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The Venice Biennale: What It Is, Why We Like It

The Venice Biennale, is an international contemporary art festival that is held every other, odd numbered, year in Venice. The first event was held in 1895 and was founded to “stimulate a new contemporary art market”. It is now one of the biggest, most anticipated, dates in the art world.

The 55th Biennale will be from June 1 until November 24, 2013 when the spotlight will shine on Venice and it’s many venues scattered throughout the watery city. Massimillio Gioni is the curator. There are eight Countries participating for the first time this year : Bahamas, Kingdom of Bahrain, Republic of Kosovo, Kuwait, Maldives, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria, Paraguay. There are 33 Countries with National Pavilions from Argentina to Venezuela. Various prizes are awarded to individual artists and national participants. There are dozens more official and unofficial events held throughout the city.

The theme chosen for the 2013 Biennale is The Encyclopedic Palace. The choice of theme evokes the self-taught Italian-American artist, Marino Auriti who “on November 16, 1955 filed a design with the US Patent office depicting his Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace), an imaginary museum that was meant to house all worldly knowledge, bringing together the greatest discoveries of the human race, from the wheel to the satellite. Auriti’s plan was never carried out, of course, but the dream of universal, all-embracing knowledge crops up throughout history, as one that eccentrics like Auriti share with many other artists, writers, scientists, and prophets who have tried – often in vain – to fashion an image of the world that will capture its infinite variety and richness. These personal cosmologies, with their delusions of omniscience, shed light on the constant challenge of reconciling the self with the universe, the subjective with the collective, the specific with the general, the individual with the culture of her time.” Massimillio Gioni envisions “a reflection on the ways in which images have been used to organize knowledge and shape our experience of the world.”

There are two principal venues which house the art and installations; the Giardini.
and the Arsenale.

The Giardini has been a public space since the time of Napoleon when it was drained to create an alternative public space to the ancient and traditional main square of Saint Mark with it’s imposing basilica and many cafes.

Inside the Giardini grounds you will find the main pavilion and 29 National pavilion that are constructed by individual countries to showcase their artists work. These permanent structures convey a century’s worth of architectural style beginning with Belgians 1907 construction and spanning to Italy’s most recent extension to the central pavilion space in 2010.

The Arsenale was once the seat of Venice’s naval power, dating back to the second century. Serving as a shipbuilding and artillery center from the eleventh century until the time of Napoleon. It was of such importance that Dante made mention of it in the Inferno and Galileo served as an advisor. The site has been used for the Biennale since 1980 and now encompasses 50,000 square meters of exhibition space. The most recent renovations linked the Arsenale with the Giardini with a new bridge. Here you will find live performances as well as exhibition space.

Preparation and planning are the key to making the most of La Biennale, with its multitudes of art and events and people. Consult websites such as the Art Newspaper (, Artforum ( and Flashart ( as dates draw closer. The Christies App designed for the 2011 biennale, has downloadable maps of the all of venues, and in addition expert tips for nearby restaurants and cafes. Keep your eyes open for the ArtWorld guide. It is a free pocket guide to the exhibitionsfilled with participating artists’ favorite bars, restaurants and other off beat picks.

If you’re visiting Venice when the Biennale is not in session, you can still see many of the works that have been featured in past expositions. Visit the Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Grande, where you can see displays of past exhibits and Biennale catalogues. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, located in a grand villa in the Dorsoduro neighborhood, has many contemporary works that have been featured in past Biennales.

Whatever your thoughts on contemporary art, if you’ve in Venice through November, you should consider exploring at least some of the festivals offerings, whether it’s to reinforce your thinking that modern art is frivolous and/or inaccessible, or to celebrate artistic renderings in all their high-concept abstraction and manifestation.

Watch this space as the date draws closer for details on artists as well as dance, theater and music biennale events. You can preview information on the official Biennale site now.

Other important dates to note
The 70th Venice Film Festival 20 August – 7 September 2013

Post By Priscila Siano (321 Posts)

+Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She's a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients.

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