The 51st Venice Biennale of International Art opened to the public on 12 June 2005. This year, it promises to be a rich and diverse offering and to be less weighed down than it was two years ago by a mass of contradictory, theoretical flights. Among the leading contenders are British artists, Gilbert and George, who have 'promised to do our worst'. Twenty-five pictures will hang in the British Pavilion, an ornate, former tea room. The six galleries there comprise a massive set piece in stained glass. Shades of Spitalfields, near to Gilbert and George's residence, are incorporated like youthful, hooded, medieval knights or squires. All is very English in a subversive manner. This year, the American artist Ed Ruscha returns to the Biennale (he represented America in 1970). His work is a development of a long strain of obsession with dark, satanic urban landscapes. Australia's Ricky Swallow has also been the beneficiary of a long-standing promotional programme, extolling his undoubted merit as an inventive sculptor of immaculate, haunting humanistic figures and artefacts. From Germany, Thomas Scheibitz quarries earlier modernist work for new inspirations and his display will be most interesting. Inside Sverre Fehn's Nordic Pavilion, Miriam Backstrom from Sweden plays with scale in her sound installations, both musical and visual. For Iceland, Gabriela Fridriksdottir has focused her work on fellow Icelandic singer, Bjork, in a challenging and appropriately demonic rendering.
Our contributor, Richard Demarco, will report on the whole Biennale programme for Studio International later this month. He has covered the ups and downs of the Biennale for Studio International since 1983. As a veteran commentator, he will miss the great talents of Pierre Restany and Willy Bongard, who always put past Biennalia in the frame. Sadly, they are no longer around.