54th Venice Biennial Highlights (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

The Venice Biennial is the Olympics of the art contemporary art world. This year's International Art Exhibition is ILLUMINazioni (ILLUMINations) and is open to the public from June 4th to November 27th.

Artists from Haiti, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia are represented for the first time at the festival. Also notable is Iraq and Zimbabwe's return after a 21 year absence and India coming back after 29 years. Overall, the number of pavilions in the Biennial has increased from 77 at last year's festival to a record-high of 89 this year. A total of 83 artists are showing work, including 32 young artists born after 1975, as well as 32 women artists. Each nation's pavilion is a fascinating way to see how a country is viewed, by itself and others, through art.

Some highlights include "The Black Arch" in Saudi Arabi's pavilion, by sisters Shadia Alem and Raja Alem, an installation of chrome forms with projections of Islamic and Christian mosaics with rustic folk music.

Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video, “The Clock,” which is composed of fragments of over a thousand films, is close to the entrance and encourages visitors to stop, sit on the provided couches and watch time pass.

Also worth a look is Thomas Houseago's large scale sculpture "L'Homme Pressé" strides along side the Grand Canal, looming over the water. The piece is part of an exhibition called "The World Belongs to You" which consists of selections from French billionaire François Pinault's permanent collection.

Also of interest are the pavilions of Britain (Mike Nelson), Germany (Christoph Schlingensief), France (Christian Boltanski), Switzerland (Thomas Hirshhorn) and the Czech Republic (Dominik Lang).

Below are images and a video of some of the works on display at the 54th Venice Biennial.

Venice Biennial 2011