- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2011

VENICE, ITALY (AP) - The Venice Biennale contemporary art fair kicks off Europe’s summer of art next weekend.

This year’s edition of the art fair held every two years is curated by Switzerland’s Bice Curiger, who titled the show: “IllumiNations.”

Curiger said in an interview on the Venice Biennale website that she wanted to tie the exhibit she curates in Venice’s Arsenale with the national pavilions nearby.

“I began to reflect on the institution of the Biennale, and that is how I found the name IllumiNations, which refers to the fact that we are in Venice, and light is an old theme of art, and nations refers to the situation of the national pavilions,” Curiger said.

A record 89 countries will have national pavilions at the 54th Biennale, including for the first time Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Rwanda, Bangladesh, Malaysia and tiny Andorra.

Curiger is seeking to unite the often eclectic and anachronistic national pavilions in Venice’s shaded Giardini with the main exhibition by posing questions about national identity and art. Her exhibit in the 10,000-square meter Arsenale features 83 artists from all over the world.

She invited four artists to create a special space, a sort of mock-up of a pavilion, in another effort to unite the exhibit with the national entries. The so-called Para-Pavilion will be a space where other art work will be shown.

The U.S. Pavillion will feature Philadelphia native Jennifer Allora and Cuban-born Guillermo Calzadilla, and Spanish-speaking collaborators based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, whose works have appeared in the Tate Modern Galleries, The New Museum in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

The British Pavillion will feature sculptor Mike Nelson, who has been working for three months in Venice on an installation that the British curator promises “will be one of the most challenging solo presentations ever mounted in over 70 years of exhibitions organized by the British Council in Venice.” It is the first time that the British Pavillion will feature an installation.

The Venice Biennale opens to the public June 4 and runs through Nov. 27. From Venice, art lovers will head to the annual Basel Art Fair in Switzerland from June 15-19.