Venice is bursting into life – spring is here and the 2022 Biennale Art event starts in a few weeks – so there’s loads of activity. Countries from all over the world will exhibit their finest contemporary art. For the first time the Biennale is curated by a woman – Cecilia Alemani and she in turn has been inspired by the words and paintings of Leonora Carrington – one of my favourite surrealist artists. The title of this year’s show is ‘The Milk of Dreams’ and it promises to be an exciting event. I’ve been fascinated by Leonora Carrington since the Tate Gallery, Liverpool hosted an exhibition about her in 2015. I’m interested to see how Carrington’s form of art and magic manifests itself in Venice over the coming months. I’ll be starting at The Guggenheim with the long-anticipated ‘Surrealism and Magic’ show curated by the insightful and charming Grazina Subelyte. It’s going to be an action packed year in the art world of Venice.
La Biennale – a brief history: The first international modern art exhibition was held in Venice in 1895. The original idea was to create a contemporary art show promoting Italian and overseas artists. The location of the event was the Giardini di Castello, the gardens of Castello where the Palazzo dell’ Exposizione was built and opened by King Umberto I of Italy on 30th April, 1895. The event has been running every other year, bi-annually hence the name in Italian ‘biennale’ ever since. In the early years of the 20th century, the original Palazzo became the Italian Pavilion and shortly afterwards other countries built their own exhibition spaces in the gardens. These buildings knows as pavilions or ‘padiglioni’ in Italian are dotted through the shady, green walkways of Castello. Venice’s magnificent lagoon and fabulous architectural backdrops create an ideal, theatrical setting for the ‘Biennale’.
Belgium opened a national pavilion at the ‘Biennale’ site in 1907, then in 1909 Hungary, Germany and Great Britain built theirs. France (1912) and Russia (1914) followed shortly afterwards. The philosophy of the ‘Biennale’ was always to welcome the very best of contemporary art to the gardens of Castello. As early as the 1920s the ‘Biennale’ event was welcoming paintings from the Impressionists and Avant Garde group of artists. This was at a time when these individuals were not well known outside artistic circles. In the late 1940s Peggy Guggenheim was invited to show her private art collection at the ‘Biennale’. Peggy was a great patron of the arts and had created a wonderful selection of contemporary art that occupied her private home, Palazzo Venier, on the Grand Canal. Her collection included works by Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, Max Ernst, Kandinksy, Jackson Pollock, Giacometti, Picasso and Magritte. Below is a letter from the Greek Consulate in Venice, discussing the idea of using the Greek Pavilion at the ‘Biennale’ to show Peggy’s art collection to the general public.
Today the ‘Biennale’ event which now has a history of almost 130 years, will feature contributions from more than fifty countries. Exhibitions include sculpture, paintings, tapestries, ceramics, film and video. The displays can be found all over the city of Venice, including the original ‘Giardini’ site and also the ‘Arsenale’ (former ship building yards of Venice). There are also pop-up events in palaces and houses that are often not open to the public. The ‘Biennale’ provides an opportunity to visit these little-known historic palaces as well as interesting exhibits of contemporary art. This year promises to deliver a spectacular range of art from all corners of the world. Peru for example will be exhibiting a selection of art supporting and increasing awareness of challenges facing the Latin American rain forests, an important and timely issue. The Netherlands have generously given their national pavilion to Estonia for this year, enabling the Estonians to exhibit in the heart of the ‘Giardini’ with a show called Orchidelirium, I’m guessing orchids might be involved. Meanwhile Holland will be present at the newly refurbished ‘Misericordia’ building. Whilst Poland will be showing an exhibition with a focus on respect and hope for refugees.
