The 2019 edition of the Venice Art Biennale runs from May 11 until November 24. Curator Ralph Rugoff has entitled the exhibition ‘May You Live In Interesting Times‘. The event will not have a theme per se, but it will highlight a general approach to making art and a view of art’s social function as embracing both pleasure and critical thinking. In the coming months, I will publish more details about the new initiatives for this year. You can subscribe to my biweekly newsletter if you want to be kept up-to-date.
The event is spread across two main locations (Giardini and Arsenale) and different venues in and around Venice. With the #MayYouLiveInInterestingTimes exhibition, the huge number of national pavilions, 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 prepare your visit to the Art Biennale and to decide which parts are most interesting for you:
There are different types of entrance tickets, so you have to check upfront which ticket fits your needs. Until the end of March, you can buy an early bird ticket for 21.5 euros (11 euros for students). This ticket 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. For your information, you don’t need tickets for most of the national pavilions and collateral events which are located outside Giardini and Arsenale.If you prefer more flexibility about the number of times you can enter each site, you will have to take a 48 hours ‘Plus’ ticket, a one week pass or a permanent pass. The price for these other types of tickets hasn’t been communicated yet.
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 prices online are usually lower than at the entrance. While you’re at it, you can also take the opportunity to buy your vaporetto passes and tickets for museums in Venice on the website of Venezia Unica. Alternatively, buy your ticket for the Art Biennale in the afternoon on the day before your visit, when the ticketing booths are desolate. Unfortunately, the one week pass and permanent pass can only be bought at the entrance, as they require a copy of your id card or passport.
Since this year, you can also buy a Biennale Card and become a member of La Biennale. You can choose between 4 different types of cards: Silver (65 euros), Gold (300 euros), Platinum (550 euros), and Diamond (2,000 euros). The Silver card entitles you to 2 admissions to the Art Biennale, discounts to the dance, music and theatre events of the Biennale and to the Venice Film Festival and 10% discount on purchases at the Biennale Bookshops. If you want to become a donor with the Diamond card, you will also be invited for the pre-opening of the Art Biennale with your guests, receive a guided tour and a catalogue, and you will be invited to a gala diner for the Festa del Redentore. The entire revenue from the sale of Biennale Cards will be used to support the activities of the Historical Archives of Contemporary Arts.
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 in the city, the closing day for all the events of La Biennale. It is however open on the first and last Monday (May 13, November 18) and on September 2.
- Weekends and especially prolonged weekends are much more crowded than weekdays. Many Italians tend to visit the event during these periods.
- The first week is also very crowded as many journalists stay around after the pre-opening for the press (May 8-10). There are however several performances which only take place during the first week. Hence, you will have to decide whether you want to mingle with the artists, curators and press or if you prefer to have the exhibitions more to yourself.
- 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. 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 (more info in my post ‘A practical how-to guide on transportation in Venice‘) 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. 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 wide variety of art works, small and large exhibitions. In combination with the large number of pavilions, you will have to make some choices in line with your 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 and of the collateral events will be available on the website of La Biennale in the coming months. 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 this site of course, which will be published as from next month. Don’t forget to subscribe to our biweekly newsletter if you want to be informed about new updates.
If you don’t feel like preparing, but you would like to receive background information about the 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. If you want to combine your visit to the Biennale with other events in Venice, you can read my post ‘19 reasons to visit Venice in 2019‘.
Enjoy your visit!
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