Venice, Italy: Contemporary Art at Biennale


Ascending out of the surrounding lagoon since the 5th century, Venice captivates the senses with its sun-splashed city squares, romantic palazzi, and majestic architecture.  Little has changed on this floating jewel in over 500 years, including the absence of roads and cars. Whether you travel by gondola past historical architecture, or discover hidden gems tucked between narrow alleys, Venice remains one of the world’s most fascinating cities. New discoveries always await in the city’s labyrinthine of over 400 bridges, canals, and narrow alleyways.

In case you need another excuse to visit this magical city, the 53rd Biennale art exhibit  shows until November 22nd.  The largest contemporary art event in the world, the Biennale showcases the work of emerging and long-established artists representing 77 countries.  No other art event in the world allows you to see cutting-edge artists work within centuries-old Italian palaces. Venice buzzes with excitement during Biennale as the entire city is transformed into a beautiful open-air museum. Wandermelon checked out this year’s exhibits: Our first suggestion is to visit after the VIP galas at the beginning of June. Yes, there will still be tourists, but the massive crowds disperse following the openings. Be sure to pace yourself because the sheer breadth of artwork can be overwhelming. If it is your first time to Venice, intersperse the art exhibits with plenty of sightseeing.

Artists are invited to showcase their work in their country’s national pavilion. Some countries occupy the large modernist pavilions in the lush giardini or in the enormous loft-like buildings of the Arsenale, while others find a home in the various palazzi, squares, and open spaces around the city.  Whether you are an art aficionado, or a novice, a trip to Venice during Biennale promises to be an unforgettable experience.


One of the best places to start a tour of the Bienalle is at Giardini. This whimsical public garden on the banks of the Bacino di San Marco was originally created by Napoleon. The historical gardens contain thirty permanent pavilions, each allocated to a particular nation. In the International pavilion, don’t miss Argentine artist Tomas Saraceno’s realistic, giant-size spider web  made out of black elastic ropes. The web is a metaphor for the fragility of the world surrounding us and is titled “Galaxies Forming Along Filaments, Like Droplets Along the Strands of a Spider’s Web”.

Toma Saraceno's Spider Web

Toma Saraceno's Spider Web

In the Dutch pavilion, artist Fiona Tan has three video-installations. Her latest work, “Disorient,” is an audio-visual masterpiece.  Intended to describe a time when Venice was at the center of the world, Tan combines Marco Polo’s descriptions of the city in a dramatic narrative over images of the present. She depicts the inability of the West to understand the East by connecting the 13th-century mercantile power of Venice to Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism.

Those looking for more cheerful work should see “The Collectors” organized by Elmgreen & Dragset for the Danish and Nordic pavilions. Here, actors pretending to be real estate agents take viewers through two houses. One contains a dysfunctional family and the other belongs to a porn-loving gay poet who is floating face-down in the swimming pool.

After a tour of the international pavilion, sip an espresso at the Paradiso Cafe located just outside the gates.  This casual cafe offers breathtaking views in a relaxed setting, just steps from the park. Then  you can stroll through the gardens and take a vaporetto to Punta della Dogana.

Punta Della Dogana

One of the highlights of this year’s festival is the newly opened Punta Della Dogana. Billionaire Francois Pinault hired Japanese architect Tadao Ando to transform a 17th century customs house into Venice’s newest art gallery. The museum shows Pinault’s contemporary art collection in the show “Mapping the Studio.” Curators Francesco Bonami and Alison Gingeras took a selection of Pinault’s vast collection, showing work from artists like Cy Twombly, Jeff Koons, and Mike Kelley.  Visitors will be as impressed by Pinault’s personal art collection as they are by the sublime views of San Marco and Giudecca from inside the museum.

Punta della Dogana

Punta della Dogana

For a midday repast, head to the top of the landmark Danieli hotel located just off Piazza San Marco for lunch or tea. This historic hotel offers one of the best views in Venice. Rather than brave the long line for St Mark’s Basilica, linger at Cafe Florian in San Marco square before venturing out for more art.

U.S. Pavillion
American artist Bruce Nauman’s show, “Topological Gardens,” was awarded the Golden Lion prize for best national participation this year. This multi-part, multi-site installation includes new work by Nauman, including two site-sound installations in two languages — “Days” and “Giorni.”  Nauman also recreated his landmark outdoor neon sign,  “Vices and Virtues,” which extends around the entire perimeter of the U.S. Pavilion.

To celebrate the end of an art-filled day, spoil yourself with a gourmet dinner at Lineadombra. Situated on a large floating outdoor terrace overlooking the Giudecca Canal, this elegant restaurant offers the finest modern cuisine in Venice with spectacular views during sunset. Linger over dinner, and don’t feel pressure to see every exhibit the following day. Visitors can spend a week here during Biennale and only scratch the surface. The key is to absorb the culture, beauty, and history of Venice and then promise to return.

For a complete list of exhibits visit here.  La Biennale in Venice runs from June 7, 2009 – November 22, 2009.

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  1. […] See original here: Venice, Italy: Contemporary Art at Biennale | Wandermelon […]

  2. Venice Travel and Tourist Guide, Italy on October 31, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks for the repost.

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