How to do the Venice Biennale

21 November 2013 § Leave a comment

Arriving in Venice for the biennale as a newcomer you will no doubt immediately pick up a copy the official biennale ‘map’. You will open it up. And open it again. And again. Flapping in the Mediterranean breeze you will now have the equivalent of about 8 sides of A4 covered with maps and lists of venues and events.

All very intimidating. How, what, where? There will be a temptation to try and rush around, seeing as much as possible. It all looks too much – and then there is Venice to be enjoyed along the way as well. The good news is that its not nearly as complex as it looks and a few simple rules will help you make the most of even a short stay.

1. Avoid the Peak Season. Unless you want to attend opening events try to travel away from peak summer season. Venice is always busy but the biennale will be much quieter September to November and flights and hotels may be cheaper. Don’t forget when you are planning that the biennale closes Mondays.

2. Fly to Venice. Obvious no? Well not really, the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair actually fly to Treviso an hour or so up the road. Instead fly direct to Venice airport. I go BA from Gatwick.

3. Take the Ferry. Also seems obvious, but from Venice airport you could save some money and go by bus to the edge of town, then take a Vaporetto to your hotel. Dont bother. Spend a small amount more and take the Alilaguna ferry from the airport direct to San Marco or Rialto (amongst other destinations). Its quicker and you get a wonderful cruise across the lagoon for free. For convenience buy a return trip and an unlimited pass on the Vaporetti (for the duration of your stay) in the airport terminal.

Alilaguna

4. Book a convenient hotel. Check out the stops for the various airport ferries and book a hotel within a short stroll. All bags need to be carried down the passageways so, unless you get a private boat to your hotel with its own landing stage, travel light! Between the Rialto and San Marco they tend to be pokey and expensive so avoid this area but there is plenty more in districts like San Polo or Castello which are still very convenient. Avoid the Lido unless you have more time and want a beach.

Hotel IQs

Hotel IQs

5. Do the official biennale first. It comprises two main areas. The Giardini (gardens) has the major national pavilions in wooded gardens plus the main curated pavilion and is probably the best for the first day. You will need at least a half day for a good look plus a tea/lunch break. Arsenale, the second main area, is best left for the next day unless you want to go cross-eyed looking at art.

6. Satellite National Pavilions. Dont even think of doing them all! Ask for recommendations, read reviews and search the internet and cut down the list to the best half dozen. The alternative is walking up six flights of stairs in annoyingly remote locations just to find some dismal government sponsored propaganda.

Gavin Turk

Gavin Turk

7. Plan your visits. Although Venice is small it can take longer than you think to get around, especially when Vaporetti (ferries) are involved. It is also very easy to get lost and a 5 minute detour can quickly become half an hour. Map your stops and try and fit in the satellite pavilions en route to the larger attractions.

Marc Quinn Alison Lapper Pregnant

Marc Quinn Alison Lapper Pregnant

8. Its not just the biennale! Major (and minor) galleries take advantage of the biennale to have their own shows, not on the official guide. Again be very careful which ones you put on your schedule and check how long they run. Many only ‘pop up’ for a few weeks.

9. And More. The Venice institutions also put on extra shows. Amongst many don’t miss: Punta della Dogana & Palazzo Grassi (both owned by Christies’ Francois Pinault) with their contemporary exhibitions; The Guggenheim – Peggy’s extraordinary Modernist collection; The Fortuny Palace – a wonderfully diverse collection with a curated show blended in amongst it, all in an extraordinary dream-like location; Gallerie dell’Accademia – pre 19th century masterworks; Ca Rezzonico – museum of 18th century Venice that usually hosts a top contemporary exhibition.

Rudolf Stingel

Rudolf Stingel

10. Add a touch of luxury. Time visits to avoid meals at the Giardini and Arsenale – try local spots nearby. Later escape the crowds and drop in to the smart hotels for some luxurious relaxation time. The Hotel Gritti Palace has a perfect canal-side terrace whilst the roof terrace of the Danieli has breathtaking views. Of course they’re expensive, but you don’t have go wild.

Danieli roof terrace

Danieli roof terrace

There’s lots more of course – but I’ll let you have fun finding out the rest yourselves!

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The Venice Biennale 2013 – The Encyclopaedic Palace

11 November 2013 § 2 Comments

Most reviews of the Venice Biennale are posted soon after its opening in June/July. This is all very well for those writers who enjoy being in a sweaty summertime Venice thronged with tourists and queueing with the crowds to gain access to the most interesting pavilions. True, there are some exhibitions that only ‘pop-up’ for the first month or so of the biennale and naturally all the sleb-studded parties also only happen around opening time but on the whole it is a time I avoid like the plague.

Jeremy Deller

Jeremy Deller

I prefer to let the hubbub settle down and visit later in the year. With the end of the 2013 Biennale on the 24 November there is a big window of opportunity for take a trip during a quieter period when not only is the weather less hot and humid but there are fewer tourists, hotel prices are lower and tables are available at the best Osterias.

Last but not least of course you can take advantage of the prior reviews to plan visits to the best pavilions whilst avoiding the (too-frequent) time-wasting exhibitions in multitudinous back-alleys that you have just walked in circles for 30 minutes trying to find.

