Venice national pavilions

Iva Lulashi, painting in Albanian pavilion, Venice, 2024

The national pavilions offer, more than the Biennale’s main exhibition ‘Foreigner Everyhwere’, the excitement of seeing a cross section of contemporary art, layered in conception and with relevance for what is happening now. The various presentations are not necessarily connected, as every country had its own path to Venice, selecting one or multiple artists. Therefore, it is hard to discuss this part of the Biennale as one exhibition. However, what unites all exhibitors is their platform on the global stage provided by Venice. The question of how artists approach this opportunity and whether they can handle it, becomes part of the quality of the work. Below are ten pavilions that made a lasting impression on the author, while overt political commentaries are avoided and instead imaginative approaches are presented, tailored to the specific site of the building, the city or the Biennale.


Germany chose two artists, Ersan Mondtag and Yael Bartana, for the pavilion who both make a firm appearance, albeit without their contributions complementing each other. I found Bartana’s Light to the Nations to be the most captivating. The centerpiece, Farewell, is a 15-minute-long science-fiction film depicting people performing a ritual dance in nature before they leave Earth in a spaceship to save themselves and humanity. This Generation Ship has large round cylinders, each representing a different sphere of life such as learning, living and healing. Its form is based on the sephirot diagram, the main image of the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystic tradition. The film presents messianic narrative that, as is often the case in Bartana’s work, teeters on the brink of Romantic kitsch while closely resembling a religious movement in its aspirations and aesthetics. Her work exudes controlled pathos, grand gestures, and technological precision. The urgency of the science-fiction narrative lies in the question that may easily arise when reading the news today: Isn’t it time to consider an escape? Or perhaps more profoundly: Is escape even still possible?


In the Albanian pavilion, Iva Lulashi presents her works on a 1:1 scale model of her apartment in Milan, recreated within the Arsenale. The walls are arranged accordingly, the furniture and windows left out, providing a white-cube setting for a series of paintings united under the overarching theme Love as a Glass of Water. The figurative paintings show scenes of desire, the moment before or after making love, and other experiences, from a female perspective. Part of the works are based on erotic or pornographic footage that is then modified during the painting process. The domestic floor plan delivers a shelter where the works can have the intimacy and focus that the artist wishes to be the context for her work. At times this creates the feeling of looking at something you are not supposed to see, as with the painting of two female figures and a male, all naked and looking down, presented in a narrow tiled room that at the artist’s home must be the bathroom. A perfect example of how the presentation is part of the painting’s meaning.


The Croatian pavilion stands out as one of the most endearing spaces at the Biennale, serving not only as an exhibition venue but also as an artist studio for Vlatka Horvat, who invites artists from around the world to contribute small art pieces. However, these contributions come with a unique condition: they must be personally couriered by someone planning to travel to Venice, eliminating the need for additional shipping, and highlighting the environmental concerns associated with large-scale events like the Biennale. The works received by Horvat are displayed temporarily alongside her own pieces inspired by walks through the city where she captures memorable sights and moments and reimagines them through collage and drawing on photography. What Horvat achieves is a space of concentration, where looking at works and discussing them happen on an intimate, almost domestic scale. This contrasts in a positive sense with the spectacle of the Biennale, with its long queues and dense exhibition areas, plus the loud drums of major galleries hosting so-called collateral events across the city. Here, art-making takes on a more personal and improvised dimension, emphasizing the interconnectedness of artists. Moreover, the rotating display of works includes contributions from artists not officially representing a country.

Read the full report, with a selection of 10 pavilions, on Arterritory

Press about ‘Why Paintings Work’

Why Paintings Work in English and Dutch

“He practices an ’embedded’ art criticism,” Daniel Rovers wrote in De Witte Raaf about Why Paintings Work. “He (Benschop) did the same in his previous book, Salt in the wound. Artists in Europe. (2016), but then he covered multiple visual genres. The restriction to painting pays off this time.” Below you find excerpts from De Witte Raaf and other book reviews of Why Paintings Work. The fragments are translated into English. To read the original texts in Dutch, scroll down.

Daniël Rovers, “Why a Painting Works,” pulished in De Witte Raaf, Nov-Dec 2023:

“Benschop simply wants to facilitate a conversation about contemporary painting, especially in a time when, formally speaking, almost anything seems possible, while, morally, strict norms are sometimes imposed on the question of who can depict what. He does this in a language that, as he writes himself, is ‘not top-heavy or exaggerated,’ but ‘suitable for the art at hand.'”

