Last weekend I had two major firsts – it was the first time I travelled to Italy and it was my first ever Venice Biennale which is one of the world’s biggest international art exhibition. Because the Biennale runs until November, I figured that there would be plenty of visitors interested to gain tips and advice for the Venice Biennale!
I decided to go with check-in luggage only so that I can quickly whiz in and out of the airport. Visiting during the warmer months meant breezy clothes and therefore light packing.
I booked my accommodation within a 10-15 walking distance to the Arsenale which is one of the major pavilions along side the Giardini parklands. I was also within reasonable walking distance to the other pavilions located around Palazzo San Marco, Campo San Stefano, even L’Accademia. If you look at the map, it was not exactly the centre of Venice but for the purposes of maximising my time at the Biennale, it was perfect. I spent one day covering the west of Venice, another day covering the East, another day covering the South and so on.
Should you buy a one day or a two day pass? You probably don’t want to find yourself rushing through the exhibits. I went for a one day pass which needed a slightly quicker pace than having a two-day one but it’s do-able and not a mindrush like Art Basel, Design Miami and Unlimited in one afternoon (my brain was swimming at the end). It’s also worth being a bit organised and pre-purchasing your tickets as the lines will not be as long and that means less time queue-shifting in the sun.
Planning and scheduling the Venice Biennale
If it’s your first time in Venice or even in the Biennale, it’s a good idea to either dedicate one day just for the Arsenale and/or Giardini pavilions (if you show up early) and then the rest on exploring the exhibitions around the city. It’s a good way to plan your day especially as you’ll be spending a bit of time walking around town!
I don’t usually plan what I intend to do each day and decided to plan after I land. For this trip it has worked quiet well where I decided to combine Venice exploring with pavilion and Biennale exhibition hunting outside the Arsenale and Giardini and on my last day, I decided to use that to go to two main Biennale venues. However keep in mind that that most of the Biennale is closed on Monday and pavilions close at 6pm.
If you’re new to Venice and the Biennale, 4-5 days should be enough time. I spent the first 1-2 days getting used to the new landmarks while looking for the pavilions and exhibitions spaces and then after had a really good bearing to my surroundings.
A Tote for That
You’ll be picking up plenty collateral – some will be wafer thin, others in the form of A3 posters and others (my favourite!) will be binded like books. I had a shoulder bag that was big enough for an A3 envelope where I collected various pieces of collateral.
After going through the Arsenale and just before the exit, there is a gift shop with a really nice Italian who gave me a couple of free pencils ;) along with the Biennale guide book. Try to pick up the guide book as it is an excellent source of information about the work without finding yourself huddled with a group of people in front of signage trying to read 10pt font in possibly poor lighting! A number of works have very interesting background information to it so it’s worth reading through these artist statements. You can also pick up a map of Biennale locations at the Marco Polo airport near the vaporetto ticket machines.
Do you doc(ument)?
I admit that I am one of those people who are most likely clutching an iPhone and ready to take photos. I do it both for documenting my personal experience of the show and to also document certain aspects of the exhibition that will not be in the guidebook but will still be of interest to me such as documenting how the works were installed and set up, or documenting how a piece looks in relation to its location and even in relation to the viewer. Having the Biennale guide book definitely helps in connecting the photos or notes together.
Leave your thoughts by the door
Along with various event collateral, a number of desks will also host books which you can leave your pawprint on. These range from a simple salutation right through to quick statement. Even with the proliferation of social media and sharing, it is nice to be able to leave a remark there and then and even sneak a quick peak to see what others have said.
Let’s Go Italia
Now there are also certain other things to think about considering the destination – from deciding which transport to choose from, which phrases to note if you are not versed in the language, which tourist traps to avoid or dive into willingly like downing a prosecco at Palazzo San Marco. There are a number of other guides and resources to check out to prepare yourself and it will also depend on when you go and how long you will be there. Hopefully this short guide to the Venice Biennale is of use to you and enjoy this year’s esposizione internazionale d’arte!