How to Do the Venice Biennale of Architecture 2018

Another Generosity at the Nordic Pavilion. Photo by Erica Firpo

My article on the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture appeared in Condè Nast Traveler, May 2018.

Our guide to the very best of the seven-month architecture festival taking over Venice this year.

The Biennale Architettura 2018, or Venice Architecture Biennale, is an architect’s dream—but it’s also a design adventure for visitors, a temporary theme park for interactive and experimental works. Running through November 25, the event turns the entire Venetian archipelago into a playground of events, plus permanent and semi-permanent pavilions and projects that transform historic palazziand parks into design destinations. Here’s our guide to making sense of it all.

The Basics

The event centers around the Giardini, or the Biennale Gardens, a park where you’ll find the original national pavilions, a potluck of architecture from the early 1910s to today that includes projects from Australia, Great Britain, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

The Central Pavilion, also at the Gardens, is the main stage for this edition of the Biennale, which is based around the theme of Free Space. Biennale curators Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell of Dublin’s Grafton Architects chose the theme, but what exactly does it mean? “It’s the paradigm of architecture,” says McNamara of the concept. "It's a question about the absence and presence of architecture."

The Biennale Gardens. Photo by Erica Firpo.

In all, there are 63 national pavilions—and more than 70 architects—at the Biennale that explore the concept, but these six are among the most interesting:

  • Another Generosity, at the Nordic Pavilion (which reps Finland, Norway, and Sweden), you’ll find large membrane-like balloons, filled with water and air, that deflate and inflate as viewers walk through the space, a meditation on the relationship between nature and the built environment.
  • Dimension of Citizenship, at the U.S. Pavilion, consists of installations, films, and talks that explore "spatial understandings of citizenship," organizers say, at a time when "questions of belonging, of who should be included and how, are posed with every athlete taking a knee, every #metoo, every presidential tweet, and every protest sign or fist raised."
  • Robabecciah: The Informal City, at the Egypt Pavilion, is a almost sculptural installation of “old junk,” or robabecciah, showcasing Egypt’s historic “spontaneous” markets.
  • UNES-CO, at the Czech/Slovak Pavilion, a futuristic welcome center where the backdrop is a screen showing a live feed of the Czech city of Český Krumlov, which has seen the population in its historic center drop dramatically in part because of an influx of tourists in recent years. The feed shows 15 couples and families who are being paid to live in the city full time.
  • Isola/Island, at the U.K. Pavilion, focuses on themes of isolation—both environmental and deliberately man-made—as well as questions of identity, both top of mind in post-Brexit Europe.
  • Svizzera240 House Tour, at the Swiss Pavilion, is a bit of a voyeuristic spin on architecture shows: As exhibitors put it: “What is built within the Swiss Pavilion is not a 'house' but a house tour: interior scenes are constructed at a range of different scales and spliced together, creating a labyrinthine sequence of interior perspectives.”

Meanwhile, the Arsenale, Venice’s former shipyard, hosts the Corderie, a nearly 400-meter corridor that expands the Free Space exhibition; the neighboring warehouses host newer pavilions, including those of China, Italy, and Kosovo.

One of the 10 chapels on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, part of the Vatican's entry for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018.Photo by Lena Klimkeit/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

More Must Sees

  • Woodland Chapels, the Vatican’s first ever entry in the Architecture Biennale, is both pilgrimage and installation. To visit, take a Line 2 vaporetto to the beautiful island of San Giorgio, where you’ll find 10 chapels designed by a dozen architects including Andrew Berman, Sir Norman Foster, Carla Juaçaba, and Eduardo Souto de Moura.
  • Environmental Justice as a Civil Right, at the Antigua & Barbuda Pavilion, the nation’s first entry to the Biennale, is set in the 15th-century Don Orione Artigianelli monastery on Dorsoduro. The pavilion explores sustainability, including the use of local materials and the importance of public parks—and the redevelopment of Barbuda, after the massive destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
  • 1948: The Biennale of Peggy Guggenheim, at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, recalls the the 1948 Biennale. Greece pulled out, and Peggy stepped in with a Carlo Scarpa–designed exhibit of 136 works; this year, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection celebrates its 70th anniversary by partially recreating the exhibition and bringing together works—from the likes of Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart and Jackson Pollock—which have not been seen in Venice in decades.
  • John Ruskin: The Stones of Venice, at the Doge’s Apartment in the Doge’s Palace, brings to life Ruskin’s three-volume tome on Venetian art and architecture through paintings, including Ruskin’s own watercolors.
  • Machines à Penser, at Fondazione Prada, in the ornate Ca’ Corner alla Regina, explores the ideas of exile and escape, with contemporary pieces inspired by (or reacting to) the work of the philosophers Adorno, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein.

