The 2017 edition of the Venice Art Biennale runs from May 13 until November 26. Curator Christine Macel chose the theme ‘Viva Arte Viva’, which puts the artists at the forefront of the exhibition, and not only the art. You can find more details on this theme and the new initiatives in my post ‘What to expect from the Art Biennale 2017’.
The event is spread across two main locations (Giardini and Arsenale) and different venues in and around Venice. With 120 artists at the Viva Arte Viva exhibition, 84 national pavilions, 23 collateral events and plenty of coinciding exhibitions, the Art Biennale can be overwhelming. Unless you have the luxury to dedicate a full week to the Art Biennale, you will have to make some choices.
This post will help you decide how to make the most out of your visit and which parts of the Art Biennale are most interesting for you.
There are different types of entrance tickets, so you have to check upfront which ticket fits your needs. The regular ticket costs 25 euros and allows one entrance to Giardini and one to Arsenale. You are allowed to visit these sites on two different days, which don’t have to be consecutive. If you prefer more flexibility about the number of times you can enter each site, you will have to take a 48 hours ticket (30 euros), a one week pass (40 euros) or a permanent pass (80 euros). There are also several discounts available.
I recommend to buy your ticket online on the website of La Biennale di Venezia. This will save you time as the queues can be rather long on the busy days. It also saves you some money, as the regular ticket costs 23.5 euros online instead of 25 euros at the entrance. Alternatively, buy your ticket in the afternoon on the day before your visit, when the ticketing booths are desolate. Unfortunately, the longer term passes can only be bought on site.
Considering the size of the Art Biennale and the number of exhibitions, I think this price is rather cheap, especially if you compare with the entrance fee for a single exhibition at a museum. For your information, you don’t need tickets for the national pavilions and collateral events which are located outside Giardini and Arsenale.
Once you decided how much time you will dedicate to each site, you have to choose on which day you want to visit Giardini and Arsenale. Here are some elements which you can take into account.
- Monday is usually, with a few exceptions for collateral events, the closing day for all the events of La Biennale.
- From Thursday until Sunday, the Biennale organizes the ‘Tavola Aperta’ at Giardini and Arsenale, where visitors can have a casual lunch with the artists. Check the agenda online to see whether you want to meet any of the scheduled artists while you are in Venice. (The dates will only be communicated a few days before the start of the Art Biennale.) Some artists could attract a lot of additional visitors. Hence, if you don’t intend to participate to the lunch, it might be better to visit these locations on another day.
- On Friday and Saturday (until the end of September), the Arsenale stays open until 8 PM instead of 6 PM. This gives you an additional 2 hours.
- Weekends and especially prolonged weekends are much more crowded than weekdays. Many Italians tend to visit the event during these periods.
- Finally, the weather is also a determining factor. When it rains, you might prefer to visit Arsenale. In Giardini, you spend more time outside when walking from one pavilion to another. Running around with a wet umbrella is not the best way to visit the Biennale, especially if you want to have a free hand to take pictures.
At what time?
The Art Biennale starts each day at 10 AM and ends at 6 PM. The only exceptions are Friday and Saturday at Arsenale, when the closing is at 8 PM (until the end of September). I advise to start your visit around 10 AM, especially if you have only one day per site. There is so much to see, that you wouldn’t be the first to realize at 5 PM that you have only one hour left for a large part of the exhibition. I must admit that I have already been in that situation. In case you don’t need the whole day, you can use the remainder of the afternoon to wander around and discover the pavilions and events spread over the city.
In Giardini, the crowds disperse more or less automatically at the entrance. You could however start with the area across the river, as they receive less visitors in the morning. At Arsenale, there is a sort of walking order, but you can also decide to leave the path. Go first to the pavilions at Arsenale Nord or in the Sale d’Armi and return afterwards to the main corridor.
At lunch time, it can be very crowded at the catering points. It’s better to wait until 2 o’clock or let it depend on when you pass one of the eating booths. At Giardini, the one between the German and the Korean pavilion gives you a nice view on the lagoon, but it is rather small.
The majority of the national pavilions are located at the two main locations, Giardini and Arsenale) You can reach these with the vaporetto and get out at either the Giardini or Arsenale stop. It is a 5 to 10 minutes walk from one site to the other, depending on the route you choose. You can opt for the scenic walk along the lagoon or for the shortcut via Via Garibaldi.
There are also several national pavilions, collateral events or coinciding exhibitions spread all over the city and the lagoon islands. Schedule at least one day for these, as it takes time to go from one place to another. You can download the map upfront if you want to plan your walk and combine it with other sights, shops or restaurants you want to visit in Venice. These locations can be recognized by large signs outside on the street.
Some of these events do not run during the whole Biennale period. Several close on different days or as of September. Make sure to check upfront whether or not they will be open. You don’t want to walk to the other side of the city to find a closed pavilion.
Which pavilions and events?
The Art Biennale brings a fusion of contemporary art, from sculptures over photographs to performances. In combination with the large number of pavilions, you will have to make some choices in line with your art preferences and your time availability. I recommend you read about the different participations before your visit, so you know which ones you really want to see. If you also figure out which ones are not at all interesting to you, you can use the remaining time for your ‘I have no clue what this is about’ category. This upfront selection is especially crucial for the locations in the city which can be far from each other, and to a lesser extent for the pavilions in Giardini. At Arsenale, you have to follow more or less a set order so you can adjust your pace instead of choosing where to go first.
An overview of all the national pavilions and their artists and of the collateral events is available on the website of La Biennale. The coinciding exhibitions have no relationship whatsoever with the official organization, so you will have to consult other sources such as the website of the tourism office Venezia Unica. A good starting point are the previews related to the Art Biennale on my site of course. You can find the list on this overview page or find out my favourite pavilions in the post ‘8 pavilions you cannot miss at the Art Biennale 2017’. In addition, ArtReview has some interesting interviews with the artists and The Art Newspaper has an app for the Art Biennale with all the locations. Finally, many artists have participated in the ‘Artists Practices Project’ of curator Christine Macel. The videos show their work and the preparation for the Biennale. This might also give you an indication whether you want to visit their exhibition or not.
If you don’t feel like preparing, but you would like to receive background information about the art works, you can book a guided tour via La Biennale. Alternatively, ask your questions to the guides and hosts at the different pavilions.
I hope this overview gives you some insights for your visit to the Art Biennale. Feel free to contact me, via the comments section below or by mail, if you have any additional questions. I will be glad to help you.
Enjoy your visit!
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