The tone is set by this year's director, Pompidou curator Christine Macel. Young, liberal and global in outlook, optimistic, socially aware, determined to give fresh efforts a hearing yet something of an unknown herself, Macel is the art world's Emmanuel Macron.
Her title "Viva Arte Viva", ebullient but banal, reflects her international exhibitions: generous, low on ideas, high on audience participation, sometimes smacking of the smug, art-world insider, overwhelmingly feel-good, open to all media. For the first time in years this Biennale celebrates fine under-the-radar painters: Liu Ye's jewel-like book paintings with upside-down classic titles and art histories - Lolita, Mondrian - questioning how we read; the sumptuously distorted faces of Syrian-German expressionist Marwan, who died in 2016.
Inaugurating the Giardini with Sam Gilliam's saturated blue and turquoise fabrics fluttering over the entrance like sails - this is a homage to Yves Klein's glowing ultramarine monochromes, evoking 1960s optimism - Macel begins with a riposte: Oscar Murillo's black banners hung here in 2015, announcing Enwezor's pessimistic (though compelling) vision. This time, minutes in at the Arsenale, too, you are caught up in joyful, billowing threads: sit down with Taiwan-born, Paris-based, impeccably tailored artist Lee Mingwei, and he will stitch your torn clothes in his delightful "Mending Project", then attach each item by a single strand to a huge wall of coloured reel. Together the filaments form a vibrant gossamer rainbow, fragile but taut, more radiant with every new hue: unity in diversity, process not product, the potential of change.
The Arsenale drips fabric works. They pour gloriously from high wooden beams: Ernesto Neto's immersive transparent cotton and jute tent "A Sacred Place", packed with soil, plants, cushions, scents, songs. They are suspended over rough brickwork: Petrit Halilaj's exquisite sculptures in Kosovan cloth of giant moths and flickering lights, one furry-footed insect flopped to the ground, its lovely patterning the more poignant and visible. David Medalla's hammock "A stitch in time" is draped between columns. Cynthia Gutiérrez's pre-Hispanic woven textiles referencing conquered communities lie on the ground as acts of resistance in "Cántico del descenso". Maria Lai's photographs of a performance staged with inhabitants of her native Ulassai, Sardinia, threading ribbons house to house, enact a folk tale about a little girl who thus rescued her village from a falling mountain.
Macel organises her show into sections ("Pavilion of the Earth", "Pavilion of Colours", "Pavilion of Time and Infinity"), but these mean little. Crystalline throughout, however, are her overarching themes: only connect, unwind hierarchies. Thread and fabric enshrine concepts of co-operation, and at the Arsenale poetry and sensuous materiality carry the message.
At the Giardini things are more vexed, with too much tedious art about art. Taus Makhacheva's video describes carting crates of paintings across Dagestan's mountains. Dawn Kasper trills her recorder occasionally in "The Nomadic Studio Practice Experiment", explaining to visitors, "We're just hanging out." Bands of conceptualists led by Mladen Stilinovic's sleeping self-portrait photographs, "The Artist at Work", advocate Duchampian laziness.
This jars when the next gallery is Olafur Eliasson's "Green Light", an orchestration of migrant volunteers, the men mostly black, handsome, smiling, the women, some in hijabs, chatty and engrossed; all are working to fabricate lamps to a design by Eliasson, to be sold to benefit Venice's refugees. "I just want to be doing something," one man told us. I felt sickened by this human zoo, but it has become a hub: the most popular, peopled place in the Giardini.