Where to Refuel

In the morning, hit Gran Caffe Quadri, the centuries-old coffee shop in St. Mark’s Square, that’s a favorite of local resident (and architecture superstar) Philippe Starck: “It’s a powerful concentration of mystery, beauty, oddity, and poetry,” he says of the famed coffeehouse. (In the evening, you can do dinner upstairs at Ristorante Quadri, the lavish and whimsical Michelin-star restaurant that he designed.)

Book ahead for lunch, since the Biennale crowds often fill Corte Sconta, a tiny Venetian trattoria with private garden, and Local, a former electrical shop gutted and transformed into a minimalist locavore restaurant. AMO, the atrium restaurant at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, is another Starck-designed choice near the Rialto Bridge.

Navigating the show

The best plan is to split your visit over two days. Start at the Giardini, visiting the central pavilion before branching off to the other country-specific entries; focus your second day on the remaining pavilions and the Arsenale. If you’ve got more time, spend it on off-site pavilions like the Vatican’s or seeing the contemporaneous shows around town.

The Biennale runs through November 25, and locations are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are €25 ($29) and grant a single admission to each of exhibition venues. You can buy tickets ahead of time online.

Photo credit Erica Firpo.

Where to stay

The Aman Venice, set in two restored centuries-old palazzi, feels like its own architectural show. The Palazzo Venart Luxury Hotel is a sleeper favorite of Condé Nast Traveler editors that was on the Hot List in 2017. On the island of Giudecca, and a short (free) ferry ride from St. Mark’s Square, the Belmond Hotel Cipriani is perfect if you prefer quiet—and it has what’s got to be the biggest swimming pool in Venice.

For a virtual tour of the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture, please take a look at my Instagram story that follows my adventures at the Biennale.

Day Trip: Venice

"Where should I go for a day trip out of Rome?" That's probably the most popular question question people ask me when planning a trip to Italy.  Tivoli, Napoli, Cività di Bagnoreggio, Bomarzo, Caserta, Spoleto, Siena... so many sites, towns and cities up my sleeve and all within reasonable distance.  But here's one I never, until now, bothered to suggest:  Venice.

Venice? Impossible, you say.   Not at all. . .

Door to door Roma Termini- Venezia San Lucia is a 3 hour 45 minute train on the Alta Velocità (high speed) trains.  Double down for the return and you're only 7.5 hours seated where you can contemplate time travel by catching up on most of the entire first season of Dark.  To make the most of a Venice day trip, you're going to have to get up early.  The best Rome departure is on the Italo 6.15am train*, arriving in Venice at 10am with a return train at 7:00pm- that gives you nine full hours to do whatever you want in La Serenissima.  And to make the day trip evening sweeter, Italo Treno offers day return fare at great prices, the kind of incentive if you are competitive and thrifty like me.  

Whether meandering or must-see, if you're really going to day trip to Venice, have a plan.  Or better yet, download a Google map for an idea of where you want to go and how you will need to get there- your choices are walking, water bus (see below) and water taxi.  If you want to be clever, customize a My Maps by dropping pins on cultural and food sites and download it onto your phone.  It's going to be a long day, so I suggest powering up on protein and excitement or coffee, and wear your most comfortable (and waterproof) walking shoes.    

Most importantly, know where you're going to eat.  For the daytripper, my only suggestion (and latest mantra) is get thee to a few baccari..  Baccari are those  no-frills bars overflowing with people queued up for cicchetti, whimsical appetizers like creamed cod, pickled onions or braised artichokes on a bread, usually accompanied by a glass of wine. Service is quick, once you are front and center at the counter, and the cod (bacalà mantecato) is an excellent protein solution to fuel you through Venice.  My go-tos are Da Fiore (San Marco/San Stefano), Cantine del Vino già Schiavi (Dorsoduro) and Osteria da Carla (San Marco).