Jeremy Deller

Jeremy Deller

In the official Biennale there are, as usual, a plethora of dud pavilions. Surprisingly these include giants like Germany with an OK installation with a maze of interlocking stools by Ai Weiwei and little else, France with Anri Sala pointlessly punning on Ravel/Unravel – geddit? – and the USA where Sarah Sze has filled the pavilion with a student-like mess of bits and pieces.

Bill Culbert

Bill Culbert

Japan had chosen a very neat display of conceptual work from Koki Tanaka featuring collective tasks and collaborative acts in order to examine a new post-tsunami Japanese reality. For example groups of five musicians, writers or potters were asked to create a work together, the process being filmed whils other projects, reminiscent of sixties Ono & Fluxus were perhaps ‘Precarious Tasks #3 Walk from city to its suburbs’.

Koki Tanaka - A piano played by five pianists at once

Koki Tanaka – A piano played by five pianists at once

Vadim Zakharov’s brilliant Russian pavilion has a besuited businessman perched on a high rafter throwing peanut husks upon the public below whilst in the adjacent room gold coins are showered upon the ladies (only!) below who prolong the golden shower by collecting the coins in to a bucket which is raised – by another suited gent – and emptied on to a conveyor belt. A perpetual cycle of greed and exploitation is completed by the willing participants.Russian Pavilion

Jeremy Deller however has stolen the Giardini ‘show’ with ‘English Magic’. He cleverly weaves together truly diverse aspects of British society to create a witty and topical vision of one version of a national mythology. Amongst a number of threads Prince Harry’s appalling shooting of two rare hen harriers is revisited with a giant bird carrying off a passing Land Rover whilst Abramovich’s obscene yacht is cast in to the Venetian lagoon by Willaim Morris. There is of course a Deller trademark tea room – the ‘TEA’ spelt out in palaeolithic arrowheads – seeming much more relevant in an international location where it’s Britishness is self-evident.

Walter de a Maria

Walter de a Maria

The central Giardini pavilion and the Arsenale meanwhile I found to be rather a mess. The attempt to illustrate the thematic Encyclopaedic Palace  coming a cropper with a confusion of self-taught and outsider artists alongside more conventional names – big and small.

Iraqi Pavilion

Iraqi Pavilion

Elsewhere around town the exhibits from Iraq, Ireland & Cyprus, Wales, Lithuania and Angola stand out from the multitude. Rudolph Stingel is worth seeing at the Palazzo Grassi where he has carpeted almost every inch of the walls and floor with oriental rugs. Buy a twin ticket for the other Pinault exhibition at the Punta della Dogana. The wonderland of the Palazzo Fortuny is always worth a visit – this time with an Anton Tapies exhibition.

Rudolf Stingel

Rudolf Stingel

There is much more of course whilst watching over the whole event from its waterfront perch on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore is the giant pink inflatable sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant by Marc Quinn. Eye-catching and impressive.

Marc Quinn Alison Lapper Pregnant

Marc Quinn Alison Lapper Pregnant

best of the 2011 biennale – iraqi pavilion wounded water

18 November 2011 § Leave a comment

Back from the 54th Venice biennale, but with only a couple of weeks until it closes on the 27 November it is superfluous to try to write any sort of comprehensive reviews. So – for what it’s worth – in the next few blogs I will attempt to pick out some highlights and places of interest that may have some future relevance.

Amongst the collateral events which take place alongside the official biennale of the Giardini and Arsenale are literally dozens of assorted National, gallery and artist pavilions. House in a variety palaces, attics or semi-derelict houses they are a fascinating addition to the, relatively, big name and big money offerings of the main event. It is very much a hit and miss affair but there are always gems which appear amongst the largely uninspiring exhibits from the likes of Central Asia, Andorra and Iran.

This years outstanding ‘Collateral’ (the biennale’s word, not mine) pavilion was for me the Iraqi Wounded Water (Acqua Ferita) exhibition. Tucked away in a side road behind the Arsenale it occupies a small run-down canal-side property. Six artists have combined to produce a consistently high quality of work. All have drawn strongly upon the recent sad history of the country to produce powerful and meaningful work.

Ahmed Alsoudani is the biggest name. His recent successful exhibition at Haunch of Venison cementing his reputation. Untitled  2011 with a tortured and broken figure above a similarly tortured Arabic motif is the stand-out work here.

Others include Adel Adibin with a clever video of two suited businessman fighting with fluorescent tube light-sabres. Walid Siti rips a hole in a giant copy of an Iraqi banknote to bring to life the featured beauty spot – now tainted. Ali Asaf creates his own version of the Narcissus myth Narciso – he observes not the reflection of himself but detritus of the city as it drifts beneath his gaze.

Azid Nanakeli and Halim al Karim also feature. All deserve a bright and successful future after this excellent collaboration.

to the venice biennale

1 November 2011 § Leave a comment

With the risk of sounding smug, have escaped the fireworks and trick-or treaters for a week in everyones favourite city, Venice. Here is an image from the amazing Guggenheim, Peggy Guggenheim‘s former canalside home, which houses one of the world’s great collection of modernist art – looking out as no photos are allowed of the inside! Have also added an image of one of the highlights – the surrealist masterpiece  Attirement of the Bride by Max Ernst – I wont even start an analysis of its various interpretations – make up some of your own.

No blogs for therefore for the next week (I know I could blog from here but….) and will send an update when Im back. Hope you dont miss me too much!

Ciao 

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