“No one claimed at the entrance of the museum that everything about an artwork should be clear just by looking, he dryly states in his introduction. In that one sentence, the style and attitude of the author are encapsulated. Here is a modest, attentive enthusiast who listens well, especially to artists, and much less to critics or art historians. There is understatement in his sentences, which are clear and self-explanatory, rarely extending beyond what the content allows.”

Why Painting Works is lucid and concrete, yet also conceptual in nature. It presents an unforeseen, unimaginable series of perspectives, techniques, and approaches, of which, as a reader, contrary to what the title suggests, you do not know if they work, because you only see the color images on the pages, something entirely different from three-dimensional canvases. Benschop succeeds in arousing the desire to see them in real life. In that sense, this book, of which an English version has been published by Garret Publications, is a catalog – three hundred pages of text and about seventy images – of a future exhibition, should a museum director grant him the favor of the necessary galleries.”

Maarten Buser, ‘Tastend kijken en dan terugpraten’ in literary magazine Liter, December 5, 2022. Review in the form of an open letter:

“Anyone expecting a specific (viewing) method based on the title ‘Why Painting Works’ will be disappointed. That operation – the ‘mechanism’ by which the painting convinces and makes you want to keep looking – varies per chapter. For example, when Kaido Ole, in a comic-like manner, opposes overly expressive painting, his art works differently than that of Beverly Fishman, who, with the visual language of minimalist abstraction, says something essential about marketing and the pharmaceutical industry. Each artist must be approached differently, and even after a sharp formal analysis, there may be enough uncertainty in the interpretation. In all those attempts, you seem to be as much a mechanic as a mystic.”

“Even when words may fall short to capture something that is better expressed in an image, they can guide your gaze. In that sense, writing – or more broadly, speaking – can help to get a better grip on art without completely dispelling the mystery. Why Painting Works is a skillful demonstration of this.”

Karel Alleene, ‘Waarom een schilderij werkt,’ on Cutting Edge (online), December 20, 2022:

“Jurriaan Benschop (1963) writes relatively concise essay collections about art. Similar authors are Bernard Dewulf, Roland Jooris, or Hans den Hartog Jager. Writers who, averse to quick sentiments, embark on a quest to provide personal meaning to a painting. In doing so, they steer clear of aesthetic terms that often transform art essays into enigmatic texts.”

Benschop’s pointed and pertinent writing style ensures that you frequently underline sentences with a pencil. Because you know that this is the kind of book you will refer to frequently. We place ‘Why Paintings Work’ alongside Bernard Dewulf’s Bijlichtingen (2001) and Roland Jooris’ Geschilderd of geschreven (1992). Small essay collections that make the reader eager to view the described works in a museum.”

You can order the book in your local art book store or through this website by filling out the order form HERE Delivery time in Europe is about one week, outside Europe two weeks approximately.

T E X T S in D U T C H

Daniël Rovers, “Waarom een schilderij werkt,” in De Witte Raaf, Nov-Dec 2023.

“Benschop wil simpelweg een gesprek over hedendaagse schilderkunst mogelijk maken, juist in een tijd waarin formeel gezien zo goed als alles mogelijk lijkt, terwijl in moreel opzicht – de vraag wie wat mag afbeelden – soms strenge normen worden opgelegd. Dat doet hij in een taal die, zoals hij zelf schrijft, ‘niet topzwaar of overdreven’ is, ‘maar passend bij de kunst die aan de orde komt’.”

“‘Hier is een bescheiden, attente liefhebber aan het woord, die goed luistert, vooral naar kunstenaars, en veel minder naar critici of kunsthistorici. Er zit understatement in zijn zinnen, die helder zijn en voor zich spreken, en zich zelden breder maken dan de inhoud toelaat.”

“Hij bedrijft een ‘ingebedde’ kunstkritiek. Dat deed hij ook in zijn vorige boek, Zout in de wond. Kunstenaars in Europa (2016), maar toen bestreek hij meerdere beeldende genres. De beperking tot de schilderkunst werpt dit keer haar vruchten af.”