And the best tip? Keep spare euro in your pocket for cicchetti and also the vaporetto, Venice's water bus public transport system.  The 1-Day fare costs 20 euro, while a single 75-minute fare is 7.50 euro (and can be bought on board). Again, cash is king and makes everything go faster.

Is a day trip to ambitious and frivolous? Yes, just like Venice and at times, just like me.

*Daytripping from Florence is even easier: just 2.05 hours by train, and you don't have to get up in the dark. Departure: 7.54 am.

La Biennale is the perfect excuse to visit Venice for the day. A heptathlon of cultural events, the Biennale's big draws are art, architecture and cinema. Every odd numbered year, the islands are inundated with contemporary art  for the international art festival, a six-month art fest from  May through November.  Architecture and design lovers head to Venice in even number years as the Biennale Gardens and Arsenale transform into the very cutting edge for the Architecture Biennale May through November.  At the end of every August, Venice's Lido island illuminates with a galaxy of silver screen stars at the annual Film Festival, an eleven-day affair which is both the both the worst and best time to book a reservation at a five star hotel.

My latest day trip to Venice was an intense attempt to visit all 120 artists and 86 country participants in the *57th International Art Exhibition - Viva Arte Viva in less than 8 hours. My take? Christine Macel's curation for Viva Arte Viva was more introspective, and had more humor and human interaction than biennales past.  The Italia Pavilion was finally something to talk about and at times, amazing like a Neil Gaiman story, whereas Russia was a disappointment. The USA Pavilion was somewhere in between, but that was artist Mark Bradford's point.  The Biennale's roster of artists was solid-  enough new entries to make you feel like the art world's wheels are moving more aggressively.



A Fashionable Packing List for the Venice Biennale

This article originally appeared in Fathom on April 28, 2017.

Highlights from the most recent Biennale. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Every other spring, the contemporary art world flocks to Italy to celebrate art, dance, architecture, cinema, and theater at the Venice Biennale. Fathom contributing editor and Biennale regular Erica Firpo gives us a peek at what she's packing in her suitcase.

VENICE – Flashback to the 1999 Venice Biennale, a time where I spent many months covered in red powder. Anne Hamilton, an artist representing at the U.S. Pavilion, made a crimson snowfall cascade down the walls for her installation Myein, and it was my job, as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection assistant, to make sure the powder and everything else flowed smoothly. There was nothing glamorous about the long hours, often spent alone, in a bone-chillingly cold pavilion, occasionally greeting guests and explaining the installation — but the full immersion into contemporary art was unforgettable, and every 24 months, I return to the Biennale for that very same pleasure, though now as a journalist covering the art.

Over the decades, the press preview for the exhibition has evolved from a quiet industry event for artists, gallerists, and journalists to 72 solid hours of art and hobnobbing with the Pantheon of Glitterati — art, fashion, literature, and film folk from all over. As soon as I arrive in Venice, I have to be ready for nonstop exhibitions, openings, and cocktail parties. Style, efficiency, and fun are my goals — and the same can be said for anyone visiting the Biennale. My suitcase is a balanced mix of form and function, organized Matryoshka-style. Here's a peek inside.

Mophie Juice Pack Air

The Biennale is more than an all-day affair — I'm out the door by 8 a.m., photographing Venice street scenes, perusing every pavilion in the Venetian Arsenal and gardens, visiting collateral events, and partying late into the evening. The Biennale doesn't just kill my feet, it quickly and painfully kills my phone, a.k.a. my life source. Because there is nothing worse than trying to find a free outlet in Venice, I always bring an extra battery pack, and lately it's been a pretty rose gold case that snaps right onto my phone. If I'm feeling extra gamey, I bring two. ($100)

Insta360 Nano Video Camera

The Biennale is not just freeze frame art, it's panoramic performance. For the rare times I broadcast on Facebook Live, I love giving the full 360-degree experience so viewers can choose what they want to see. ($199)

