Every two years, Venice gives you one more reason to love it. As if beautiful landscapes, architectural treasures and excellent Italian cuisine weren’t enough, the city turns into an awe-inspiring art hub with the Biennale, the world’s most prestigious contemporary art exhibition.
From May 13 until November 26, visitors are in for a non-stop outdoor and indoor wonder. Whilst most expositions are based in the Giardini and Arsenale, plenty of others are spread across the city, waiting to be discovered. Want to learn more? Read on!
This Biennale, or La Biennale di Venezia, was first created to stimulate Italy’s art business in 1895. The venture was so successful in the country that other countries caught wind of its fame and demanded to take part. The rest is history: this year’s 57th edition hosts 120 artists from 86 different countries. It’s also backed by some serious star quality: 2017’s curator is non other than Christine Macel, the director of Paris’ legendary Centre Pompidou. She explains that this year’s theme , Viva Arte Viva, is an exclamation, a passionate outcry for art and the state of the artist:
“Today, in a world full of conflicts and shocks, art bears witness to the most precious part of what makes us human. Art is the ultimate ground for reflection, individual expression, freedom, and for fundamental questions. (…) The role, the voice and the responsibility of the artist are more crucial than ever before within the framework of contemporary debates. It is in and through these individual initiatives that the world of tomorrow takes shape, which though surely uncertain, is often best intuited by artists than others.”
If you’re planning a visit, you’ll need plenty of time and some seriously comfortable shoes. Apart from the huge exhibition spaces, the level and diversity of contemporary art will have more than one person scratching their heads, so make sure to give each area the time it deserves. Get set, buy tickets and andiamo!
Each participating country curates a their own pavilion, with most located in either the Giardini or the Arsenale. Both pack some incredible talent, so visiting both is a must!
Located in the east in Venice, the Giardini has hosted the International Art Exhibition since its beginnings in 1895. Built during the Napoleonic era, its Central Pavilion is completely dedicated to Italy’s burgeoning contemporary art scene. 2017’s Biennale might be a tight fit: every country wants a spot, no matter how small. Just ask new arrival Kiribati, a Pacific island with little more than 110,000 inhabitants!
Take a short 15-minute walk from the Giardini and you’ll come the Arsenale. Spanning 50,000 m2, this old military shipyard transforms for the Biennale, featuring artists personally invited by the chief curator, other national pavilions as well as a bookshop, gift shop and pop-up cafeterias.
What’s coming in 2017
Exhibition areas in both the Arsenale and Central Pavilion are set up as a sequence of pavilions, each one designated to a different country. They’re all interconnected, gathering artists of all generations and origins, and sinuously following one another like chapters in a book.
Brace yourself, everything here is pure inspiration. Even something as simple as Franz West lying on a sofa is art! With his performance, he claims (and shows) that leisure and idleness are a necessary part of the artistic process. Say the same thing when you next sit down!
Not your cup of tea? Go ahead and enjoy Kiki Smith’s delicate sketches on Nepalese paper, or watch the animated short film by American artist Rachel Rose. One of this year’s funniest works comes from Chinese artist Guan Xiao: a video on the role and influence of Michelangelo’s David outside of Europe – all set to a catchy pop song!
Another worthy mention is the German Pavilion, which caught everybody’s attention by raising awareness for animal cruelty using dobermans as part of their performance. What you’ll quickly realize is that it doesn’t matter which Pavilion you venture into: you’ll always experience something fresh, unique and thought-provoking. From Russia’s suggestive work on social media and technology, to Chile’s take on a community’s cultural and ethnic annihilation, you’re in for some world-class art vibes.
However, the Biennale won’t let you idly stare at the exhibits: interaction is a must. Take Olafur Eliasson’s workshop: with his instalation, the Danish artist takes an active stand on immigration. Involving eight participants that come from countries characterized by heavy migration fluxes, they create green lamps designed my Eliasson himself with recyclable material. The lamps are then sold, with all proceeds donated to associations dedicated to helping refugees. Talk about artistic involvement!
Critics are also raving about Mark Bradford’s huge installation, which forces anyone who enters the USA Pavilion to walk through a narrow space, a metaphor for the political, economical or financial powers that forcibly squeeze don’t take part in the competition. The installation’s title is as ambiguous as the art itself, “Tomorrow is another day”. Is it meant to be a hopeful dream or frightful premonition? You decide.
In the mood for some more cultural events outside the main area? Head to Palazzo Fortuny to see a “2nd Biennale” of sorts, with works by Duchamp (remember the Mona Lisa with moustaches?), Basquiat or Marina Abramovich, or head to the Peggy Guggenheim to admire works by Mark Tobey.
If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, there’s always Damien Hirst’s “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable”, the English artist’s decade-in-the-making Venetian extravaganza. With 190 works of art that occupy over 5,000 square meters of museum space across Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, this expo features objects in marble, gold and bronze, crystal, jade and malachite – heroes, gods and leviathans all supposedly lost in a legendary shipwreck 2,000 years ago and now raised from the Indian Ocean at Hirst’s personal expense.
Its main highlight is proudly (and very visibly) displayed in the Palazzo Grassi’s main atrium. Standing as one of the most dramatic ‘discoveries’ from the underwater exploration — “Demon with Bowl” towers over 18 meters above enthralled viewers and is a monumental copy of a smaller bronze recovered from the wreckage.
What does Tiqets recommend?
So much to do, so much to see and not enough time? We’ve made a quick summary of our favorite exhibitions, so you can spend more time taking in amazing art and less time running around like a headless chicken.