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Art and City: Venice

Floating city as an equivocal arena

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Introduction

Day One: the Giardini

Day Two: the Arsenale

Day Three: collateral exhibitions

Day Four and beyond: other art spaces

Canaletto, A Regatta on the Grand Canal, 1697 - 1768

Inspiring William Shakespeare in the late 16th century to write the play, “The Merchant of Venice” (published in 1600), the Italian city Venice is loved and visited by many people from all over the world. The city of Venice is built on a lagoon and is home to around 118 islands separated by canals and linked by some 400 bridges. Although no recorded historical evidence exists, it is agreed among experts that original residents of Venice were refugees from neighboring Roman cities.

This edition of the Art and City curation series will explore Venice in relation to art, but in the context of Venice Biennale 2022, offering highlights from main exhibition venues, collateral events around the city, and other exhibitions showing during the biennale. Afterall, Venice can’t be talked about without mentioning the biennale as its history goes back to the first inauguration in 1895, making it the oldest biennale in the world.

Besides all things art, the curation will also suggest places to take moments of peace between exhibitions so you can feed your body as well as your soul with art.

* A biennale is a large scale international exhibition that occurs every two years. Find out more about biennales via eazel categories.

No other biennales around the world has the deepest connection with the city they are held in than Venice Biennale. Proposed on April 19, 1893, and realized two years later in 1895, the first ever Venice Biennale took place to celebrate the silver anniversary of King Umberto and Margherita of Savoy. Riccardo Selvatico, the mayor at the time, was committed to produce the most prestigious international art exhibition of all time.

Venice Biennale has always reflected the importance of creating art in parallel to the world we live in. The latest edition titled The Milk of Dreams curated by Cecilia Alemani is not an exception, which re-interpret and examine the contemporary within the context of surrealism and artists inspired by the movement.

Water taxis seen from Ponte dell'Accademia

There are several options to reach the city center of Venice (Piazzale Roma) from Marco Polo airport: Bus no. 5, ATVO blue bus, vaporetto (water bus), taxi or water taxi. To continue to the rest of the lagoon after arriving at Piazzale Roma you only have two options: water taxi and vaporetto.

Venice is a very small city and it is easy to get around, and exploring the city on foot is highly recommended to get to know the winding streets, as the walk from one end of the city to the other can easily be done in under an hour. Not all vaporetto stops will have ticket machines, but you can buy them onboard so make sure you do to avoid any fines!

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Landmarks

1.

Venice Marco Polo Airport

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Santa Lucia Train Station

3.

Ponte di Rialto

4.

Piazza San Marco

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Ponte dell’Accademia

Biennale Main Venues

Food/Drinks

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Serra dei Giardini

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Nevodi

Venice Art Biennale 2022

Cosima von Bonin, WHAT IF THEY BARK 01-07

The 59th edition of Venice Art Biennale is curated by an Italian curator Cecilia Alemani, with the title The Milk of Dreams. After a year of postponement, it opened its doors to the public in April 2022, and will continue to welcome art lovers and passerbys until the end of November 2022. For those who have not been to a Venice Biennale, this curation hopes to provide a guideline to navigate the biggest international art exhibition in the world; as well as sharing insight with regular art exhibition goers with Eazel's take on the biennale.

The title of the exhibition is taken from a Leonora Carrington’s surrealistic book that describes a magical world where everything can transform with endless possibilities. Just the thought of much freedom to change into whatever one desires perhaps comes at the right time where the society feels much constrained and prejudicial; whether these are caused by ageism, racism, or sexism.

The exhibition is in the Central Pavilion of the Giardini, and the Arsenale complex; with five smaller “Historical Capsules” dotted around within the exhibition. Official national pavilions are also spread out between the Giardini and the Arsenale; other national pavilions and exhibitions can be found all over Venice during the period of biennale.

Day One: the Giardini

Simone Leigh, installation view in the Giardini, at the U.S. Pavilion

The traditional site of Venice Biennale Art Exhibitions since the first edition in 1895 is the Giardini, which were made by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century. In the first edition, more than 200,000 visited the site, and the popularity encouraged more pavilions to be built for other nations from 1907, in addition to the already existing Central Pavilion. The Giardini now host 29 pavilions of countries, some of them designed by well-known architects such as Alvar Aalto (Finland), Delano & Aldrich (U.S.), Josef Hoffmann (Austria), and Gerrit Rietveld (the Netherlands).