“Waarom een schilderij werkt is lucide en concreet, en toch ook conceptueel van aard. Het presenteert een onvoorziene, onvoorstelbare reeks van invalshoeken, technieken en benaderingen, waarvan je als lezer – wat de titel ook mag beweren – nu juist níét weet of ze werken, omdat je op de pagina’s slechts de kleurenafbeeldingen ziet, wat iets volkomen anders is dan driedimensionale doeken. Benschop slaagt erin het verlangen te wekken ze in het echt te willen zien. In die zin is dit boek, waarvan een Engelstalige versie door Garret Publications is uitgegeven, een catalogus – driehonderd pagina’s tekst en een zeventigtal afbeeldingen – van een toekomstige tentoonstelling, mocht een hem genegen museumdirecteur de tentoonstellingsmaker de nodige zalen gunnen.”

Maarten Buser ‘Tastend kijken en dan terugpraten’ in literatir tijdschrift Liter, 5 december 2022. Recensie in de vorm van een open brief

“Wie op basis van de titel Waarom een schilderij werkt een bepaalde (kijk)methode verwacht, komt bedrogen uit. Die werking – het ‘mechanisme’ waardoor het schilderij overtuigt en waardoor je ernaar wil blijven kijken – verschilt per hoofdstuk. Wanneer bijvoorbeeld Kaido Ole zich op het stripachtige afzet tegen al te expressieve schilderkunst, werkt zijn kunst immers anders dan die van Beverly Fishman, die met de beeldtaal van minimalistische abstractie iets wezenlijks zegt over marketing en de medicijnindustrie. Elke kunstenaar moet op een andere manier benaderd worden en zelfs na een scherpe formele analyse kan er genoeg onzeker blijken in de interpretatie. U lijkt me in al die pogingen evenzeer een monteur als een mysticus.”

“Ook als woorden tekort kunnen schieten om iets te vangen dat beter in beeld uitgedrukt kan worden, kunnen ze je blik bijsturen. In die zin kan het schrijven – of breder: het spreken – helpen om toch wat meer grip te krijgen op kunst, zonder het mysterie geheel te laten verdwijnen. Waarom een schilderij werkt is daar een knappe demonstratie van.”Ook als woorden tekort kunnen schieten om iets te vangen dat beter in beeld uitgedrukt kan worden, kunnen ze je blik bijsturen. In die zin kan het schrijven – of breder: het spreken – helpen om toch wat meer grip te krijgen op kunst, zonder het mysterie geheel te laten verdwijnen. Waarom een schilderij werkt is daar een knappe demonstratie van.”

Karel Alleene, ‘Waarom een schilderij werkt,’ gepubliceerd op Cutting Edge (online), December 20, 2022:

“Jurriaan Benschop (1963) schrijft relatief beknopte essaybundels over kunst. Soortgenoten zijn Bernard Dewulf, Roland Jooris of Hans den Hartog Jager. Schrijvers die wars van snelle sentimenten een zoektocht aanvatten om een persoonlijke betekenis te verschaffen aan een schilderij. Daarbij blijven ze weg van esthetische termen die geregeld kunstessays transformeren in enigmatische teksten.”

“Benschops puntige en pertinente schrijfstijl zorgt ervoor dat je veelvuldig zinnen aanstreept met potlood. Omdat je weet dat dit het soort boek is waar je veelvuldig naar terug zal grijpen. We plaatsen ‘Waarom een schilderij werkt’ naast Bernard Dewulfs ‘Bijlichtingen’ (’01) en Roland Jooris’ ‘Geschilderd of geschreven’ (’92). Kleine essaybundels die de lezer zin doen krijgen de beschreven werken te bekijken in een museum.”

Waarom een schilderij werkt kan in elke Nederlandse of Vlaamse boekhandel besteld worden. Wilt u het boek via de post ontvangen, dan kunt u ook via deze website bestellen op deze pagina.

Wo man sich trifft

Exhibition Wo man sich trifft in Emsdetten

Starting from the conception of a painting as a place to meet, different approaches can be observed in this international group exhibition. The show looks into the various ways that contemporary painters stage encounters, be it imaginary or with an abstract other. While some of the works guide the spectator’s imagination by delivering a figurative scene or by creating an interior with meaningful objects, others retreat into an exclusive, painterly world, where forms seem to float freely, or where there is no clear sense of perspective but merely the immediate impact of color, surface, and shape instead. The different ways the artists create and handle pictorial space is an extension of their conceptions of what a painting should be or present, and how it anticipates the presence of the other.

