“May You Live in Interesting Times”
In interesting times, artists create. In uninteresting times, artists still create. Regardless of the global political climate, the Venice Biennale—the Olympics of art where countries each exhibit in their own pavilion or exhibit space—continues. Sure, some countries may decline to participate from year to year or may be late in readying their exhibits (such as tumultuous Venezuela this year); however, for the Biennale… the show must go on.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Venice Biennale, here’s a quick summary from the Biennale website:
The Venice Biennale has been for over 120 years one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. Established in 1895, the Biennale has an attendance today of over 500,000 visitors at the Art Exhibition. The history of the La Biennale di Venezia dates back from 1895, when the first International Art Exhibition was organized. In the 1930s new festivals were born: Music, Cinema, and Theatre (the Venice Film Festival in 1932 was the first film festival in history). In 1980 the first International Architecture Exhibition took place, and in 1999 Dance made its debut at La Biennale.
An over-arching theme characterizes each Biennale. This year’s theme, “May You Live in Interesting Times,” encourages people to avoid the quick judgment, the stereotype, the single-lens viewing of current world events.
According to Biennale President Paolo Baratta, “the expression ‘interesting times’ evokes the idea of challenging or even ‘menacing’ times, but it could also simply be an invitation to always see and consider the course of human events in their complexity, an invitation, thus, that appears to be particularly important in times when, too often, oversimplification seems to prevail, generated by conformism or fear.”
Another way to put it: allow art to show you the many ways of looking at the world.
Last Friday (June 14), I visited the Biennale with my daughter, who is an intern in the United States Pavilion. The United States’ participation is primarily a function of the Department of State, which “supports official U.S. participation at select international art exhibitions called biennales. The Department’s support ensures that the excellence, vitality, and diversity of American arts are effectively showcased abroad and provides an opportunity to engage foreign audiences to increase mutual understanding.” In other words, exhibiting at the Biennale is another way to build and maintain positive relationships around the world.
As for the U.S. Pavilion’s intern program, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a well-known modern art museum in Venice, handles the hiring of the interns who provide guarding of the exhibits, inform visitors about the various works, and generally are the main points-of-contact for visitors touring through the pavilions. (Two years ago, my daughter served an internship at the museum; when they issued a call for former interns interested in returning to work the Biennale, she quickly applied.)
We arrived at the portion of the show held on the ground of Venice’s Giardini (Italian for garden). Visitors can see another section of the show at the adjacent Arsenale. In addition, more pavilions are scattered throughout the city. For example, we walked by the door to the Mongolian exhibit in a dark, narrow street somewhere in the San Marco area of the city.
During our three-hour visit, we saw fourteen exhibits out of the 79 participating in the Biennale this year. That doesn’t sound like that many, does it? Especially when you know there are art lovers who allot several days to see all the exhibits. To them, I say, “Go you!”
However, since I only had four full days in Venice, and one of those was spent in Bologna (see my next post!), we prioritized.
Plus, we knew that a visit to the best gelato in town, Suso, was in order for the afternoon. This would require a thirty-minute vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal from the Giardini. Sheesh… the price we pay for good gelato!
Enjoy these photos! I’ve attempted to add some details in the captions and, looking back now, I should have written this post immediately after our visit to better capture the ambiance of our visit. But when one is in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, you want to get out and see it—not stay in and write about it.
Thanks for reading! As you can see, there is too much to see at the Venice Biennale without spending days there. In addition, to really study the art and understand its motivation and full message deserves much more time than we were able to devote. Still, if you have the desire to see art on a global scale, the Venice Biennale is where you need to go. Click like if you enjoyed this post, and feel free to leave a comment or follow my blog for my next post from Bologna!