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Venice Biennale: The national pavilions

IT’S EASY TO FORGET that the Venice Biennale is, in fact, a kind of art Olympics, where the nations of the world compete for Golden Lions instead of medals. Of course, only a few admit to paying attention to these prizes, but the Biennale keeps handing them out, and sometimes—when, for instance, R. B. Kitaj won the gold for painting two years ago—controversy erupts. One moment no one cares, the next everyone’s in a tizzy.

Just as certain soccer teams dispense with shoes, some new players at the art Olympics will have to manage without a pavilion (Armenia), and others (Finland, Norway, and Sweden) are forced to share both playing field and coach. Many indeed have a pavilion all to themselves, but when it’s a space assigned to a now-defunct nation (read: Yugoslavia) or when it brings under one roof countries who have thought it best to part company (read: the Czech Republic and Slovakia),

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