All You Need To Know About The Venice Biennale


So much art, so little time. The only way to navigate the VENICE BIENNALE is with INSIDER INFORMATION 



Along with so much else – gondolas, Bellinis, Madonna’s Like A Virgin video – Venice is synonymous with art. In its golden age it produced the painters Titian and Tintoretto, and the legacy continues to this day: every two years, the international art crowd descends on La Serenissima to savour cutting-edge visual art. The 57th Venice Biennale is curated by Christine Macel, (of Musée D’Art Moderne at the Pompidou), with 120 artists participating under her theme of Viva Arte Viva. Macel’s idea is to emphasise the artist’s role in society. “In a world full of conflicts and jolts, in which humanism is being seriously jeopardised, art is the most precious part of the human being,” she believes. If art tourism is a rising trend, in Venice during the Biennale it’s the social side of art collecting that is most visible, especially amongst the A-list. After all, the art you own is shorthand for your character and net worth. Attendees include Leonardo DiCaprio, Elton John (who has a home there), Pia Getty, Charlotte Stockdale and power brokers such as Miuccia Prada and Larry Gargosian, who plan their days around the three-day opening ceremony vernissages for pop-up shows and artists at the “fab four” hotels – the Cipriani, Daniele, Gritti and Bauer. Main conversation points are: what did you see today and what did you like? Make sure you have an opinion and have seen Damien Hirst at the Tadao Ando-designed concrete bunker that is Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, both owned by Kering head honcho and Christie’s owner, Francois Pinault.


Where to stay: If you want to blow the budget on baroque splendour, the recently re-opened Palazzo Venart ( boasts original frescoes and a two-Michelin-star restaurant. Think of Venetian décor in terms of the three D’s – damask, drama and the Doge, you won’t be disappointed at the Ca Maria Adele (Ca Maria Adele, 111 Dorsoduro Venice, Venice 30123). Philippe Starck’s take on a hall of mirrors at PalazzinaG (there are some 286 throughout the hotel) is light-filled and anti-classicist. A Krug champagne lounge on the roof terrace offers sweeping vistas, while the hotel is right beside Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi. (PalazzinaG, Calle Grassi, San Marco. 3247, Venice 30124).


Where to eat: Food is not a strong point in Venice; restaurants can be touristy and expensive. You’ll find the locals at All’Arco (San Polo 1451) which serves cicchetti (small plates) such as the local delicacy baccalà mantecato (salted cod) or at Do Mori (Sestiere San Polo 429) – the oldest wine bar in town, where crostini are washed down with some local prosecco. The elegant Osteria Boccadoro (Campo Widman 5405/a) serves seafood specialties. For pizza, bookmark Antico Forno or Il Refolo.


What to read: The Unfinished Palazzo, Life, Love and Art in Venice by Judith Mackrell (Thames & Hudson), published this month. It tells the stories of Marchesa Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse (née Delevingne) and Peggy Guggenheim, all owners at different times of the Palazzo Venier. Now home to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the palazzo played host to an amazing cast of characters from Cecil Beaton to Yoko Ono, as each owner held forth at parties. Part biography, part social history, it tells the story of how all three women were victims of their wealth, beauty and egoism.


Get the look: Venice is best enjoyed on foot; dress from the feet up with a pair of (comfortable) sandals or furlane from Gianni Dittura (chic gondolier slippers) and an impeccable pedicure. The art crowd favours layered elegance (channel Céline by day) and statement jewellery. For show-stopping vintage Italian jewellery, visit Le Gioie di Bortolo (Campo di San Bartolomeo 5536, San Marco), while Fabio Gatto (Calle de la Mandole, 3799) has a lovely edit of relaxed pieces. Store is much loved for its beautiful leather gloves and top-quality cashmere (Campo San Luca 4269/b, San Marco). Treat yourself to the new Bellini room fragrance from Dr Vranjes (Calle Frezzeria, 1231). In the evening, go for colour and attitude to get you past the velvet rope. Write home on stationery from Il Papiro (San Marco, 2764).

What to see: In previous years, Ireland has been represented by leading lights such as Dorothy Cross and Willie Doherty, and now it’s the turn of Dublin-based Jesse Jones, whose work uses film and performance to explore political currents running between the distant past and the present. For Tremble Tremble she is collaborating with renowned theatre artist Olwen Fouéré to produce a powerful piece that considers the ways in which the law transmits memory between generations and the figure of the witch as a feminist archetype. As well as reflecting a rising tide of social movement in Ireland and beyond – from the Repeal campaign at home to the Women’s Marches across the globe – Tremble Tremble also echoes protests from Italy’s recent history: the title is inspired by the 1970s Italian wages-for-housework movement, during which women chanted “Tremble, tremble, the witches have returned!”. That linking of political activism to witchcraft fascinated Jones, and the work promises to be richly layered, with a haunting soundscape provided by Susan Stenger. The Irish Pavilion will be housed in the Artiglierie dell’Arsenale. Catch it if you can. CH.

What to know: The Biennale runs from May 13 to November 26. Aer Lingus operates a daily flight to Venice. Create your own Venezia Unica Pass ( which allows access to museums, churches and public transport. A Chorus Pass ( allows access to Venice’s churches; Santa Maria dei Miracoli is a standout.

Penny McCormick

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