The Venice Biennale, a guide and a review

How does it work? 

There are two main venues.

1. The Arsenale. A massive historic building. It has lots of artist’s works grouped by theme, plus a few pavilions. A pavilion is a space that represents a country, with art from one or more artists.

2. The Giardini. A park full of many small pavilions. These are permanent buildings, one for each country represented. They are architecturally fascinating.

You buy a ticket for both venues. Look for the “biglietti”  (ticket office) near the entrance for each venue. Then join the “Ingresso” entrance queue to get in.

Also. There are various pavilions and exhibits around Venice. It is a great way to nosey inside fabulous Venetian palazzos.

At The Arsenale

The building is more impressive than the art. Occasionally a cool or fun or striking bit of art makes an appearance.

The Arsenale, a selection

The best art is that which appears to respond to the building.

Julian Charriere

There is a very important crane.

Armstrong-Mitchell Hydraulic Crane

I see a submarine over the water.

Italian Pavilion. Proper weird. Inflatable tunnel. Resin body parts. What’s not to like? Nothing. That’s what.

Italy’s Pavilion, Roberto Cuoghi

It is a very pleasant walk through residential neighbourhoods between the two main venues.

At The Giardini

If you only do one venue, do this one. It’s a park so it feels very relaxed. It has most of the pavilions.

Spain. Not as interesting at their political situation. Or most of their historical art. Still there’s a lot to live up to.

Old art ladies have amazing trousers. I will be an old art lady one day. With amazing trousers.

Netherlands. Mondrian colours. Video. Which means you can sit down and have a rest.

A man who is art walks past slowly. I photograph him. This is what happens next.

Hungary. Beautiful building. Peace on earth neon. Utopian references. A soft seat to watch the video art. Hurrah for a comfy seat.

Hungary’s Pavilion

United States. The first artwork takes up all the space and oppresses you.

US Pavilion, Mark Bradford

Israel. It is mould. Literally. A massive mouldy cotton wool cloud. It smells funny. I like it. A man touches it. Naughty.

Israel’s Pavilion, Gal Weinstein

Austria. Has a lorry on its nose. This is the only way a wheeled vehicle gets into Venice. As art. Everyone is queuing to look inside. I can’t be arsed.

Egypt. Dramatic cinematic art. A multiscreen fairytale. In a mud palace. The ending is a bit annoying. I need to know. Alive or dead?

Venice. The theme is luxury, the craft, tools and materials that create it. It is gorgeous and decadent. A Venetian fantasy as only Venice can.

Selection from the Venetian Pavilion

I bump into a person I know. Get me. So international.  We are museum people so we do not do big arty air-kisses. We just say hello and chat.

The Nordic pavilion has actual trees growing through it. Of course it does.

Around and about

Armenia.  In an extensive and ever so slightly crumbly Venetian Palazzo with large gardens.

Armenia’s Pavilion, Jean Boghossian

Scotland. Rachel McLean. As intensive and weird as you’d expect. In a church. We sat in pews to watch. Perfect Sunday morning visit.

Jan Fabre’s. Glass and bone. Like it says.

Jan Fabre

Glasstress. A regular biennale exhibition. In a beautiful palazzo that pulls out all the stops (marble, wall paintings, fancy woodwork, mega murano glass chandeliers etc). Starts with glass boobs, sausages and buttplugs. Then hurls increasingly amazing pieces of glass art at you.

Ai Weiwei

Intuition at Palazzo Fortuny. Everything. There was everything.  Basquiat. Ancient menhirs. Anish Kapoor. Giorgio de Chirico. Mariano Fortuny’s library. Rich fabrics. Architectural models. Furniture.  It was so intensive I actually needed the black room filled with black paintings to relax.

Thierry de Cordier, Grand Nada 2007-12

Biennale notes

Visitors are either cultural tourists or Biennale regulars.  Kids are entranced and engaged by contemporary art. Dogs appear to be allowed. Sometimes there are police in the art. With hand guns.

Labels and interpretation are mostly available in English. On the whole I avoid contempory art interpretation. It has a habit of spoiling the art. Mainly by talking bollocks.

I did the Arsenal and the Giardini in one day. Normal people might prefer to do it over two days. Allow lots of time to see things outside of the main venues. You can wander aimlessly and you’ll come across Biennale stuff. I found several things like that. Some  newspapers did useful articles on what to see at the Biennale. I used those too. Thanks to the Telegraph and Independent.

That’s the Venice Biennale. I’d go again.

Abdulnasser Gharem


About rachelcockett

Art heritage museums weird stuff. Fundraiser and donor. Equity. Acting to level the playing field.
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