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 59th Venice Biennale, postponed because of the pandemic, represents the first mass gathering of the art crowd in well over two years. It is curated by Cecelia Alemani under her theme of The Milk of Dreams – taken from a children’s book by surrealist Leonora Carrington. Alemani set out to conjure a magical world where life can be made better, where “everyone can change, be transformed, become something or something else.” This theme of metamorphosis has been reflected in installations and exhibits which span the main exhibition spaces of the Arsenale and the Giardini.
Ireland is represented at Venice 2022 in “Gather” by artist Niamh O’Malley, curated by the Temple Bar Gallery + Studios Curatorial Team, Cliodhna Shaffrey and Michael Hill. O’Malley uses steel, limestone, wood and glass in tall free-standing sculptures and her exhibition is a call to gather, inviting both movement and touch – her sculptures not only offer protection but invite the viewer to touch, hold and caress surfaces.
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. Regular attendees include Leonardo DiCaprio, Elton John (who has a home there), Pia Getty, Charlotte Stockade and power brokers such as Miuccia Prada and Larry Gargosian, who plan their days around the three-day opening ceremony vernissages or 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 “Human Brains: It Begins with an Idea” at the Fondazione Prada, or Anselm Kiefer at the Palazzo Ducal – both show-stopping. Do check in at Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, both owned by Kering head honcho and Christie’s owner, Francois Pinault.
Notable by their absence is, of course, the Russian oligarch contingent – Roman Abramovich’s megayacht was a familiar sight in the Canale di San Marco, while his ex-wife and art collector Dasha Zhukova has not shown up. Someone who did – via video link – was President Zelensky, who gave an address organised by the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kyiv. Poignantly he said, “There are no tyrannies that would not try to limit art because they can see the power of art. Art can tell the world things that cannot be shared otherwise. It is art that conveys feelings. If you are free yourself, how can you understand other people who fight for their freedom? If you live in a country at peace, how can you feel with those who can only dream of peace and can help them? How can you thank those that fought on their soil but for your freedom? Every single one of these questions is about art. I am sure the exhibition will allow people to feel what it means for Ukraine to defend Ukraine. Support this fight with your art but also support with with your words and influence.”
Where to Stay: If you want to blow the budget on baroque splendour, Palazzo Venart boasts original frescoes and a two-Michelin star restaurant. Think of Venetian decor 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. Trinny Woodall visited Venice over Easter and lists her favourite dining spots on Instagram (@trinnywoodall).
What to Read: The Unfinished Palazzo, Life, Love and Art in Venice by Judith Mackrell (Thames & Hudson), is great on background information. It tells the stories of Marchesa Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse (nee 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. Of course, you will visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection where “Surrealism and Magic: Enchanted Modernity” is on until September 26. This exhibition plunges into the theme of the Biennale and explores the movement’s fascination with the mythical and occult and features all the big names – Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Leonora Carrington and Andre Masson.
Photograph by Robyn Lea for Venetian Chic
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 Celine 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 (2764, San Marco 2764).
NEED TO KNOW: The Biennale runs until November 27. Aer Lingus operates flights to Venice, as does Ryanair. Create your own Venezia Unique Pass (www.veneziaunica.it) which allows access to museums, churches and public transport. A Chorus Pass (www.chorusvenezia.org) allows access to Venice’s churches; Santa Maria dei Miracoli is a standout.
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