Kasia Dietz Nice Clutch

My handbag has to be stylish and easy to carry. I love Kasia Dietz totes for her choice of vintage fabrics, which are perfect for the exhibition's artsy vibe. I also make sure to have one of her clutches, for a quick switch to evening glam. (€70)


Opening Ceremony Silk-Satin Bomber Jacket

Venice is tricky. Misty mornings burn into hot days, while evenings are chilly and humid. The only solution is a satin bomber jacket and the reversible nature of this one makes it easy to do a quick outfit change. ($525)


Moleskin Ruled Reporter Notebook

The first time I ever purchased this notebook was in Venice, and I have carried one in my handbag ever since. The hard cover makes me feel like Lois Lane scooping the art world. ($13)


Hydaway Water Bottle

I don't like feeling the weight of a water bottle in my purse, but I don't want to be dehydrated either. My solution: a lightweight, collapsible water bottle introduced to me by my friend Livia's 90-year-old nonna. ($20)


Tom Smarte Panama Fedora

Most of my time is spent outdoors, walking from one exhibition to the next. I love a good hat with a little charm to protect my face and lift up my outfit. ($449)


La Roche-Posay SPF 50 Sunscreen

My London BFF introduced me to the French sunscreen. It's light, non-greasy, and the best way to protect my skin from the Venetian sun, which never seems as potent as it really is. ($34)


MSGM Jumpsuit

I love Italian brand MSGM and would wear anything they put in front of me. The fun, striped number would work well for artsy selfies at cocktail parties. ($700)


Tod's Tattoo-Inspired Sneakers

If there is one lesson it has taken me a while to learn, it's that style should take second place when it comes to shoes for an event like the Biennale. Comfort is everything when you're standing on your feet all day. Thank god these sneakers are chic. ($845)


Herban Essentials Peppermint Towelettes

You definitely need antibacterial hand wipes. Added plus: These smell amazing. ($7)

Olloclip Core Lens Set

I use this set of lenses to up my Instagram story game and love playing around with the fisheye and wide angles. ($100)

Venice Biennale: The Season of La Serenissima and Luxe City Guides

If you know me, then you know I love luxe-- not just a fabulous shopping spree but Luxe City Guides, a company I have known, loved and worked with ever since I stumbled into founder Grant Thatcher in Hong Kong.  From 2007 forward, I've worked with Luxe to conceive, edit and curate its Rome City Guide, first in print, then digital and now mobile.  And I've it- from the very picky selection of all entries to emulating Thatcher's sass, style and eye.  And if it weren't for Luxe, I wouldn't have met my friends Phoebe and Magnus. With my hands in the Rome pot, I constantly am on the look out for Luxe Rome and on occasion, I turn off the Rome volume and write about amazing places and experiences outside of the Eternal City for the website.  This time, I've walked my heels off in Venice... enjoying every bit of the Biennale and La Serenissima.


What comes once every two years, widens your eyes with absolute wonder, runs you ragged for a few months and then, with the same blaze of glory that it entered your life, departs again?

Why, La Biennale di Venezia, of course! Venice may be known as La Serenissima – the most serene one – but during the months of La Biennale di Venezia, the floating city is anything but calm. This year’s fair brings together 136 creative talents from 53 countries under the theme of All the World’s Futures, curated by the Nigerian-born critic and art-ficionado, Okuwi Enwezor.

For almost seven months, the lovely lagoon is awash with artistic expression, international hi-so, unmissable exhibs and Champers-drenched events. While we encourage putting the map away and getting lost in the city itself, there’s nothing worse than a blundering biennaler. Here’s our guide to making the most of your art agenda – bring on the glamour, the food, and of course, the art…


Put The Gritti Palace on speed dial, as this ritzy flopspot hits the art target with suites honoring and inspired by aesthetic icons including patron Peggy Guggenheim, art historian John Ruskin and interior designer Angelo Donghi. Occupying a perf Grand Canal posi, the Gritti offers direct agacqua access with its tricked-out Riva Yacht, ideal for a spot of creative exploration. Zip over to the Arsenale or cruise the canals to see Venice’s gorgeous churches.

