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Tips for visiting the
56th Venice Biennale
May 9 - Nov 22, 2015


Venice architecture

The 2015 Venice Biennale will be held in more than 50 different locations scattered throughout the city. If you expect to find all the locations -- or even some of them -- you need to know a little about Venice itself.

Venice is two mazes laid on top of each other.

In a standard maze, narrow passages lead to dead ends. Venice has plenty of those.

Then Venice adds a second layer of complexity. The original maze is placed on top of an equally challenging maze made of water canals.

Sometimes there’s a bridge; sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes there’s a landing for water transportation; sometimes there isn’t. In addition, on sixty random days (mostly in winter), the most direct route might be flooded.

Venice canal

As a result, the way to where you want to go is never straightforward. Complicating this, all the maps I’ve found have too little detail to be helpful. In Venice, you can be lost a lot of the time.

That might not matter so much, since Venice is beautiful, and any section of it is worth exploring. But if you’re going to the 2015 Venice Biennale, you probably want to see art. And to do that you have to find it.

2013 Venice Biennale

Do not ignore this tip!

You can do one thing that will make an extraordinary difference in your visit to the Venice Biennale: make sure you have a cellphone that can roam in Italy with a GPS map.

Before you go, call your cellphone provider, buy an international data plan, and make sure they take off the block on international roaming. If you don’t have a cellphone with a map, I recommend you get one before your trip.

When in Venice, try not to smirk. You’ll be the only tourist in town who can quickly find anything.

If you keep your phone on "airplane mode" except when you're using the map to navigate and when you're making calls, you will minimize roaming charges.

Venice, Italian flags

If you only have a day. What are you thinking? Change your plans! Venice is easily worth a week, and you want to be there three or four days minimum.

But if you really only have a day for this incredibly beautiful city, you need to make some choices. If you prefer realistic and religious art painted from 1500 to 1800, get a guidebook from a bookstore or the library, skip the biennale, and enjoy your time. You’ll have lots of great choices. Expect to pay about 4 to 20 Euros at each stop.

If you prefer architecture, you wouldn't do wrong to just wander around lost all day, traveling on water taxis at random and seeing what you can. Be sure to go inside buildings on your journey; the interiors are often stunning.

Venice view from water

2013 Venice BiennaleIf you only have a day and you prefer modern and contemporary art, here are my recommend-ations:

1) The Biennale has two locations where you don’t need GPS. They’re where I'd head, just because the exhibits are close together and you can maximize your time.

Arsenale. Take a water taxi to Arsenale or San Pietro and follow the signs. This is where you should go if you prefer photography, painting or sculpture.

2013 Venice Biennale

Phyllida Barlow, Untitled (5/Arsenale)

2013 Venice Biennale

Hans Josephsohn sculptures and Daniel Hesidence paintings (3/Arsenale)

2013 Venice Biennale

Pawel Althamer, Venetians, detail of a room full of them (9/Arsenale)

2013 Venice Biennale

Painting in the Arsenale, 2013 Venice Biennale

2013 Venice Biennale

Background, Sri Astari, Dancing the Wild Seas, and foreground, Albert Yonathan Setyawan, Cosmic Labyrinth: A Silent Pathway, at the Indonesian Pavilion (ID/Arsonale)

Giardini. Take the water taxi to Giardini or Biennale. This location focuses much more on installations and experimental media, so head there if that's your preference. If you're not sure what that means and you're just looking for "regular art," go to Arsenale instead.

Or you could use this simple test. Does the pile of rubble below look like exciting art to you? If so, head to Giardini. Otherwise, go to Arsenale.

Lara Almarcegui installation at 2013 Venice BiennaleLara Almarcegui's installation at Spain's Pavilion (ES/Giardini)

2013 Venice Biennale

Odires Mlaszho, Deutsches Worter Buch (Altered book) at the Brazil Pavilion (BR/Giardini).

2013 Venice Biennale

2013 Venice Biennale

Detail of The Feast of Trimalchio, Arrival of the Golden Boat, one of the two amazing staged photographs by AES+F at the back of Padiglione Venezia (P.VE/Giardini)

2013 Venice BiennaleInstallation at Poland's Pavilion (PL/Giardini)

2013 Venice BiennaleImage from a video by Jeremy Deller at the British Pavilion (GB/Giardini)

2013 Venice Biennale

2013 Venice BiennaleA highlight of 2013 was the Russian Pavilion's installation, with golden coins raining down on women with umbrellas (RU/Giardini).

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2013 Venice Biennale

Wifredo Diaz Valdez, Time (Time) Time, at the 2013 Venice BiennaleWifredo Diaz Valdez, Time (Time) Time at the Urugua Pavilion (UY/Giardini)

The restaurant at at Giardini closes at 2 p.m., so if you want something hot, you need to eat before then. The cafeteria stays open later with sandwiches and salads.

If you only have a day:

2) Don't miss a great museum that's not part of the biennale itself.

At the Salute water taxi stop, turn left. The white building is the Punta della Dogana. The gorgeous interior houses art from the François Pinault Foundation.

What's inside may challenge your ideas about art, but it will be worth it if you spend time with the pieces and the commentaries on them.

2013 Venice Biennale

Palazzo Grassi, a second space, is located near water taxi line #1 S. Angelo or line #2 S.Samuele.

If you have more than a day. Get out your walking shoes and your cell phone with GPS. Then enjoy your exploring! There's enough to fill at least five days.

When you buy your ticket to the Biennale, you'll get a map and a list of related exhibits around the city. You only need the ticket to enter the Arsenale and Giardini sections of the Biennale, so you'll only need a one- or two-day ticket.

