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A supposedly poignant symbol of the migrant crisis, the Venice Biennale’s big, bad boat says more about bureaucracy than anything else

Despite its creator’s hopes, "Barca Nostra" points more to the limits of art than to the human tragedy that forms its origin story

By Nathan Ma  

Visitors walk near the Barca Nostra in Venice. Photo: PA

At the Venice Biennale, which opened to much fanfare earlier this month, there is a big, bad boat. A boat in Venice is to be expected at the very least—and especially so at the Arsenale, the sprawling complex of former shipyards famously cited for its grandeur and scale in Dante’s Inferno that once armed the Venetian Republic, before the Industrial Revolution normalized mass production.

Still, the big, bad boat leaves a remarkable impression—but,…

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