When it’s time to refuel, Jules, Venezia’s answer to finger-licking canapés, chicheti, is calling. Nip down a narrow alley behind San Marco in search of Osteria da Carla for fabby bar-side bites like bacalà mantecato, creamed cod on a bed of polenta – yumsome.


Appetite and whistle whetted, make tracks for Corta Sconta, where you’ve had the good sense to reserve a table in the vibey, vine-covered courtyard. The seafood antipasti go-to for those in the know, this tiny Castello trat also serves up a mean vongole allo zenzero (clams with ginger).

Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little more glam, strap on those Rene Caovillas and stiletto-step over to the city’s prima piazza. Nope, no orchestra dining for you; head inside Caffe Quadri to the Mich-spangled FROW resto-with-a-view. Helmed by the Alajmo brothers of Padova’s tri-star Le Calandre, Quadri offers four spectac tasting menus executed by cucina capo Silvio Giavedoni, but keep your eyes on the Laguna menu that features flip-fresh fish sourced straight from the sea.


Finally, reward yourself with a post-prandi at Starck’s sultry PalazzinaG – park your Prada, and order a Martinez. Didn’t you do well, darling?

For more hotspots in Venice, check out the LUXE Venice guide or download our fabulous new app with maps!



La Biennale di Venezia 9 May-22 November, 2015

Various locations throughout the city

The Gritti Palace Campo Santa Maria del Giglio San Marco, Venice +39 041 794 611

Osteria da Carla Calle Corte Contarina 1535 San Marco, Venice +39 041 523 7855

Corta Sconta Calle del Pestrin 3886 Castello, Venice +39 041 522 7024

Quadri Piazza San Marco 120 San Marco, Venice +39 041 0522 2105

PalazzinaG Ramo Grassi 3247 San Marco, Venice +39 041 528 4644

Biennale again and again: Venice 2013


Last month, I made my bi-annual pilgrimage to the Venice Biennale, a five-month-long contemporary art fest. And it was amazing. Art everywhere, as can be expected-- and during press week, it is all fashion.  I arrived in the midst of a downpour and with a fever so my baseline wardrobe was black studded Converse low tops, black pleather jeggings, and a black hoodie.   I figured when the art world mixes with inclement weather, black is best.   My bag was loaded with pens, notebooks and iPhone juice pack because I knew that my battery would drain fast from posting on Instagram for myself and Fathom, along with Vine.  I was ready for Venice and everything the Biennale can bring-- torrential rains, flashy parties, dead phones.

I hit the ground running by visiting the collateral events and openings that crossed my path like  Henri Pinault's latest gallery, Punta della Dogana (designed by Tadao Ando, it felt like a home collection, but the structure is great), Milla Jovovich and her  Future/Perfect performance, the four-level Fondazione Stampalia Querini (eclectic) and a Marc Quinn cocktail party at Fondazione Cini (gargantuan and fabulous). Eventually I scooped up my press pass and backtracked to the Biennale Gardens. I am kind of old school about how I like to walk through the Biennale, probably in part due the months I spent sitting in the US Pavilion in 1999 watching Ann Hamilton's installation.  My  four-day biennale program is usually as follows: I peruse every pavilion at the Gardens, walk through the Arsenale, pick up some collateral events and off-site pavilions on the walks home and then revisit the Gardens and pavilions that I want to see twice.

I love the gardens for the greenery, outdoorsy smell, crunchy gravel and the architecture-- Russia's onion dome, Austria's minimalist rectangle, USA's brick colonial, all of it represents the many different eras of the Biennale-- from its early 20th century beginning to the post-war renovations to new architecture for new countries. This year,  the pavilions were amazing.  My favorites were the British, Russian, Portugese and Polish pavilions-- mostly likely because they mixed humor and beauty.  I thought the France/Germany switcheroo was rather sweet.  Austria and Denmark had gorgeous videos. (Note: Portugal is a boat floating outside of the Biennale Gardens entrance).  Overall, curation seemed  sound/experiential-centric, though there was a strong strain of collectionism that really didn't interest me -- like Sarah Sze's USA pavilion. It was just clutter.  Note: I did love the Central pavilion which was a collection of collections and did not feel like clutter.

