Members and fans of the art world, if not treading the blue carpet at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition here in Blighty, will probably be heading to the continent for the Venice Biennale. Over the weekend artists, curators, dealers, journalists and collectors will be descending on the event en masse, before it opens to the public on June 7th.
The lavish and critically acclaimed Biennale has taken place every other year from 1895, and has been the scene of parties, politics and some maverick art ever since. Different countries play host to various spots around the city, which still to this day reflect the status of the country during the Biennale’s Victorian debut. The British pavilion sits at the head of the gardens that host the spectacle, with America out in the wings. Despite its size, China, until recently, didn’t factor in the event at all. This year does see some progression though, with the United Arab Emirates holding court for the first time. Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan have a group showing, conspicuously based in the old Jewish Quarter. Keeping with the ever-political edge of the event, their show is designed to challenge Western perceptions of their countries as being linked to terrorism.
The art world does political demonstrations well, and nowhere is better to throw a few arty, controversial punches than at the Biennale. In 1974 the art of Chile was the centre piece, in protest at the Pinochet regime. Visitors in 1968 fondly remember the cultural protests surrounding the event of that year. There is set to be further shifts in the politics in the near future; the chairman of the Biennale is proposing that the Chinese Pavilion moves in among the ‘conventional venues’, reflecting the cultural and political changes that have happened since the British Empire days of 1895.
Aside from politics, the Biennale likes to offer up a lavish spread of glamour. One of the must-see pavilions is the Nordic entry, made to look like the home of a flashy collector, where semi (or in one case, completely) naked men are part of the spectacle. A good proportion of the money and beauty at the event belongs to the Russians, with art dealer and new editor of hip magazine Pop Dasha Zhukova adding her support, as well as model looks. We hear the best parties come from inside the Ukrainian pavilion: at the last event the music was provided by none other than Elton John, who celeb-watchers hope will turn up again this year as well. Of the parties, sculptor Anthony Caro, Britain’s representative in 1966 said: “There was a holiday spirit. We’d all go out in the evenings and get pretty drunk.” We’re sure that the contingent of journalists at this year’s Biennale hope that that particular tradition continues, after all, Venice, art and parties make for very good journalism indeed.