The Brits: All eyes will be on Sarah Lucas, the YBA best known for her witty representations of genitalia, such as fried eggs that look like breasts and a cucumber arranged to suggest an erect penis.
Lucas has been chosen by the British Council as the UK’s official entry this year and will present a new collection of work in the British Pavilion; we know only that it will include casts of various peoples’ bodies, including her own. Another British name, architect David Adjaye, is the overall designer of the biennale – a prestigious commission which usually involves little more than putting up partition walls in the exhibition spaces and painting them white.
The A-listers: Part of the fun of the opening week is spotting the biggest art world names as they negotiate the grid-locked canals and VIP parties. The collectors tend to be the most high-profile, with Elton John a regular sighting (he has a home in the city), and fashion billionaires Miuccia Prada and François Pinault (husband of actress Salma Hayek and owner of Gucci) hosting exhibitions in their palazzos on the Grand Canal. But art nerds will get as big a frisson from spotting the 2015 biennale director, Nigerian-American curator Okwui Enwezor, and this year’s premier-league artists, including Carsten Holler and Jenny “I shop therefore I am” Holzer.
The ones to watch: Big names such as the painter Peter Doig will draw the crowds, but so will rising stars such as James Capper, who – in an event staged by Peckham’s Hannah Barry Gallery – will show an amphibious canal-walking machine called Six Step.
Tips for victory: For this year’s top prize, the Golden Lion for best national display, I would lay my money on Scotland, represented by Glasgow artist Graham Fagen. It may be a small country, but it has a strong art scene and with rising SNP fandom, it seems to be on a winning streak; Fagen’s installation in the Palazzo Fontana will feature drawings and film inspired by Robert Burns’s poem The Slave’s Lament, accompanied by music from Sally Beamish.
New this year: The East Midlands Pavilion – a satirical swipe at the official national pavilions – makes its debut with a crazy-golf course masterminded by Doug Fishbone. The course features nine holes, each designed by a different British artist.
Interesting fact: British artist Isaac Julien will stage a seven-month continuous reading of Marx’s Das Kapital from a specially designed stage in the biennale gardens. The irony of international artists attacking a system that makes them rich will not be lost on the crowd. Or will it?
Where to party: Turner Prize winner and punk singer Martin Creed plays a gig for Hauser & Wirth gallery on 9 May.
What to say: “Workers of the world unite!”
What not to say: “Would you like to see my yacht?”
The 56th Venice Biennale of Art, this year titled All the World’s Futures, runs in the Giardini della Biennale, the Arsenale, and in fringe events, from this Saturday to 22 November - labiennale.org