The Arsenale made me fall in love over and over again with paintings, videos and installation. Mariam Haji from Bahrain had some of the most beautiful paintings I have seen in a long time, the videos in the People's Republic of China were beautiful, and the Indonesian and Bahama pavilions were enchanting. Kosovo's tree root? was heady.  The Arsenale corderie was a bit overwhelming, lots of art on the walls, perhaps too much with the amount of people running through it. Eventually, I made it through and then did my best to visit as many off-site pavilions as possible.  Favorites were Mexico, New Zealand and Iraq.  Favorite artist ogling: Great Britain's Jeremy Deller in the Giardini, Iceland's Ragnar Kjartansson on his boat, the unfriendly Ava & Adele, and of course Maurizio Cattelan.

I love the Biennale and did my best to offer it up to as many publications I could contact, and in the end, my Biennale articles appeared in Forbes TravelTravel + Leisure, and Huffington Post.  They were basic run-downs of the event, but I was happy that I could share it with three publications.  The bonus came on my birthday when Instagram included me in its blog post "Capturing La Biennale”, with both my photo and a mention as one to follow along with 5 international artists.

Indonesia Pavilion
Indonesia Pavilion
Jeremy Deller, Great Britain Pavilion
Jeremy Deller, Great Britain Pavilion
Venezuela Pavilion
Venezuela Pavilion
New Zealand Pavilion
New Zealand Pavilion

Venice Biennale, Rain or Shine

For the past three days, I've been walking around Venice  in rain and shine and sometimes a pair of Converse One-Stars as I soak in the 55th Venice Biennale: The Encyclopedic Palace.  The Arsenale, Giardini and collateral events have been amazing.  And the people-watching has been fabulous.  The rain hasn't held back any fashion- if anything, it seemed to bring out the highest of heels. And even though the Biennale can be all about luxury (Sea Force One was docked and ready for partying), I bumped into Maurizio Cattelan on the vaporetto and Eva & Adele in the Arsenale, again just around town.  No matter what, this year's overall vibe is playful- in art and fashion. Updates and articles coming soon.


Fashionably Artsy

There has never been a doubt that art and fashion go hand in hand, and even if more recently the handholding has become a little bit more than just friends.  Many haute couture designers are also painters (though some may critique as 'hobbyists'), and most come from art school backgrounds, however fashion-focused.  So it should come as no surprise that haute couture invests in contemporary art through sponsorship of single exhibitions as well as dedicated contemporary art foundations-- in, other words, the logical synthesis where bombastic projects can be realized without the painfully latent bureacracy that many non-profit arts centers have or the long waitlist of gallery programming. I can't help but get giddy (and yes, I really mean giddy) when I hear that fashion and contemporary art are about to collide again. I think it clicked in my head when in 1999 with Tom Ford sponsored the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and then I ran across a random Hugo Boss/Ugo Rondinone display on 5th Avenue and stepped into the  Fondazione Prada.  It seemed as if the art world game had was changing, and perhaps the natural evolution for the 1980s rock-star artists into 21st century.  Maybe it's all about thedisponibilità,funds at disposable to actualize projects without the aforementioned wait.  Maybe it's  because fashion can literally and figuratively afford to have a little bit of fun in art these days.  Or maybe its because it is simply another way of seeing.

Though I am not sure if I agree when Elizabeth Povoledo  writes "Fine arts and luxury brands have long crossed paths, creating a blend of culture, merchandising and branding"-- because I like to think I don't judge the piece by who sponsored it nor do I confuse art work with branding, both being very valid discussions-- I do wonder about the cross-over sometimes [is it crap? is it good? who cares!], but that doesn't stop me from getting excited that another collaboration has popped up in Rome.

