhibition, curators David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards lined up 63 artists. The two exhibitions share just two artists: Sable Elyse Smith and Wu Tsang, who is participating in the Whitney Biennial as part of the artist duo (with Tosh Basco) Moved by the Motion.
7: The number of artists who go by one name, including six deceased artists—Benedetta (1897–1977), Dadamaino (1930–2004), Nadja (1902–1941), Ovartaci (1894–1985), Rachilde (1860–1953), Toyen (1902–1980)—and one living artist, Tourmaline (b. 1983).
3: The number of times that Andra Ursuta’s work has appeared in the main exhibition in Venice, including this year’s edition. For those keeping track, this is also the second time in a row that Ursuta has shown.
2: The number of sites at the Venice Biennale where you’ll be able to see Simone Leigh’s work. One will be at the main exhibition; the other will be at the U.S. Pavilion.