Venice is usually a city where you are overwhelmed by a huge amount of exhibitions and cultural events and where it’s difficult to make a choice. This year, even though many events have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still plenty of activities taking place.
In this post, I will give you an overview of the most interesting cultural activities for the autumn and winter of 2020 (based on the situation of today). I hope you are lucky and able to enjoy some of these live. However, as many of us can’t make it to Venice right now, I also include alternatives which you can enjoy at home, wherever you are located around the world.
(Update: Due to the Government Decree signed on November 3, 2020, museums are closed to the public until December 3, 2020. Until then, you can only enjoy the alternatives proposed in this post.)
La Biennale di Venezia (and related events)
The Art and Architecture Biennale are one of the largest events in Venice as it lasts 6 months per year and it has many collateral events all over the city. The even years, such as 2020, were traditionally dedicated to architecture, whereas the uneven years were focused on art. This rule of thumb has now changed as the 2020 Architecture Biennale has been postponed until 2021. We will have to wait until May 22, 2021 before we can attend ‘How will we live together’, curated by Hashim Sarkis. The next Art Biennale, curated by Cecilia Alemani, will take place in 2022.
To celebrate its 125th anniversary and to bridge the gap in 2020, La Biennale di Venezia decided to organize ‘Le muse inquiete (The Disquieted Muses) – When La Biennale di Venezia Meets History’. The exhibition highlights the links between events and episodes in the institution’s own history and in the history of the twentieth century. Whereas Biennale events are typically curated by one director, this exhibition is curated by the artistic directors of all six departments (Art, Architecture, Cinema, Dance, Music, and Theatre). They have selected rare footage, first-hand accounts, and a range of artworks from the Historical Archives of Contemporary Arts – ASAC as well as from other collections. The exhibition runs until December 8 in the Central Pavilion of Giardini. In line with the current regulations, tickets can only be bought online and are limited to a maximum number of visitors per time slot.
Most of the exhibitions and events organized in parallel with the Architecture Biennale have also been cancelled and/or postponed. You can however admire the new installations in the Giardini Marinaressa, one of the an exhibition locations used by the European Cultural Centre. ‘Open Space’ is an interdisciplinary project involving artists, architects and designers from all over the world, such as Stefano Bombardieri (Italy), Paul Chamberlain (UK), Carole Feuerman (USA), Barbara Grygutis (USA), Ivan Lardschneider (Italy), Stefan Milkov (Czech Republic). Open Space runs until February 16, 2021. The entrance is free so there’s no reason not to take a look on your walk along the Riva dei Sette Martiri.
More stunning installations can be found on the Spazio alle Tese of the Arsenale. The exhibition ‘Luce, la Rinascita di Venezia’ shows art works of the Albanian artist Helidon Xhixha, who is known for his stainless steel sculptures. As there is no Biennale ongoing, there is also no shuttle to take you to the other side of the dock. You can access Arsenale Nord via the walkway along the wall of the Arsenale near the Bacini vaporetto stop. The exhibition runs until December 13 and can be visited for free. While you are there, take the opportunity to visit the Thetis sculpture garden as well (see ‘Wander through the hidden gardens in Venice’).
Venice at home alternatives
This might be a good time to prepare your next visit to the Biennale by delving into its history with the book ‘Guide to the Pavilions of the Venice Biennale since 1887’. It’s one of my favourite reference works related to Venice. Alternatively, you can relive the previous Art Biennale or Architecture Biennale via their catalogues. Finally, if you love to admire installations, you can take a virtual tour of the previous exhibitions in the Giardini Marinaressa.
As mentioned above, many smaller exhibitions which coincided with the Architecture Biennale have been cancelled. However, there are still enough exhibitions ongoing to feed your cultural appetite. Below are 3 exhibitions which I hope to be able to see before they close in January.
Le Stanze del Vetro, the glass museum on San Giorgio Maggiore, always organizes very interesting exhibitions. Currently, 155 outstanding glass vessels, sculptures and installations created by 60 American and Venetian artists are on display at ‘Venice and American Studio Glass’. The exhibition closely examines the influences of traditional Venetian glass-working techniques, as well as the Venetian aesthetic, on contemporary American art in glass from the 1960s to the present. You can visit it, for free, until January 10, 2021. They also organize free in-person guided tours on Saturdays and Sundays (at noon in English or Italian and at 5 pm in Italian).
If you are interested to see more glass art, I recommend a visit to Murano and the exhibition ‘Unbreakable: Women in Glass’. It is curated by Nadja Romain and Koen Vanmechelen. The exhibition features over 60 contemporary female artists from around the world who have worked with Berengo Studio in its furnaces on Murano. The works include the Enlightening Books of Chiara Dynys, Shirazeh Houshiary’s architectural Flicker, the impressive chandeliers of Joana Vasconcelos, the glass window of Cornelia Parker, and Fiona Banner’s scaffolding. The exhibition is held in the Fondazione Berengo Art Space, an old glass furnace. It runs until January 7, 2021 and the entrance is free.