Fabulae Romanae by Lucy & Jorge Orta

March 21- September 23, MAXXI

More: Elizabeth Povoledo "Art and Fashion Rub Elbows" New York Times, April 26, 2012

Illuminated: the return from the 54th Venice Biennale

It has taken me a week to decompress from an intense four days of contemporary art  at the Venice Biennale.  I'll admit, the rientro to Rome was a bittersweet denouement.  In Venice, I shirked responsabilities and lived in a world where I was only beholden to the sluggish vaporetto and my Twitter thumb, a unique tendonitis based solely on RTs*.   The return to Rome was an immediate jump into the deep end.  And in order to process it all-- by all, I mean the visual information overload of Venice, one must always adhere to Radio Silent. With a return to communications, my overall feelings for the Biennale can be summed up in this photo taken of the German Pavilion.  Ego-- art is about ego, its about presence and about showmanship.  Likewise so art its viewer, whether in stilettoes or sweats.  The entire Biennale experience may go unparalleled this year- it was like being in an alternate art reality Venice  where fashion and VIP parties dominated a sinking city sugar coated in contemporary art, where mega-yachts were mistaken for cruise ships, and where I dined with my cousin and friend to a live serenade of Superstition by Maroon 5 coming from the palazzo across the street.   It was amazing to be a part of the press week and I can't wait to do it again.

*Thanks for all the tweets and RTs -- I felt like I was walking around with my own gang.  And of course, thank you for the birthday wishes...

Collateral Events and Para-Pavilions: 54th Venice Biennale

Collateral events, para-pavillions and unofficial pavilions-- aka the benign collateral damage of this year's 54th Venice Biennale- were an overflow across the islands and lagoon of tens of "pavilions" and exhibitions.  Gargantuan (and playful) sea animals lounging around Venice were art world red herrings, but I loved seeing them.   Ukraine's monumental installation of pixelated (yes, I know! Decorated eggs!) is beautiful.  And the Prada Foundation's new gallery space  Ca' Corner  has a literally inspiring collection.  Is Venice about to become Italy's contemporary art foundation capital?

Personally, I think these off-site exhibitions are the true success of the Biennale- excess art.

Key Points

  1. As hard as we tried, it was impossible for Giovi and I to traipse into every off-site exhibition.
  2. Thank you, Wales Pavilion for the delicious cakes, very much needed after a day of trying to do everything
  3. Go out of your way to find Taiwan's Taipei Soundscape (near the Bridge of Sighs)- the perfect place for visual decompression[slideshow]

Arsenale: 54th Venice Biennale

As an ex-Guggie girl, a nickname given to me by Steve Martin in 1998, I have a fondness for the Arsenale exhibition area of the Venice Biennale.  Back story:  In 1998 and 1999, I worked at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and helped manage the American Pavilion at 49th Biennale.  The 49th Biennale was  very first to incorporate the Arsenale into the arty campus.  I loved the open and rough space of the former shipyard, and more importantly, I loved the aggressive and experimental agenda of the Arsenale.

This year’s Arsenale, and Biennale overall, is like watching evolution on speed.  Bice Curiger’s ILLUMInations at the Corderie (and in the Giardini*) is an amazingly curated and overlapping show with art world newcomers and heavy hitters like James Turrell and his Ganzfeld Apani, a magic box of sorts where apparently non-existant walls appear solid by light changes.  I write apparently because I did not have time to wait in the 90 minute line to step into the void.  My favorite pieces?   The humorous and life-sized wax statues modeled from Giambologna statues by Urs Fischer and of course The Clock (video installation) by Christian Marclay, Golden Lion award winner, where real time is synched and showcased by showing time-corresponding film and video clips.

Frankly, the more intriguing area was the curated pavilions where a kind of even flow brought one curated country to the next.  My favorites included newcomer Saudi Arabia (Shadia and Raja Alem) The Black Arch- a blue lagoon/shell, Turkey (Ayşe Erkmem) Plan B- colored piping, India, and Argentina for its Hobbit meets Clay-mation landscape.

The back yard of the Arsenale left me a bit bi-polar.  I loathed the over-the-top Italian pavilion where Vittorio Sgarbi managed to confuse me by creating a warehouse of Italian art, where I couldn’t appreciate anything due to the clutter but felt extraordinarily happy the People’s Republic of China Pavilion, maybe it was the cloud?  And I did find the impromptu Austrian band a bit of fun. . .

*ILLUMInations also showcases three paintings by Venetian painter Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594) in the former Italian pavilion at the Giardini.