Participating artists: Matthias Weischer, Lara de Moor, Rezi van Lankveld, Kiki Kolympari, David Benforado, Erwin Bohatsch, and Caitlin Lonegan. 3 Sept- 15 Oct, 2023 at the Emsdettener Kunstverein. Finissage on Oct 15th at 4 pm.

Marc Trujillo at West (+video)

Marc Trujillo painting

Los Angeles based painter Marc Trujillo shows recent works in the exhibition ‘8810 Tampa Avenue’ at West in The Hague (The Netherlands). Curator Jurriaan Benschop spoke with the artist at the opening (on May 7th 2023), about what makes a painting work, Trujillo’s relation to old Dutch Masters, and how to deal with desire in a painting.

Living and working in Los Angeles, the artist takes stock of everyday American life by portraying precise details of shopping malls, fast food restaurants and consumer goods. The paintings are small and compact, in contrast to the physical and existential space taken up by consumer architecture in the American landscape. For Trujillo, painting is a way to pay attention to places that are not meant to be looked at for a longer time. He remarks, ‘I look for the precise expression of mixed feelings.’ According to him, a painting is successful and most potent when it comprises the necessary degree of ambivalence. What is visually appealing and fascinating can at the same time generate uncomfortable thoughts on globalization, sustainability and the emptiness behind the facades of material prosperity.

Trujillo is one of more than 40 artists featured in the book ‘Waarom een schilderij werkt’ (Why Paintings Work), by Jurriaan Benschop. The book is available during exhibition hours at West , The Hague, Wed-Sun 12-18h. The exhibition is on view till 27 August, 2023.

Martha Jungwirth in Düsseldorf

exhibition Martha Jungwirth at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf

Martha Jungwirth lives in Vienna but part of the year she spend on the Cycladic Islands in Greece, such as Paros or Serifos. Impressions of the landscape, the architecture, the vegetation end up in her watercolors, which form the basis of both small and large scale paintings. A survey of Jungwirth’s work was presented in 2022 at the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf, including some works of the series Paros.

For the book that accompanies the exhibition I wrote an essay about Jungwirth’s approach to painting, about her love for Vladimir Nabokov and about her interest in the immediate, pre-verbal working of paintings.

You find a more detailed description of the book here

Talking with/about Bernard Frize

Bernard Frize and Jurriaan Benschop

Recently I came to visit Bernard Frize in his studio in Berlin to record with him a conversation. We had a vivid talk about ways to paint, and about the balance between concept, method and the visual pleasure of painting. Yet, after some weeks, it turned out, the camera person had not succeeded in recording the sound well. What was said in that conversation, at least for the moment, remains in the air. Just like what was said when I walked with the artist along a Dutch canal (photo).

Years earlier, I spoke about Frize’s work in Berlin at the Akademie der Künste, where he was awarded the Käthe Kollwitz Price. The Akademie recorded the talk sucsefully, and shared it online. So until the recent studio talk is recovered, you can hear some reflections on Bernards works, and the nature of expression, in this audio file.

The audio recording of the laudatory speech at the Akademie der Künste in 2015 (23 minutes) you can find on this page

Rezi van Lankveld Interview

Painting detail Rezi van Landveld

Elements of landscape, architecture, and the body meld together in the small-scale paintings of Rezi van Lankveld. Forms may look familiar but are reluctant to be identified in a singular sense; the figuration is ambivalent. Movement is key in the Dutch artist’s conception of a painting: a figure should be flexible and ready to change shape. At New York’s Petzel Gallery, Van Lankveld presents recent paintings in the exhibition Soft Sun.

Some of your paintings evoke aspects of a landscape: there are rocks, a sky with some clouds, or the slope of a hill. Do you think of landscape images when you make a painting? Do you have specific natural elements in mind?

Nature is there, but not in a direct, visible sense – more as a state of mind. The natural elements that I have in mind are abstract; they represent a movement or a certain depth. I grew up in a rural area in the east of the Netherlands, where the landscape was agricultural, with meadows, high skies, and also some forests. This spacious environment has helped form me.

Your work has a calm appearance, but it is also dynamic. It usually conveys a sense of movement, and this seems to be more important than the subject matter, the figure, or constellation that is depicted. The figuration seems ready to change its appearance. Are the motifs that you paint the result of intuitive gestures, or do you translate observations from life into the world of painting, following some sort of plan?

