On June 7 the Venice Biennale, mother of all recurring international exhibitions, will enjoy its traditional public opening, a festive Sunday ceremony aimed at welcoming the local community. (That community’s patience, of course, will have been sorely tested by the preceding five-day frenzy of VIP previews, special performances, rogue events, overburdened vaporetti, and the human and material spillover from parties, parties, parties.) Even in the face of severe economic contraction and biennial fatigue, the 114-year-old doyenne retains her luster: like the British monarchy, the Venice Biennale — storied and exhasperating — carries on.
The 53rd edition boasts the youngest director in the Biennale’s history, Daniel Birnbaum (b. 1963), who is nonetheless more experienced in the arena of globe-spanning exhibitions than was his 2007 predecessor, Robert Storr. Birnbaum has dubbed this year’s exhibition “Fare Mondi,” or “Making Worlds.” It’s a brisk, can-do title that, I confess, initially conjured an uplifting number from the Eurovision Song Contest. In fact, the sober inspiration comes from philosopher Nelson Goodman’s 1978 classic Ways of Worldmaking, which argues that art, no less than science and philosophy, presents essential—if intrinsically provisional and contradictory—versions of reality, and that our “world” at any moment is the product of those contending versions.
If Birnbaum’s exhibition title and curatorial inclinations valorize the imaginings of the individual artist, the Biennale as an institution continues to be enamored of growth and numbers: more national representations (77) this year than ever before, with first-time participants Montenegro, Monaco, Gabon, Union of the Comoros and United Arab Emirates; more collateral shows, too (38); and a continuation of the systematic physical expansion that began a decade ago under the directorship of Harald Szeemann. Noteworthy on the expansion front is the construction of a bridge that completes a new route from the Giardini through the Castello district to the back of the Arsenale, the ex-naval facility that houses a substantial portion of the Biennale group show plus several national pavilions. The alternate approach transforms the rear of the Arsenale—which, in past years, visitors reached in a state of flushed exhaustion—into a second portal. The principal beneficiaries of that reorientation include China, which, in truth, has been able to command attention despite its out-of-the-way position, and Italy, the often slighted host country, whose pavilion area will more than double in size along with being rendered more accessible.
Art in America has long provided extensive critical coverage of the Venice Biennale in its September issue, and this year will be no exception. But we also thought it would be revealing to reach out to a number of participating artists and organizers during the weeks leading up to the show. What follows is an unscientific but illuminating sampler of ways to get ready for your close-up in Venice: create new work, assemble a retrospective, repurpose an installation, devise an uncommonly complex video project, speculate obsessively and then improvise onsite. The outcome of these designs and strategies will be on view at the Biennale through Nov. 22.
Photo above: The Corderie of the Arsenale, awaiting artworks for the 53rd Biennale, Courtesy Venice Biennale Foundation.