What is the Venice Biennale?

Some people refer to the Venice Biennale or La Biennale di Venezia as an ‘Art Olympics’, and that’s one way to look at it – countries from all around the world fund one of their very best contemporary artists to exhibit their work in front of a global art audience.

La Biennale di Venezia takes place in Italy, within the incredible city of Venice.

It began in 1895 and has always centred in the Giardini, an historic garden in Venice. Within the Giardini there are 30 national pavilions. The pavilions are permanent purpose-built art galleries that countries use to display their Biennale artist exhibitions. It’s much, much bigger than just the Giardini these days though. In 2015, there were 88 different countries represented – in the Giardini of course, but also at the Arsenale, and peppered throughout the historical heart of Venice.

Video: take a 360 tour of Venice by boat

Timelapse video: Venice in a day

New Zealand at the Biennale

Creative New Zealand has been supporting New Zealand contemporary artists to exhibit at La Biennale di Venezia since 2001. Explore this timeline to see our recent Biennale history. It’s fascinating to look back at the changes in exhibitions, logo design, pavilion spaces, and artist motivations.

The artists who get to represent New Zealand at the Biennale have gone through a rigorous selection process. This interview with Jude Chambers, Creative New Zealand's Project Director for the Venice Biennale, explains how they selected the 2017 artist Lisa Reihana, and this interview with Lisa Reihana talks about what exhibiting at Venice means to her.

Getting to the Biennale from New Zealand is a massive undertaking. Not only is Venice right on the other side of the planet, but once the crew and the artwork get there, they have to navigate the challenges of water-based transport! Listen to this interview with Jude Chambers, from Creative New Zealand, as she speaks of some of the logistics involved in exhibiting in Venice.

Who comes to the Biennale?

Well, it’s a microcosm of the art world – hordes of artists, curators, art critics, and art lovers descend on the city. There are also a bundle of travellers and tourists too, who want to see Venice at its most vibrant. So the Biennale is a really big deal for Venice. In fact, in 2015, over 500,000 people visited the city for the Biennale exhibitions. [1]

Watch: Behind the Biennale – a short history of the world’s most important art exhibition

[1] Figure retrieved from Art News