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Kerry James Marshall’s fluro abstract paintings
Kerry James Marshall’s fluro abstract paintingsCourtesy the artist

The top artists at this year’s Venice Biennale

From scary gadgets and the fluro-abstract to cosmic tapestries, we round up the very best of the iconic Italian art festival

Everyone has jumped off the vaparettos but are still swaying. This year we were pretty spot on with the highlights across the city but as ever there’s more to discover. Music and sound were the hot elements that brought everything to life during the opening week – from wildly good performances by Nils Bech and Tori Wranes at the Norwegian party to Jason Moran playing jazz piano in the middle of the main exhibition to a jumping pre Berlin Biennale party from DIS/Red Bull Studios. For those still coming, here are the artists to search out.


Holler’s two screen video piece “Fara Fara” was the best work in the entire bieannale. It documented a Congolese soundclash tradition where two groups play in adjacent locations and the longest who plays wins. Stunningly shot, deeply emotive and seriously interesting.


Deller’s insertation to this very political of Biennale was incredible. A jukebox of “Factory Records” which played the sound of 19th century factory machines, sheet music of Victorian British factory blues Broadsides and a scary Motorola gadget that charts worker productivity. Genius as ever.


Past Converse x Dazed Emerging Award nominee was one of the artists who created a mini golf hole for this collateral project, which is the most fun thing you can see during the Biennale. Her final hole involved grabbing a stick and trying to knock it into a floating UK in the canal.


Ghenie’s solo presenation at the Romanian Pavilion was a surprise hit. In a room themed around The Dissonances of History were strange portraits of dead dictators and political figures that included a wildly good portrait of a dead Lenin that felt like the last nail in the coffin for contemporary socialism.


German artist Grosse’s explosion of colour, spray paint, material and pigment was a brilliant insertion to the main Giardini pavilion. Walking into her chaotic space is like stepping inside of an abstract painting and being hit over the head with a rainbow.


Norway’s pavilion pulled apart the architecture of the Pavilion as a metaphor for the sound piece inside pushing the walls down with an exploration of dissonance. Her “socio-political encoding of sound” is one of the though installations you want to loiter in.


There are so many reasons to love Kerry James Marshall. He is one of the best painter of modern times and this room devoted to his work includes some fluro abstract paintings and some of his signature portraiture pieces reworking the history of painting.


Danh Vo (who’s Danish pavilion is gorgeous) co-curated Kudo in Slip of the Tongue at the Punta della Dogana and its always worth searching this weird, late Japanese artist’s organic techno sculptures out.


Akomfrah’s three screen video piece was so good that people wouldn't leave the room. It was a montage of nature footage combined with still of colonial photographs and horrible images of whale hunting. Imagine a beautiful baby of David Attenborough and Christian Marclay.


Zhilyaev’s presentation on Guidecca alongside Mark Dion was a great off site exhibition. Zhilyaev created an imaginary future where abandoned Earth was a museum of mankind – work included cosmic tapestry and images from his genius narrative blog.