Venice: more art from the Biennale, plus a few travel tips

venice biennale 08For anyone wanting to visit Venice, I’d urge you to go off season (don’t even think about August) and to consider staying away from the main drag, on either the Dorsoduro or the Guidecca. We stayed at La Calcina, a well run family hotel with terrific views over the water, a great restaurant and the perfect spot to sit and watch the world go by. Sometimes it was tempting to just sit and watch rather than look at art. The Pensione Accademia is also excellent, quiet and with a pretty garden from which you can see the Grand Canal. Venice isn’t cheap and at around 250 euros a night per adult, these two hotels work out as ‘reasonable’. Middleagedad researched some very good Air B&B apartments on the Guidecca too, which we will try out next time.

Staying on either the Dorsoduro or the Guidecca brings you closer to residential Venice, where real people live and the fabulous bakeries, food shops and of course restaurants they use. Hang out around Campo San Barnaba would be my advice, where the floating vegetable shops and the wonderful pasticceria Palnono Colussi are irresistible.

venice-view-06Anyway, back to the art….

If you are visiting this year, then make sure you visit Slip of The Tongue, the Biennale show curated by hot-artist-of-the-moment Danh Vo (ahem, we wrote about him here) in the Punta della Dogna, the Old Custom House, restored and owned by François Pinault. If you’ve ever wondered where those profits from luxury good go, (Mr Pinault owns Kering) it’s here.

The space is glorious with some of the best views of Venice and the art – challengingly modern for some – is well curated and uncluttered. Below is Roni Horn’s Gold Field, with a back drop of the Guidecca.

venice biennale 02There were many highlights in this exhibition, but one of youngestson’s was this one below, Work by Sadamasa Montonaga, which he said reminded him ‘of how his head feels sometimes’ .

venice biennale 03I fell for this David Hammons Unititled piece below, which you may think looks like a few layers of ripped plastic sheet, and you’d be right. It took on a delicate ethereal beauty hung against the building’s brickwork, which sounds ‘arty bollocks’ I know, perhaps you just had to be there.

venice biennaleToo much art can do your head in, so it’s joyous that Venice has the best walks of any city, with lots of delightful things to see to clear your head. Everywhere is an Instagram moment.

venice-04We bought a two day ticket to the Biennale and saw the Pavilions on day one and the Arsenale – which is one long building full of curated art, with a few tag-on country pavilions who don’t have their own sites -on day two. One very important address to take with you is for the Antica Osteria da Gino a tiny, canal side restaurant  that no one can ever find but is one of the nicest places to eat in Venice (but remember Venice is NOT cheap). I’m sharing this with you on the understanding you don’t tell too many people please. When we were there, this year’s curator of the art Biennale Okwui Enwezor and fab American artist Carrie Mae Weems were on one of its five tables.We had a lot of fun eavesdropping #lipsaresealed

venice beinnale 09Over at the Arsenale, which can be a bit overwhelming due to the amount of art on show, I liked Chris Ofili’s textural paintings, above, can you see the botanical prints on the wall behind?

And below is Lorna Simpson’s work, who was the first African American women ever to show at the Venice Biennale (in 1993). I didn’t know Lorna’s work and I absolutely love its powerful simplicity, take a look at her website if she’s new to you too.

venice biennale 12Round the back of the Arsenale is a quiet residential area which is charming to wander around. Don’t you love the floating herb garden below?

venice-herb-gardenAnd finally a few other highlights from the Pavilions, I loved Revolutions at the French Pavilion, which had moving trees in a soundscape of tweeting birds and forest rustlings…yep, the pine tree and its root system below (neatly held together with clay) moved very slowly across the floor, so slowly it took you a while to notice. It put a new spin on going for a walk in the woods…and I’m thinking, new ways with Christmas trees….?

venice biennale 04And I left off a woman artist representing her country on last week’s post, Pamela Rosenkranz filled the Swiss pavilion full of pink (solid colour was def a trend at the Biennale!); pink walls, pink water (Evian, I think) in a giant pool and a shot of pale pink florescent lighting. The pink represents the standardised skin tone of Northern Europeans. It was strangely mesmeric and soothing.

venice biennale 07My favourite off-site pavilion, tucked away near the Accademia Bridge, was Sean Scully’s Land Sea at the Palazzo Falier. When I win the lottery and after I’ve bought Great Dixter, I’m buying this palazzo apartment for giant parties, you’ll be invited.

venice biennale 11Sean Scully’s bold colourful stripes have a textural drama in the brush strokes, colour juxtaposition and size. Some of the work is painted onto aluminium, which gives it a vibrant glow, With the same lottery winnings, I’m buying the painting below this one.

venice biennale 10For more on the Art Biennale, see the website here. For more of the art, middleagedad (who is much more of an art expert than me) has more snaps on his blog here


  • sally says:

    Wonderful inspiring post Amanda…running upstairs now for my pastels and sketchbook :D

  • Sarah says:

    Wow, lovely post and photos, I love the David Hammond piece, if that’s arty bollocks bring it on.

  • Jan says:

    Thanks for the super photos. I’ve been visiting Venice fairly regularly since the 1980s and until recently had always gone in July/August due to constraints of academic holidays! This is actually one of the cheapest periods for hotel rates as it’s, in effect, their low season. You could find you’ll get rooms at half the price you’d pay in June. Yes it can be busy but that is mostly round the hot spots of St Marks and the Rialto. Once you get away from the main drag you’ll find empty campos whatever the time of year. Whenever you go, do stay overnight. Once the day trippers have gone Venice by night takes on another enchantment. You’ll usually get a much better rate booking directly with your hotel/B&B so ring them, as inevitably they’ll be someone there who speaks English. Do avoid any cheap internet deals that offer hotels on Mestre, which is Venice’s mainland. Visiting during the Biennale offers extra magic, including free fringe events outside of the main pavilions.

  • Amanda says:

    Great tips Jan, thanks so much for sharing this, very interesting to know that high summer can be better value too. Totally agree about staying overnight too, it’s like a different place Ax

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