The Venice Biennale, a modern jewel in a traditional crown

There are countless reasons to visit Venice, and countless sights to see when there. From Saint Mark’s Square, to the Doge’s Palace; the Grand Canal to the Rialto Bridge. Comprised of a series of small islands linked by canals, it is clear to see why Venice is exempt from the modern dilemma of street congestion and pollution. It is with this in mind, one could be lulled into feeling they’re entering a world of time-gone-by, where finery reigns supreme to the furore of modern life.

Venice Canal

Venice is truly a cultural feast able to satiate any appetite for ethereal beauty and architectural magnificence. A floating paradise, saturated with architectural majesty and rich tradition.

It can be argued that the obvious adjectives used to describe the city of Venice would be inline with words like ‘romantic’, ‘archaic’, ‘picturesque’, ‘esoteric’ and ‘old-fashioned’. Those adjectives are most definitely appropriate accolades for attribution with the ‘City of Masks’.

However, the Art of Venice isn’t solely anchored in the past. Indeed, the Archipelago City was certainly a melting pot of European, Byzantine and Arabic heritage. However, today it is modern art that feeds the figurative life stream comprising the City’s Culture. This is most notable in the highly-esteemed Venice Biennale, a contemporary art exhibition that takes place once every two years.

Venice Biennale

The premier Biennale was held in 1895 with a goal to establish a new market following the rise of modernism in art.

At the turn of the century, the expansion of the middle class and the abolition of academic principles that traditionally undercut artistic production meant that art had a new purpose; to simply be art. Modern art had the liberty of focusing on colour and aesthetics rather than a didactic message imbued in the works narrative. The Venice Biennale sought to celebrate this. As the exhibition was one of the first to celebrate modern ‘decorative’ art, it followed its own precedents in championing the avant-garde and the Biennale showed ever-increasing interest in the innovations of global art.

Throughout the Twentieth Century, the Venice Biennale has been a stronghold of global contemporary art, awarding prizes to those many a famous figures.

Robert Rauschenberg

The Venice Biennale is credited for springboarding movements such as abstract Expressionism and ‘Pop Art’ into the artistic canon by awarding artists such as Robert Rauschenberg with the prestigious Grand Prize in 1964.

The Grand Prize was abandoned in 1968, and the focus now is not on commercialising art, but celebrating it. The Biennale is located in the breath-taking ‘Giardini’, a public park housed on the banks of the Bacino di San Marco, the stretch of water dividing the dividing the gardens respectively owned St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace. The Giardini is home to a large exhibition hall that displays a themed exhibition, curated by the Biennale’s director; to compliment the heart of the Giardini are 30 permanent pavilions, each celebrating the contribution of a particular nation. In this manner, the nature of Venice as a City is cyclical. The contemporary Biennale becomes a tribute to the globalisation of contemporary art, wherein the influx of art from around the world echoes the historical role of Venice as a trade City, similarly highlighting the finest production from the world’s leading craftsmen.

Countries who are not based in one of the Giardini’s 30 national pavilions are exhibited in an ever-growing list of venues throughout Venice with recent additions including Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and India. In the sense, the Venice Biennale is the closest thing to a universal celebration of the immutable variety of artwork today. A trip to Venice during the time of the Biennale, is arguably a trip across the globe. An art lover is placed in parallel with Venice’s mastery of the medieval and Renaissance architectural styles and with the trajectile growth of global art.


The 2013 exhibition is the largest yet, with a budget of $2.3million and millions more raised in philanthropic donations. The British Pavilion, managed by the British Council showcases works by the Turner Prize winner, Jeremy Deller this year and is an exhibition that makes no qualms about reflecting British identity. His ‘English Magic’ exhibition both criticises and praises figures in British Culture and amidst is homage to British Wildlife, Stonehenge and the socialist movement; are traces of whom he considers national heroes; William Morris and David Bowie.

Of course, to counter any hero, there must be a villain and a disdain towards Roman Abramovich and Prince Harry are present in vignettes of production, both in his video installation and murals. Whether you agree or not with his choices, it can be agreed that the English Tea ‘Urn’ that provided hydration to the visitors, installed in the pavilion is a nod to a uniformly British phenomena.

Jeremy Deller English Magic

If you’re planning a trip to Venice, make it a year that ends with an odd number, a when the Venice Biennale takes over. Not only are the treasures of the city still open to discover, an array of global contemporary art is too. Whether or not each pavilion unveils a true reflection of their respective nation’s culture is irrelevant; you are treated with what they have considered the best of their country’s avant-garde artistic efforts.

A holiday to Venice during the Biennale is a perfect way to immerse yourself in the art-world, even if contemporary art is not your favourite, it is safe to say that with the totality of Venice’s cultural landmarks at your doorstep, you have one hell of a back-up plan.