Venice Biennale 2019 – Some Context

I recently visited the 2019 Venice Biennale. This is the second time I’ve been and it struck me that to people in the art world, it’s bloody obvious what it is, but to everyone else, not necessarily so. So I thought I would write a few lines of context.

001 What is it?

The biggest visual arts festival in the world. It happens every two years in Venice, with work on show from May to November. During the 2017 Biennale, 615,000 people visited. Visual arts means – painting, sculpture, performance art, video art and everything else inbetween.

002 Who takes part?

Hundreds of artists from all over the world. There is so much art on show you could spend a month there and still not see it all.

003 How does it all happen?

There is a range of ways that artists can participate, bear with me on this.

– Firstly there are two large shows of multiple different artists work – one area is in the Arsenale, an old shipbuilders warehouse and the other area is in the Central Pavilion at the Giardini. Each year a different curator is in charge of setting a title and selecting works to go in these shows. This year the title of these shows is ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ , and they have been curated by Ralph Rugoff.

– Secondly countries can nominate artists to represent them in national ‘pavilions’. Do not let the word pavilion fool you, these are not gazebos, or wooden sheds next to cricket pitches. In the case of countries that have permanent pavilions, these are large permanent buildings with striking architecture. Think big ancient-style columns (GB and Greece), mosaics (Hungary), minimal scandi lines (unsurprisingly the shared paviliion belonging to Sweden, Norway and Finland) and more. The point is they’re big and permanent and each year get taken over by a different artist or group of artists. These permanent pavilions are also in the Giardini area.

– Thirdly countries without a permanent pavilion can also take part. They may be given Pavilion space within the Arsenale complex, or they may adopt a building elsewhere in the city of Venice. Countries take space in all manner of incredible Palazzos and other spaces dotted around the city. The great thing about these pavilions is that you often get to check out incredible buildings at the same time and they are free!

– Last but not least, artists or gallerists may also take space throughout the city to show their work, without being part of a national representation. Lots of these are free too, but not always.

004 So how do tickets work?

You need a ticket to see the work on show in the Arsenale complex and Giardini complex.  In 2019 the basic ticket was 25 Euros and this gives one entry to each complex, within a 3 day period.

Most of the National Pavilions and many of the independent shows dotted around the city are free.

005 So what was the 2019 Biennale all about?

You can read all about with plenty of pictures in the following posts:

– May You Live in Interesting Times – Proposition A

– Arsenale Pavilions

– Giardini Pavailions

– May You Live in Interesting Times – Proposition B