Andra Ursuţa, Half-Drunk Mummy, 2020

Andra Ursuţa’s vibrant and prominent sculptures made with lead crystal are spread out in a rather large room with Rosemarie Trockel’s works on the wall. The sculptures ground their presence with distinctive shapes, yet with the choice of colors, their edges are softened - setting a strong yet calm mood to the room. The familiar yet unsettling sculptures question what normality is in the context of body politics, and ever evolving technology that aids humans to freely form their bodies as they wish.

Cecilia Vicuña, installation view in the central pavilion, in the Giardini

Cecilia Vicuña shows both installation and paintings in the room with paintings by Merikokeb Berhanu and sculptures by Mrinalini Mukherjee. Vicuña’s delicate installation was inspired by the concept of shipwreck, and made with materials such as ropes, strings, nets and bits of plastic. The hanging installation in the middle of the room offers an extra layer to all the works around the walls, constantly reminding the viewer of the result of neglecting our environment.

Jana Euler, Great White Fear, 2019-2021 and a detail view of 111 ceramic shark sculptures

Jana Euler’s kaleidoscopic painting with 111 small sculptures of sharks with their mouths wide open gives out distorted and contradictory images. Sharks are familiar to us through the media, but a very small number of humans ever have direct encounters with them. Making one of the most feared ocean creatures, great white sharks, into a tiny and almost adorable style through application of surrealist techniques and expressing in abstraction, Euler diminishes the idea of danger associated with sharks.

Serra dei Giardini

Giardini in English language translates to gardens, and the biennale venue, the Giardini, is located in the middle of the public park. If you schedule the visit to the biennale so everything is seen by mid-afternoon, beautiful low level sun-ray hit the windows of Serra dei Giardini, near by. It offers coffees and cold drinks, and most importantly a moment of tranquility away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city.

There is also a gem of a restaurant on Sestiere Castello called Nevodi - you won’t miss it, it is the busiest eatery on the street -, if a good wine menu and local fresh food in friendly and buzzing environment is more of a preference.

Day Two: the Arsenale

Francesco Guardi, The Arsenal, 1755-60

The Arsenale was a huge complex of construction sites where the Serenissima fleets were built, representing political and military power of the city. Since 1980 the Arsenale has become an exhibition site of Venice Biennale on the occasion of the 1st International Architecture Exhibition. Later on, the same spaces were used during the Art Exhibitions. It now hosts some national pavilions and shows the main exhibition of the art biennale with bars and restaurants dotted around in the complex.

Simone Leigh, Brick House, 2019

Corderie building in the Arsenale complex hosts the other half of the main exhibition, The Milk of Dreams, and the last two "Historical Capsules" out of five. The entrance of the exhibition welcomes the visitor with Simone Leigh’s sculpture in the middle and Belkis Ayón’s works all around the wall, creating a matriarchal space which feels surreal and imaginary.

Ruth Asawa, installation view in the Arsenale

Ruth Asawa’s hanging installation is in one of the “Historical Capsules” titled A leaf, a gourd, a shell, a net, a bag, a shoulder strap, a saddlebag, a bottle, a pot, a box, a container. As the very long yet literal title suggests, the section is full of artworks that are inspired by tools used by the civilization for provision of sustenance and care: bags, shells, and weaved baskets among others. The enclosed section in the middle of the exhibition provides an area where everyday intellectual ideas are supported and fostered, relieving the viewer from what can be a toxic masculine society.

Felipe Baeza, Fragments, refusing totality and wholeness (detail), 2021

Felipe Baeza’s large-scale paintings and smaller works are hung on the wall side by side with Myrlande Constant’s glass bead works on the left and Pinaree Sanpitak’s powerful colored works in red, gold and black. Although the larger works are impressive with their overwhelming presence that represent rigorousness in subtle and tireless work ethics, Baeza’s smaller works are unmissable with delicate attention to detail.

Precious Okoyomon, To See the Earth Before the End of the World (detail), 2022

Precious Okoyomon’s immersive and site-specific work is made up of their sculptures, natural elements such as soil, wild plants, and butterfly models. Amongst the plants is kudzu (native to Asia), which was brought to the US to provide protection against erosion of soil in Mississippi; although the fast growing weed-like vine became invasive and spread all over the southeastern part of the country. For Okoyomon, this is a metaphor that stimulates discussions about politics of ecology, colonization, and slavery.

