Art on the Lagoon

This year for the fifty sixth time the art world meets in Venice for the International Art Exhibition, June 1 until November 24, 2013. 
The Venice Biennale is without rival as the greatest contemporary art event in the world.  No place can touch it as a venue with gondolas, canals, pizzas, and palazzos swinging into action to provide spectacular backdrops for a glitzy event.

The Biennale began in 1895, when it attracted the first Pre-Raphaelites to show on Italian soil. Holman Hunt, Millais and Whistler showed their works to the mild disappointment of the critics. In the early 1900s the exhibits were moved into national pavilions, which have now developed into competitive architectural delights. During the First World War and again for six years after WW2, the Biennale was affected and manipulated by political events. Once Joseph Goebbels attended as Nazi minister for propaganda.  The 1974 Biennale was dominated by a protest against the Pinochet regime in Chili. Global politics continue to be an important part of the event.

In the Fifties the Biennale was dominated by Giacometti, as it was in the early 60s by Robert Rauschenberg. National identities can cause rivalry and political discord which add consternation to the art itself.

I was pleased that Tracey Emin’s one man show in 2007 failed to ‘turn on’ the Biennale. The Biennale can be the apex of an artist’s career, and few artists would turn down the chance to show. It is refreshingly difficult these days for one artist to dominate the show.

My friend Terence tells me that the Biennale parties are like performance art, and are difficult to surpass in a world of high profile extravaganzas.

Sumptuous dinners with 500 guests and top figures of the art world  swigging down prosecco and Bellinis in 17th century palazzos makes La Serenissima a unbeatable art and global phenomenon. Terence was lucky enough to rent a small and inexpensive apartment on the Guidecca.  Normally the city is booked solid and top prices are achieved. The pace of charity events, vernissages, press breakfasts, congratulatory dinners is exhausting and not for the faint hearted.  It can seem like purgatory in 40C (100F) temperature with a melee of dealers, curators, artists, critics, publicists, collectors and hangers-on floating down the canals. There’s plenty of art and fantasy to be viewed from a water taxis or gondolas.

I love La Serenissa but would much rather be there without all the showy-offy art world. Those who love it, adore it and can’t stay away….to each his own.

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  • Venice Biennale