Simone Leigh the talented and original American sculptor is representing the United States this year. She is responsible for the ‘Brick House’ sculpture on the High Line in New York. This 16 foot (5 metres) high bronze sculpture dominates the city’s High Line Art Project. Another version of ‘Brick House’ will be exhibited in Venice. Floors have been reinforced and a thatched roof created at the USA Pavilion to accommodate Leigh’s work. The Brick House sculpture is over 5 metres tall and weighs several tons. I can’t wait to see it being transported across the lagoon and into the American Pavilion. You can read more about New York’s High Line Project and Simone Leigh here: The High Line Project
In the British Pavilion Sonia Boyce is the selected artist for 2022. Sonia Boyce is a British Afro-Caribbean artist, living and working in London. She is Professor of Black Art and Design at the University of the Arts. Boyce explores art through her experiences as a British Black woman with Caribbean roots. She often works in association with other artists. This emphasis on collaborative work can involve improvisation and spontaneous performances on the part of her collaborators. Boyce’s work involves a variety of media, including drawing, colour, photography, video and sound. Boyce has taught Fine Art for more than thirty years. Her work has been exhibited at Tate Modern and Manchester City Art Gallery. She was made an OBE by The Queen in 2019 and is a member of the Royal Academy, London (2015). An example of her work which fascinates me is ‘In the Castle of my Skin’ photo below:
Palestine and the Palestinian people will be represented in a small exhibition at Palazzo Mora in Cannaregio. There will be a living tree decorated with keys, a poignant symbol of the displacement of the Palestinian people from their homes and farmlands during the post war years. This reminded me of my own visit to Palestine several years ago, where, in a Palestinian refugee camp a tearful lady, explained to me the significance of the keys to their former homes. These keys are guarded fiercely by many people, always hopefully that one day they will be able to return. The use of such powerful symbolism at the ‘Biennale’ enables art to deliver a strong message to the international audience of visitors who will attend the event between now and November, 2022
The ‘Biennale’ is an opportunity for artists to be seen on a global stage, that stage is Venice. The city gives artists a level of visibility and international recognition that has a truly global reach. In this Biennale year artists are falling over themselves to exhibit something, somewhere in the city. The Palazzo Ducale has given over two rooms within the palace to German post-war artist Anselm Keifer. I’ll be visiting his show very soon – I last saw his work at the Royal Academy in London. His work is monumental in style and emotion. There’s just been an announcement that Lorenzo Quinn will be creating a new art work at Ca’ Sagredo on the Grand Canal. Quinn’s ‘Support’ sculpture, the two ghostly white hands holding up a Venetian palace, stole the show in 2017, even though the exhibit wasn’t an official part of the ‘Biennale’ event. Meanwhile at Peggy Guggenheim’s former home on the Grand Canal, as I mentioned earlier, there’s a ‘Surrealism and Magic’ exhibition taking place, carefully curated by the charming and erudite Grazina Subelyte. This promises to be a must see show, featuring some rarely seen works by Leonora Carrington. More detail on this show to follow very soon!
Important note – The Russian Pavilion will be empty this year as the European artistic community voices it’s condemnation of war in Ukraine. Conversely the Ukraine exhibit will be supported and welcomed.
Over the years the ‘Biennale’ has fostered and encouraged a vibrant and dynamic modern art community in Venice. This ‘Biennale’ year promises to be brimming with original and creative ideas, designs and displays. For me the year kicks off next week with the opening of The Guggenheim’s ‘Surrealism and Magic’ exhibition. If you are thinking about a trip to Venice now’s the time. The city is still quite peaceful, especially during the week and the choice of events is quite exceptional. If you make it to the city before 25th April I’d recommend ‘Intrecci d’Arte e D’affetti’ which could be translated as ‘The Weaving of Art and Emotions’. It’s a brilliant show by a group of Venetian artists who lived and worked just steps for Peggy Guggenheim’s home in the 1960s and 70s. The show is curated by Fabrizio Berger, a well-informed and proud Venetian, who works tirelessly to promote art and culture and the Venetian way of life. When it comes to ‘Ways of Seeing….Venice’ for Fabrizio, it runs in the family……
Further reading and inspiration:
- The official Biennale web site: www.biennale.org
- Surrealisn amd Magic at The Guggenheim: Surrealism and Magic – Venice
- Leonora Carrington and Surrealism: Leonora Carrington – Surrealist artist
- The dulcet tones of www.educated-traveller.com
- Tailor-made, beautifully crafted tours of Venice, to fit the discerning visitor – private boat tours of the lagoon, off-the-beaten track walking tours, visits to artisans at work www.grand-tourist.com
- A stroll through Venice: Sunday in Venice….
- Peggy Guggenheim collection: The Guggenheim Venice
- Palazzo Ducale for Anselm Kiefer: Palazzo Ducale, Venice
- Written: 1st April, 2022
- Updated: 16th April, 2022