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Collateral Events

1.

Palazzo Vendramin Grimani

2.

Palazzo Cavanis

3.

Procuratie Vecchie in Piazza San Marco

Other Exhibitions

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Docks Cantieri Cucchini

Day Three: collateral events

Chun Kwang Young, installation view of Times Reimagined at the Palazzo Contarini Polignac, Venice

Collateral events during the biennale is a well established tradition, where exhibitions run in parallel with the main exhibitions. Dotted around the city, varying in scale and medium, there are a total of 30 collateral exhibitions, including exhibitions by Alberta Whittle, Bosco Sodi, Chun Kwang Young, Claire Tabouret, and Louise Nevelson among many others.

Bosco Sodi, installation view of What Goes Around Comes Around at the Palazzo Vendramin Grimani, Venice

Bosco Sodi’s What Goes Around Comes Around at Palazzo Vendramin Grimani is in neither a white cube setting nor in the public sphere. Sodi’s simple (by material), yet complex (by the creative process) works are impossible to repeat as they are dotted around the unique reminiscence of the ancient Grimani family. The space with a 500-year history was until recently a yet another run-down palazzo in Venice, until five friends renovated it, which took two years of restoration.

Claire Tabouret, installation view of I am spacious, singing flesh at the Palazzo Cavanis, Venice

At Palazzo Cavanis is Claire Tabouret’s I am spacious, singing flesh, offering a chance to see an unmissable survey of a body of work that questions an array of issues including, identity, self and other, and refuge. The palazzo offers an understated interior perfect for Tabouret’s powerful dialogues between social crises and our environment, as well as a subtle poignancy in the garden where the sculptures are installed.

Louise Nevelson, installation view of Persistence at the Procuratie Vecchie, Venice

To mark the 60th anniversary of Louise Nevelson’s participation in the 31st Venice Biennale in 1962, an exhibition titled Persistence is presented at Procuratie Vecchie in Piazza San Marco. Much like Nevelson’s works, the exhibition space is one of the assemblage of three connecting buildings. Taking up an entire corner of the second floor, the exhibition included over 60 works made between the 1950s and the 1980s. The installation shows Nevelson’s persistence in determination to her work ethics in creating aesthetics that are organic and authentic, which is still relevant for the context of contemporary art dialogue.

Caffè Florian

If you need a little coffee and something sweet after taking in Louise Nevelson’s exhibition, across San Marco is one of Europe’s oldest cafés, Caffè Florian. Opened by Floriano Francesconi in 1720, it was the only public place where women were able to be served. Classical music is played live while coffee and sweets are served while the sun shines on San Marco. In the area are also other exhibitions by Anselm Kiefer at Palazzo Ducale or Katharina Grosse at Espace Louis Vuitton.

Alberta Whittle, installation view of deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory at Scotland + Venice, Venice

Alberta Whittle’s powerful video work is a must see at Docks Cantieri Cucchini under the exhibition title deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory. The location is closer to the Arsenale and the Giardini, so it is recommended to visit here leaving some spare time after the main exhibitions. Addressing colonialism, racism and police brutality against racially profiled groups of people, the exhibition exposes what to some people are uncomfortable truths of agonizing reality for those who are subjects of such destruction.

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Food/Drinks

1.

Terrazza Aperol

2.

Beccafico Guna Restaurant

Day Four and beyond: other art spaces

Anselm Kiefer, installation view of These writings, when burned, will finally cast a little light at the Sala dello Scrutinio, Palazzo Ducale, Venice

Besides the official collateral events, there are other exhibitions around the city, including Anselm Kiefer at the Palazzo Ducale. If you have more than one day to spare for exhibitions outside of the biennale, it is recommended that you enjoy them in small areas at leisure. Exhibitions introduced in this chapter are located across Venice, so check our maps to plan your visit.

Lara Fluxà, installation view of Llim, at the Catalonia in Venice, Venice

Neighboring Alberta Whittle’s exhibition is Lara Fluxà’s site specific installation Llim - an organism created by the artist. The impressiveness of the project comes from the feeding of the organism with water that is supplied with a hydraulic pump from the surrounding canal. Using glass as a substantial portion of the body signifies the aquatic life in Venice; it acts both as protector from water, as well as offering openness with the clarity of the material.

Marlene Dumas, installation view of Open-End, at Palazzo Grassi, Venice

Located near Ponte dell’Accademia, Peggy Guggenheim Collection is showcasing, Surrealism and Magic: Enchanted Modernity (Apr 9 - Sep 26, 2022), including works by Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, and Remedios Varo, in a timely manner aligned with Venice Biennale 2022.

Nearby is François Pinault Collection occupying two buildings - Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana - where Marlene Dumas’ Open-End is showing (Mar 27 2022 - Jan 8 2023), presenting over 100 works of paintings and drawings from 1984 until recent years, including never seen before works.

Adagio Caffè & Wine Bar

Crossing Ponte dell’Accademia from the south to the north side, passing Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello (a music school), you will come to Campo Santo Stefano where refreshing Aperol spritz can be had at Terrazza Aperol and a couple of doors down, a local restaurant Beccafico Guna sources their ingredients mostly from Sicily. There is also a café/bar a few minutes away called Adagio, where staff are friendly with good wine and fresh cicchetti (small plates of food).

Exterior of Ocean Space, Venice

Ocean Space is one of the latest additions to the Venice art scene, which is located in the Church of San Lorenzo. Opening its door to the public in 2019, with the exhibition by Joan Jonas during much of the 58th edition of Venice Biennale. After having been closed for 100 years, the monumental building full of history now welcomes visitors with annual programs during spring through autumn. Dieno Seshee Bopape with three channel immersive video works, and Diana Policarpo’s installation of multimedia are showing at the moment (Apr 9 - Oct 2, 2022).

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Wu Tsang, installation view of Of Whales (2022), in the Arsenale

The city surrounded by water with its history starting with refugees as a result of colonization, there is no other work from Venice Biennale 2022 that is more appropriate than Wu Tsang’s Of Whales to close this edition of Art and City curation. Inspired by the complex nature of the ocean as a symbol of the unknown, the site specific installation is a reflection of contemporary society as an equivocal arena for unanswered questions from violence of colonization.

Venice is truly an unique city, with nowhere else like it in the world, and the biennale surely adds an interesting dimension to the place. So, if you haven’t planned your summer holiday yet, it is a great opportunity to time travel to the Renaissance with a contemporary twist. If a slightly cooler climate is preferred, Venice Biennale 2022 is on view until November 27, 2022.

Artwork image credits: Canaletto, A Regatta on the Grand Canal, 1697 - 1768. The National Gallery, London; Cosima von Bonin, WHAT IF THEY BARK 01-07 © Cosima von Bonin; Andra Ursuţa, Half-Drunk Mummy, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong; Cecilia Vicuña in the Giardini; Jana Euler, Great White Fear, 2019-2021 and a detail view of 111 ceramic shark sculptures. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Neu, Berlin; Serra dei Giardini; Francesco Guardi, The Arsenal, 1755-60. The National Gallery, London; Simone Leigh, Brick House, 2019. Courtesy of the artist; Ruth Asawa in the Arsenale. Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York, London, Paris, and Hong Kong; Felipe Baeza, Fragments, refusing totality and wholeness (detail), 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Maureen Paley, London; Precious Okoyomon, To See the Earth Before the End of the World (detail), 2022.

Artwork image credits continued: Courtesy of the artist; Chun Kwang Young, Installation view of Times Reimagined. © CKY Studio; Bosco Sodi, Installation view of What Goes Around Comes Around. Courtesy of the artist; Claire Tabouret, Installation view of I am spacious, singing flesh. Courtesy of the artist and Almine Rech; Louise Nevelson, Installation view of Persistence. Courtesy of the artist; Alberta Whittle, Installation view of deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory. Courtesy of the artist and Scotland + Venice; Anselm Kiefer, Installation view of These writings, when burned, will finally cast a little light. Courtesy of the artist; Lara Fluxà, Installation view of Llim. Courtesy of the artist; Marlene Dumas, Installation view of Open-End. © Palazzo Grassi. Photo: Marco Cappelletti with Filippo Rossi; Wu Tsang, Installation view of Of Whales (2022), in the Arsenale. Courtesy of the artist.

* For the images with no credit: © eazel