Biennale bound: Our five must-see artists

Whether you’re an art novice or bona fide connoisseur, the Biennale of Sydney is unmissable and attracts many international visitors who travel for their art. Curated by the Mori Art Museum’s Mami Kataoka, the 21st edition launches March 16 until 11 June and spans seven venues, from the cavernous Carriageworks to the not-for-profit 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.

With 70 artists on board (an even male-female split), this year’s ‘Superposition’-themed program is a blockbuster affair. To save you precious time texting art-expert friends for tips (or arriving at a gallery, feeling a tad overwhelmed), we’ve combed through the list and found the artists you need to see.

Ai Weiwei at Cockatoo Island

Like many of those exhibiting, Chinese-born, Berlin-based mega-artist Ai Weiwei has works at multiple sites—you can see Crystal Ball at Artspace, and his feature-length film Human Flow at Sydney Opera House—but if you’re short on time, bookmark the Cockatoo Island installation, Law of the Journey (2017). Continuing Weiwei’s investigation into the global refugee crisis, this ambitious, soul-stirring 60-metre inflatable boat is filled with more than 250 oversized human figures. They’re all made using the same rubber that manufactures those unreliable vessels carrying refugees across the Aegean Sea.

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Oliver Beer at Sydney Opera House

If the EOI on the official Biennale website is anything to go by, young British upstart Oliver Beer—a classically trained musician—will stage his ongoing ‘Resonance Project’ inside our nation’s most iconic, white-sailed site. This experiential body of work is part performance, part architectural intrusion: singers found by Beer emit notes at just the right pitch to find the resonant frequency of a building. In short, this virtuoso has worked out how to make architecture sing.

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Laurent Grasso at Carriageworks

Paris-based multidisciplinary artist Laurent Grasso has long explored mysterious phenomena: electromagnetic energy, radio waves and sort of paranormal activity that popped up in the Victorians’ parlour entertainment. (One of his best-known works depicts a flock of starlings filmed in Rome against a dusky sky—they resemble a particle field, moved by unseen magnetic waves.) We’re not sure what he’s presenting at Carriageworks, but if previous work is anything to go by, you’ll leave feeling otherworldly. 


Yasmin Smith at Cockatoo Island

Sydney artist Yasmin Smith is known for fashioning ceramics that look like archeological objects, and tell stories of geology, history and cultures. She makes glazes from organic and inorganic found materials: Sydney sandstone dust sourced from landscaping excavations, ash gathered from cooking fire pits. In March, she’ll create a ceramics studio and open-air kiln, as well as an installation using cast mangrove branches finished with wood-ash glaze.

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Yvonne Koolmatrie at the Museum of Contemporary Art

Since first learning precious—and near extinct—weaving techniques from the elder Dorothy Kartinyeri at a one-day workshop in 1982, this South Australian Ngarrindjeri artist has been honing her craft and experimenting with woven forms. At the MCA, she’ll present a cluster of elaborate sedge-woven burial baskets—a blend of traditional knowledge and radical innovation. If you want to spy contemporary Aboriginal art at the Biennale, it doesn’t get much better.

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