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How to survive the Venice Biennale, according to the art world

How to survive the Venice Biennale, according to the art world


How to survive the Venice Biennale, according to the art world


Leave the heels at home

Julie Lomax, chief executive, a-n The Artists Information Company, UK, and former visual arts director at Australia Council for the Arts

“The Venice Biennale is often called the Art Olympics; expect your feet to be making a considerable Olympian contribution too. Chances are you’ll clock up 12 months of steps in just one week. Footwear needs to work very hard. Thankfully, trainers are now regulation uniform for art fairs and biennials, and are often seen on stylish museum directors who pair them with a dress by Duro Olowu. They also double up as actual sportswear for early morning runs or hotel gym sessions.”

Be a drifter

Nadim Samman, independent curator and curator of the Antarctic Pavilion, 2015 Venice Biennale

“If you are there for the vernissage, don’t make too many fixed appointments. If you make plans to meet someone in 30 minutes on the other side of Venice, it will take you two hours to get there and they’ll already be somewhere else. Time is like water in La Serenissima: unless you have your own water taxi, it is better to drift. Visit the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, an intimate space filled with a wonderful suite of paintings by Vittore Carpaccio tucked away behind the north-east corner of Basilica di San Marco. You can stop by on your way to the Giardini.”

Dress down and fuel up

Sam Bardaouil, co-curator, United Arab Emirates Pavilion

“Never have breakfast—have an espresso at the bar as it’s quicker and cheaper, and try a tramezzino [Italian finger sandwich] instead of a croissant. Hit the off-site national pavilions and the collateral exhibitions first, as most are empty if you go before noon. Visit the Giardini in the early afternoon; do not go there hungry, eat something on the way. Finish at the Arsenale, where the light from the docks is unbeatable, and you will find yourself closer to restaurants for dinner (and, at the preview, to the parties, if invited). When it comes to dress, think comfort below, style above.”

Don’t forget your umbrella
© Jonathan Ford

Survival kit and a gem

Chrissie Iles, curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

“Make sure you pack an umbrella; the weather is mercurial. Also bring sunscreen and water as the walk between the Arsenale and the Giardini has no shade. Buy a vaporetto pass as soon as you arrive; it’ll work out much cheaper. There are very few cashpoints in Venice, so it’s best to locate them in advance. Don’t expect anything to start or anyone to arrive on time. Relax into the rhythm of the city. And don’t miss one of the most important sculptures in the history of art, The Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs, hiding in plain sight on the exterior of the Basilica di San Marco [on the corner of the wall connecting the church and Palazzo Ducale].”

A few dos and don’ts

Nicholas Cullinan, director, National Portrait Gallery, London

“Do not get a water taxi unless you’re an oligarch. Do get the traghetto (gondola ferry) across the Grand Canal; it costs very little and will save time and your feet. Going to see Cima da Conegliano’s Baptism of Christ (1492) in the church of San Giovanni in Bragora is always a favourite. And anything to do with [the architect] Carlo Scarpa is another favourite—you’re really spoilt for choice in Venice.”

Go ahead, get lost

Edith Devaney, curator, Royal Academy of Arts, London, and co-curator Arshile Gorky: 1904-48 at Ca’ Pesaro

“Seeking out the collateral events provides an excuse to explore less congested parts of the city. Working at the Ca’ Pesaro Gallery of Modern Art, first in 2017 for the Hockney Portraits show and now for the Gorky exhibition, has given me ample opportunity to explore the area around San Stae. It is certainly worth a visit, not only to the see the magnificent Ca’ Pesaro Gallery, but to try the great local restaurants and bars. Nowhere is very far from anywhere in Venice, so I tend to walk. I get lost about ten times a day, but that is all part of the experience.”

Opt out of the opening

Alexie Glass-Kantor, executive director, Artspace, Sydney

“My tip is not to go to the vernissage. Visit Venice in September or October instead, when you can take your time and avoid the mob mentality and snap judgements. If you want to go for the opening, make sure to book accommodation two years in advance. And stay somewhere around the Castello area, so you are central to everything and can make costume changes throughout the day and evening. Furthermore, stay hydrated, practise waving—and continue walking.”


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