If you happen to be in Venice on June 1st, you will find yourself surrounded by the world’s top artists and their spectacular works of art; founded in 1895 as a biannual celebration of the international art world, the Venice Biennale (or the “Art World’s Olympics,” as it is more fondly known) brings together visual artists in order to showcase their work in resplendent, breathtaking “pavilions” that will adorn the many giardini (or gardens) of Venice.

The Biennale is a long standing Venetian tradition (this is the 55th iteration of the world-renowned arts festival), but for a Biennale newcomer, the plethora of art can be overwhelming. More than 40 nations will be participating in the fair, and each country has its own pavilion (which can sometimes be a work of art in itself) dedicated to showcasing the work of that country’s hand-picked team of artists. The artists themselves are typically on site, as are the curators, who tend to be powerhouses of the international art gallery scene.

Here are some things you might want to know about this year’s festival before planning out your visit:

  • Portugal’s featured artist, Joana Vasconcelos, has abandoned the typical, fixed location pavilion design for a more nautical approach; she has built her pavilion atop a fully functional, traditional Lisbon ferryboat.
  • Germany has chosen a team made entirely up of esteemed non-German artists (such as Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, for instance) in the interest of emphasizing the country’s increasingly international identity and of raising the question, “What is a German artist?”
  • In a move that will make for one of the most dramatic exhibitions at the fair, Finnish artists Terike Haapoja and Annti Laitinen are transplanting trees and forest soil from Finland in their Venetian pavilion.
  • This is the first time ever that The Republic of Kosovo will be represented at the Biennale.
  • This year’s U.S. representative will be Columbia University MFA alum (1997) Sarah Sze (pronounced “zee”), who hopes to capture “the immersive experience of discovery” that comes from “wandering around Venice without a map.”
  • Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar will present a haunting vision of the future of Venice in the “Ghost of the Giardini,” a model of the garden which is intermittently submerged in dark murky water.

For more information, or if you’d like to see an interactive map of the Biennale, visit Artsy, whose coverage of the event is quite extensive.

Get in touch with the author @kellitrapnell.