If you don't have GPS, find what you can and enjoy the time you're lost. It's a beautiful city.

In 2015 I may hire a local as a guide. The sole requirements will be the willingness to walk for twelve hours straight and an intimate knowledge of how to get around Venice. I'm pretty sure it'll be worth it, but I haven't tested this yet.

2013 Venice Biennale

Herre Methorst at Personal Structures (Palazzo Bembo).

What day to visit. The 56th International Art Exhibition is scheduled to be open May 9 through November 22, 2015. Closer to the event they may announce that some of the earlier days are open only to VIPs, so check back here in 2015 for an update of the actual dates open to the public, usually June through November.)

Most venues close either Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, so if you're in Venice one of those days, plan your excursions accordingly.

On Sunday almost everything is open, but check the biennale guide.

On Monday, the Arsenale and Giardini sections of the biennale are closed. But if Monday's your day, there are enough other places open to fill your time.

On Tuesday, the Punta della Dogana, Palazzo Grassi and Peggy Guggenheim Collection are closed.

Don't worry if you're in town any of those days; what's open will be more than enough to fill your day with great art.

2013 Venice Biennale

Rene Rietmeyer and Toshikatsu Endo at Personal Structures (Palazzo Bembo).

One month before you leave. A month before you leave, go on a very long hike wearing the shoes and socks you plan to use in Venice. Your feet will thank you, especially if you need to make changes before you go.

2013 Venice Biennale

Basket Maker, by Bassim Al-Shaker, at the Iraq Pavilion.

The 54th Venice Biennale in 2011.

Here were my top choices, in 2011:

1) Future Pass: From Asia to the world was the best collection of contemporary art per square foot in the 2011 biennale.

Art Asia Venice Biennale 2011. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

2) My second and third choices weren’t part of the bienniale itself, they were the Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi mentioned above.

The gorgeous interior of the Punta della Dogana houses art from the François Pinault Foundation.

At Palazzo Grassi two great videos by Francesco Vezzoli were being shown in 2011. Democrazy shows two political ads playing at the same time, a potent mix that is worth viewing multiple times. And Marlene Redux: a True Hollywood Story! is a hilarious parody of television entertainment news. It's a great, great example of multi-leveled video as art. If you aren't laughing, you might be offended. Either way, it'll be worth it.

Venice Biennale 2011 Wax statue. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

This wax statue at Arsenale.

3) The Arsenale.

Highlights in 2011 included Christian Marclay’s video The Clock and a James Turrell light installation. The Clock is playing at locations around the world, so you may have a chance to see it elsewhere. If so, pull up a chair and plan on being delighted and intrigued by a collection of movie clips that work their way through the hours of the day, one minute at a time. Sit as long as you like; it’s a 24-hour video.

In the India pavilion a highlight was riding on Gigi Scaria's Elevator from the Sub-continent.

4) The Giardini. The Padiglione Centrale had the largest collection of diverse artists. In 2011 it included The Others, Maurizio Cattelan’s 2000 pigeons.

Venice Biennale 2011 pigeons. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Six of the 2000 pigeons above people's heads at the Padiglione Centrale in 2011.


Other highlights in 2011:

* The France pavilion had a great installation titled “Chance.” With all the metal rollers spinning noisily, you could hear it before you saw it.

Venice Biennale 2011 France Pavilion. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Chance by Christian Boltanski.

* The Padiglione Venezia (P.VE), had a series of boats worth visiting (Vertical Seas by Fabrizio Plessi).

* My personal favorite could be guessed by anyone familiar with my photography; Gott liebt die Serba was an incredibly beautiful installation, and Gott Liebt die Serba 1 was very powerful as well. Both were in the Serbia pavilion.

Gott liebt die Serba, Venice Biennale 2011. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011

Detail of Gott liebt die Serba, Venice Biennale 2011.

If you’re a fan of video, Finland (FIN) and Poland (PL) both had video worth checking out, and there was an interesting short animated film Quatrosopos in the Denmark pavilion (DK).

Venice Biennale 2011 video. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice Biennale 2011 video (Quatrosopos by Han Hoogerbrugge).

Detail of Imposition Symphony, 2011, a large mural by Stelios Faitakis at the Venice Biennale 2011. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Detail of Imposition Symphony, 2011, a large mural by Stelios Faitakis on an outside wall of the Danish Pavilion in the Giardini section.

2013 Venice Biennale

Also see:

Mark Dahle's tips for visiting Art Basel in Switzerland


Mark Dahle's tips for visiting Art Basel Miami Beach


Mark Dahle's tips for visiting ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, MI


Mark Dahle's tips for visiting the Armory Show, Frieze New York and Manhattan art galleries


Lectures on the Contemporary Art Scene


Understanding Abstract Art

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Venice building. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice building. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice building. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice building. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice wiring. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice wiring. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice rooftop. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice rooftop. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice boat. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice boat. © Mark Dahle 2011.

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Venice electrical. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice electrical. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice electrical. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice lock. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice lock. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice rooftop. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice rooftop. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice covered dock

Venice covered dock. © Mark Dahle 2011.

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Venice bench. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice electrical. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice electrical. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Venice laundry. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011. Venice laundry. © Mark Dahle 2011.

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Venice, Italy. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2013.Venice wall. © Mark Dahle 2013.

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Venice, Italy. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2013.
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Venice, Italy. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2013.
Venice pipe. © Mark Dahle 2013.

Venice, Italy. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2013.
Venice pipe. © Mark Dahle 2013.

Venice, Italy. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2013.

Venice construction site. © Mark Dahle 2013.