When I paint, I allow a lot of things to happen. I do not want to impose too much on the image as it unfolds. I do not use a sketch or anything like that in advance. A preconceived image would get in the way of my direct connection to the paint. I need the painting to keep changing once I start out, to find the right direction. In this process, I find shapes that seem uncertain about their identity. They could be this but also that – there is a dynamic quality in their appearance that I want to transmit. Often the final form of the painting comes in a flash – I see it at once. To reach that, the painting goes through a lot of stages, until the paint starts to become alive. Whereas in an illustration, the image tries to express one idea in precision, I look for the opposite, for openness and ambiguity. It is not just one thing that is depicted. It is rather a situation in movement. It is everything at the same time: figure, portrait, landscape.

Read the full interview on Curator website. The exhibition at Petzel Gallery runs till 26 March 2022.

Helmut Federle in Basel

The first thing that strikes one about the six large paintings on display at the Kunstmuseum Basel and made over a span of 25 years, beginning in 1980, is that their scale feels American. Few artists paint this monumentally in Europe. Yet the sensibility of Helmut Federle’s work is also European, melancholic in tone and subtle in its application of paint. Even though these notions are generalised, they lead to an important transatlantic quality of Federle’s painting. The Swiss-born artist, based in Vienna and in his mid-seventies, has travelled the globe often and eagerly. He has absorbed notions about scale and colour, values and beliefs, from different cultures. A four-year stay in the US from 1979 onwards was important to his development, just as the discovery of postwar abstract American painting made an impact, during the 1960s, on the very museum in which his work is now showing.

You can spend a long time looking at these works without getting a clear idea as to what they are ‘about’. In Untitled (1990) a large dark circle appears against a background of grey brushstrokes, half transparent. A tilted U-shape enters the right side of the painting, delivering a second formal focus. A greenish-yellow light shines, as if the work was lit from behind. Without any narrative or action, this and the other canvases refuse to be boiled down to any specific subject matter or statement. They’re just there, as presences you want to be with: complex characters with conflicting parts. They are not necessarily pleasing or beautiful, most are rather dark in atmosphere, but they appear sincere and dynamic. The uneven paint application, as well as the play of layers, invite one to keep wandering over the canvas. Some forms are clear and decisive, like the circle; other areas are vague and unfinished. The division between yellow and grey in Untitled (1980) feels strict and firm, while the repetitive pattern of lines in Death of a Black Snake (1999) is subtle and mysterious. Collectively, with all their contradictions, these seem like existential paintings: this is how it feels to be conscious, to be human, to have fear and hope, highs and lows.

Asian Sign (1980) produces a push and pull between negative and positive form. Are the grey blocks in the foreground? Just as this appears to be the case, they recede, and disappear behind the yellow, meandering bands. The yellow is bright and enlightening here, more than in other paintings. The fact that the painting, acquired by the museum in 1982, created public uproar – it depicts a swastika – indicates that people did think there was a subject matter or statement in the work. More particularly, an evil one, even though the symbol is not presented clockwise, as the Nazis used it, but counterclockwise and thus, according to a Hindu interpretation, stands for the setting sun. Of course it can raise eyebrows to discover such a form, huge as a flag, that mirrors (not depicts) a symbol appropriated by fascists. The real question, though, is whether or not Federle’s work should be taken as symbolic at all. An auxiliary selection of works on paper shows further engagement with signs and symbols, but they are not about reproducing fixed meanings. Rather they spring from an interest in seeing form free from preconceived ideas. What kind of expression does this produce? Amid its push and pull, Asian Sign is a work concerned with the moment that form becomes meaning, just as Federle’s work in general is about the moment that form becomes a manifestation of inner life.

This text was first published in ArtReview October 2019

By the Sea. Report from Marseille

For its first edition in 2007 the Art-o-Rama hosted only five galleries, under skeptical observations from the Paris art scene about the chances of a fair in a poor city like Marseille. Sixteen years later, the fair has become a significant end-of-summer event with an international program, and cooperation with other institutions in and beyond the Provence. Even Parisians leave their city to enjoy art ‘by the sea’ and see what France’s second city has to offer.

Read my impression from the Art-o-Rama fair, edition 2019, on DAMN magazine.