So you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed about the fact that autumn has come and decided to settle in the Swedish capital. Perhaps you are still not ready to surrender to the chilly temperatures or the gloomy looking days. Well, why not brightenup the autumn with a quick and inspiring escapade that will lift your spirits and take you back under the sunshine of the still-warm-in-the-autumn Italy?
And once you get there, why not head on over to the biggest contemporary art event of the year in the whole of Europe, the Venice Biennale. This unique art exhibition is perhaps the largest of its kind, this year showcasing 86 National Participations in the historic Pavilions at the Giardini, at the Arsenale and in the city centre of Venice. Plus there’s another 120 artists from all corners of the world taking part with some of their best pieces of artwork. Some of them have been exclusively created for the Biennale and they include everything from painting, sculpture, photography, illustration, video, installations of mixed media, performances, and other forms of art you didn’t even think possible.
The Biennale happens once every two years and runs between May and November. If you consider yourself an artist or an art enthusiast, this is the event of the year for you. It is described by Paolo Baratta, the Venice Biennale president “as a place of research, dedicated to an open dialogue between artists, and between artists and the public.”
Every edition of the Biennale has a different name and a different concept behind it, this year’s edition is entitled ‘Viva Arte Viva’ (which means Live Art Live or Alive) “. It is a Biennale designed with artists, by artists and for artists, concerned with the forms they propose, the questions they ask, the practices they develop and the ways of life they choose… All in a context that favours access and understanding, generating connections, resonance and thoughts”, in the words of the Biennale’s curator Christine Macel.
However you choose to describe it, the Venice Biennale is an exhibition for everybody who has an interest in art, and likes to have their mind enlighted by art’s inspirational beams. The Biennale comes in the most magnificent packaging that is the majestic city of Venice, a city that with all its canals, history, culture, gothic and renaissance architecture and general beauty inspires both the visitors and the artists who develop unique pieces of artwork to exhibit at the Biennale. It is in this gem of a city that you find the venues of the Biennale divided into two main areas, the Arsenale and the Giardini. To access them you need a ticket, which varies between €25 for one admission to each exhibition venue – Giardini and Arsenale – also on different or non-consecutive days and €30 for a 48h ticket, with respective student and senior discounts.
Arsenale in perhaps the largest and most exciting area of them all. 93 artists and 24 National Pavilions are harboured in an old complex of former shipyards and armories clustered together in an area located not far from the famous St. Mark’s Square, easily accessible by the waterbus, also called ‘vaporetto’, which you can board from any point in the city’s Canal Grande (the main canal that goes across the city) and get off at Arsenale’s own waterbus stop. A visit to the Arsenale’s exhibitions will take several hours, so an early arrival is adviced in order to see it all. Its opening times are between 10am and 6pm.
Giardini is located a few steps behind the Arsenale, and as the meaning of the word suggests, these are gardens that were created by Napoleon Bonaparte who drained an area of marshland in order to create a public garden on the banks of the Bacino di San Marco, which is a narrow stretch of water dividing the gardens from St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace. The gardens contain 30 permanent pavilions. Each pavilion is allocated to a particular nation and displays works of art by its nationals during the Venice Biennale. Several of the pavilions were designed by leading architects of the 20th century, including Carlo Scarpa and Alvar Aalto. This area is also easy to access, as it also has its own waterbus stop. Opening times are from 10am to 6pm and an average visit to this part of the Biennale would take over 4 hours.
Both Arsenale and Giardini have restaurants, where one can choose to sit in or outside and enjoy the marvels of the Italian weather having a panino, a pizza, a refreshing drink or something sweet and a coffee. There are toilets and public WiFi surrounding the restaurant/bar points.
Besides the Arsenale and Giardini areas there are around 60 other pavilions scattered throughout the city’s churches and palaces, which are free to access. Yes! No ticket needed! These collateral pavilions are housing artists presenting especially commissioned pieces and artists representing their country of origin. In order to find those, you should follow the official Biennale map (see below). It’s a very exciting activity to plan your route and search for each pavilion, almost like an arty treasure hunt for all the family to enjoy – or to share with your loved one or best friend. You can stop every now and then to enjoy the sun, having a coffee or maybe a spritz or a glass of wine.
For the whole Biennale experience you will need a minimum of 4 days. We visited Giardini and Arsenale twice in the course of 3 days and also some of the city’s venues and there were some things we didn’t really get to see. But our visit’s duration left us more than satisfied, the Biennale is so monumental and so influencing and triggering that however much you get to see, you will love it, live it and enjoy it like one of the best experiences of your entire life.
For your stay, look for hotels and hostels on your preferred search sites, but don’t dismiss the idea of renting an apartment for some days, especially if you’re visiting Venice with company. Staying in a room for one with ensuite bathroom will be an average 6000kr for 4 days in a budget accommodation, and an apartment for two for the same amount of days, can be around the same price.
To fly there, there are only two airlines flying directly to Venice, Norwegian and Ryanair. Norwegian could be perhaps your best option, flying directly from Stockholm’s Arlanda into Venice’s main airport Marco Polo. They fly only Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday until the end of October. Ryanair flies from Skavsta to Venice Marco Polo and Treviso, a nearby airport, with very limited dates on Wednesday and Sunday between October and November. You can also opt for non-direct flights.
The Biennale will be closing on November 26, so make sure to plan your visit before that date, you will not regret exchanging some days in the uninspiring Swedish autumn weather for the art of the Biennale and the kindness of the Italian autumn sun.