If you prefer a photography exhibition, you might want to visit the exhibition ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson. Le Grand Jeu’ on the first floor of Palazzo Grassi. Five different curators, Annie Leibovitz, Wim Wenders, Javier Cercas, Sylvie Aubenas and François Pinault, have each selected 50 works from the original ‘Master Collection’. This ‘Master Collection’ is a selection of 385 images which Henri Cartier-Bresson considered to be the most significant of his work. After you finished admiring these stunning pictures, you can continue your visit at Palazzo Grassi with the monographic exhibition ‘Once Upon a Dream’ of Youssef Nabil. The exhibition runs until March 20, 2021.
Venice at home alternatives
The exhibition ‘Venice and American Studio Glass’ can also be visited online via a 3D virtual tour. Every room offers in-depth analyses, photographs and videos. No matter in which time zone you live, you can start your visit whenever it suits you. There’s no online tour of ‘Unbreakable: Women in Glass’, but browsing the catalogue at home gives you the opportunity to admire the fascinating works at ease. As soon as it’s available, I will put the link here. The same applies to the black and white pictures of Henri Cartier-Bresson which seem to come to live in the book ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson: Photographer’.
In the last couple of years, I became fond of guided tours, either privately or with small groups. It was something I would never consider in the past, but if they are organized by passionate locals, they are very interesting. Some of these tours, such as the one at Ca’Foscari or at the clock tower, are currently suspended. Luckily, those which are completely private or with an audio guide can still be booked.
At the Fondazione Cini on San Giorgio Maggiore, you can book an audio tour which comprises a visit to the former cloister but also to the Vatican chapels in the park surrounding it. When I followed the tour, I was amazed by the beauty of the site as you can read in ‘Why San Giorgio Maggiore is worth your visit’. It didn’t include the chapels at that time as they weren’t there yet. As this was my favourite pavilion of the Architecture Biennale 2018, I’m really happy that the chapels can still be visited. You can decide for yourself whether you want to include them in your tour or not. Tours need to be booked in advance via their website.
Teatro La Fenice is also still open for visitors, both for performances as well as for individual audio tours. A tour ticket allows you to access the foyer, the Apollo rooms and the parterre. From the Royal Box, you have a great view on the stage and the entire theatre. If you are lucky, there might even be a rehearsal ongoing which you can listen to. You will also see the original model of Teatro La Fenice by architect Selva. To prepare your visit, you can read about the history of La Fenice in my post ‘Teatro La Fenice throws you back to the golden era of Venice’.
Venice at home alternative
If you can’t travel at the moment, you can now book a private live/virtual walking tour in Venice. Luisella Romeo, a licenced guide in Venice, will walk through her city with a tripod and camera so you can follow in her steps while she gives you plenty of information. She’s very passionate so you will certainly enjoy the walk and talk. I joined her on a walk in Dorsoduro and it really is an amazing experience to feel as if you are in Venice while you’re at home. So, whether you have never set foot in Venice, you want to discover something new or you want to make your favourite walk around the city from the safety of your home, this is a perfect solution. Tours will be customized to your preferences, but can only take place during daytime in Venice and outdoors. If you want to take this opportunity, you can contact Luisella via mail.
Tourism in Venice is very slow at the moment, which implies that there are no crowds waiting in line to visit the stunning landmarks of the city. This is a unique opportunity to (re)visit these landmarks. Why not take the time to explore the impressive Palazzo Ducale, the golden mosaics of the Basilica or Palazzo Grimani, the only Renaissance Roman mannerist-inspired house in Venice. Their opening hours are more or less the same as usual, but as the situation can change from one day to another, I recommend to check their website before your visit.
Venice at home alternatives
Google Arts & Culture is a great platform to admire art all over the world. They have included Palazzo Ducale in their list, so take all the time you need to enjoy a virtual visit. YouTube is another tool which makes it easy to travel virtually by watching stunning videos such as this one of the Basilica. However, if you prefer some time away from your screen, then the catalogue of the exhibition ‘Domus Grimani’ (which is currently ongoing in Palazzo Grimani) will also transport your mind to the beauty of Venice.
The 2020 Carnevale is irrevocably linked to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Venice. The event was abruptly stopped a couple of days before the end, when the corona virus was no longer under control in Italy. The 2021 Carnevale is scheduled from January 30, 2021 until February 16, 2021. I’m sure that many visitors are already working on their costumes as you are reading this (see also ‘Glimpse at the diaries of a first time carnevale costume’ and ‘Behind the scenes: the magic of carnival in Venice in costume’). The theme hasn’t been announced yet, but that’s not unusual. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this next edition can indeed take place and that it marks the return to a more or less normal situation where we can travel and visit Venice again.
(Picture in the banner: James Lee Byars, la maquette per la performance ‘Holy Ghost’ in Piazza San Marco (1975) a Le muse inquiete. La Biennale di fronte alla storia, Padiglione Centrale, Giardini della Biennale, 2020 – Foto di Marco Cappelletti – Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia)