Photo Ian Byers Gamber. Courtesy Maureen Paley, London and Felipe Baeza
La Biennale transforms Venice annually into a surreal blend of ancient-and-contemporary culture unrivalled anywhere else in the world; it attracts giants of the international art world and vast numbers of visitors. The original Biennale (established in 1895) focused on art and is still held in odd years, but in 1980 an architecture equivalent was added in even years.
The annual bonanza divides into two main sections: individual countries have pavilions in the Giardini (Public Gardens) while artists and architects chosen by a curator exhibit within the magnificent spaces of the old Arsenale. The result is a pop-up museum of painting, installation, sculpture, film, new media and architecture that spreads its tentacles across palaces and churches across the city.
Getting there & doing it
Beware, the Biennale is big! The main venues are the Arsenale and the Giardini (both about 50 minutes by vaporetto from the train station), but there are also hundreds of smaller exhibits dotted throughout the city, so a plan is essential.
Prioritise the main venues and don’t try and see everything in one day; tickets are valid for one entry for the Arsenale and one for Giardini even if on consecutive days.
Tickets for the Arsenale and Giardini are available on line (cheaper if you buy well in advance) and from ticket offices, but hundreds of smaller exhibitions in other venues are free of charge.
Plan on a morning to three days, depending on how much you want to see.
When to do it
The event is held every year from early April until late November; art is odd years, architecture even years.
The main venues (the Arsenale and Giardini) are open from Tuesday-Sunday; weekdays are notably less crowded. Opening days for the smaller venues vary. Film buffs should consider early September so they can catch the Film Festival too. Otherwise, late Autumn is cool and uncrowded.