I love you. I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot, but it’s true. I’m deeply in love with you. And it happens again and again every time I have the chance to visit you. Thankfully there are lots of opportunities that work as an excuse to come to you every year or at least every other year. For me this excuse is the Venice Biennale. Recently I’m happy to say that I’ve never missed one of these grand exhibitions about art and culture. The pandemic in hindsight was only able to postpone the event for another year but still the exhibition wasn’t cancelled altogether, it was just delayed. So 2022 was the year to go to Venice again.
1/100, f/18, ISO 200, 46 mm, Lumix DMC-GX8
Usually my preferred travel time to Venice is in early autumn, late September, maybe early October. The main reason for this rather late date are mainly two things: First it’s all about the weather. During summer Venice can be quite brutal in terms of heat. And in the end looking at pieces of art all day long can be quite demanding in itself, so feeling comfortable in an appropriate climate helps a lot to enjoy these wonderful works. Second are the people. During spring and summer there are just way too many of them. In this regard Venice is really suffering from a difficult disease. It’s dying from within. There are way too many tourists and way too little native inhabitants. Recently I’ve again read a disturbing number at the famous Farmacia Morelli which hinted to the exact number of just 49917 inhabitants left in Venice. There’s a red LED screen right at the bottom of one of its shopping windows presenting the number to everyone who’s passing by and working as a threatening reminder. This number is from September 2022. On the other hand no one really seems to able to count the number of tourists coming to Venice often just for a couple of hours. Most of them just use the city as a welcome excuse to leave their all inclusive cruise ships.
So regarding that rather late date usually all I have to say about the Venice Biennale, the works of art, the artists and the overall mood of the exhibition has already been said before as the exhibition starts in spring and last until November. All I can contribute is already old news then.
But this time I’m trying to find a more personal approach to the city and its famous art exhibition. This year’s 59th Venice Biennale is curated by Cecilia Alemani under the title “The Milk of Dreams”. The title is derived from a book by Leonora Carrington. So this year’s theme is all about Surrealism, magical worlds, dreams and the different states in between. It’s also the first show which mainly presents female artists.
The Biennale always takes place in two main venues, the Giardini and the Arsenale. The Giardini are one of Venice’s rare gardens. This venue mainly consists of the many different national pavilions in a lush setting. The other main venue is the Arsenale, the former shipyard responsible for the naval power of the ancient Venetian republic. There are huge, endless halls which are ideal for vibrant exhibitions and large artworks. But there’s still a third venue which at least for me is equally important, if not more important than the other two. The third venue is the city itself with all its palaces, palazzi and museums. Spread all over the city there are many different national participations as well as the collateral events making use of these diverse venues.
I guess the beauty of Venice and this huge art exhibition is to see how these different worlds, the old city with its solid but over time weathered stones and the very zeitgeisty pieces of art come together. This contrast is especially appealing when visiting one of these old palazzi presenting some artworks as part of the exhibition. And there are many of them, I’m sure you can spend weeks in the city without getting bored or having to watch venues twice. I won’t go too much into detail here as there are just way too many places that are worth visiting and it often happens by accident which places you’re ending up watching and which ones get skipped in the process of strolling through the alleys of Venice.
I just want to point you to two venues that were new to me as well this year. Both venues are in the best sense of the word very central as both are part of or are directly adjacent to St Mark’s Square.
1/3561, f/1.6, ISO 400, 5.1 mm, iPhone 12 Pro Max
A beautiful gem of the past century is the former Olivetti store, the Negozio Olivetti, designed by the famous Italian architect Carlo Scarpa. As many of Venice’s shops also this one is really tiny. It was designed in 1957-58 and is a real jewel of architecture. Formerly it was used to present a selection of Olivetti’s famous typewriters and calculators, today, after restoration, it’s open to the public again. It’s just a couple of square meters but it’s totally worth the visit. It’s really a museum for itself.
The second gem I want to mention in this context is the just recently finished restoration of the northern Procuratie Vecchie, the northern enclosure of St Mark’s Square. The construction was led by the famous British architecture firm David Chipperfield and especially by its Milanese branch. For the first time in more than 500 years a crucial part of Venice history is at least partially open to the public again. The fourth floor became a new space for exhibitions and events. A new auditorium connected to the Human Safety Net is part of the program there as well. The second and third floor of the reconstruction are hosting mainly office and coworking spaces. The whole intervention mainly happened inside the building without touching the exterior or the facade. There were just two discreet rooftop terraces added to offer views over St Mark’s Square. The restoration was created by the Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali, the current owner of the building. So if you liked the Neues Museum in Berlin refurbished by David Chipperfield as well, you won’t be disappointed here.
I can’t recommend it high enough, if you ever want to visit Venice, for the first time or once again, try to pick a time of year when the Venice Biennale is taking place. It’s so wonderful to experience that back and forth of different centuries in almost any venue you’re going to visit.