For six months every two years, Venice turns into the hotbed of the world's contemporary art by hosting the famous Venice Biennale. So how do you tackle such an enormous art buffet? Renowned Australian sculptor William Eicholtz has a few hints and views to share.
1. What were your first impressions of the Venice Biennale?
It was huge! The Venice Biennale has the reputation as the largest and most famous of the international art exhibitions, with representations from almost all nations, including many that you don't immediately associate with contemporary art. The Biennale is spread across the city, in the official venues and private palazzos, but the Arsenale and Giardini are the major venues. They house vast collections of contemporary art, each vying for the art-lovers attention. Some are wonderfully engaging - some are not!
2. What were your favourite pieces and why?
The approach to representing artists from each country varied wildly, from showcasing an individual to disparate groups. One of the most popular exhibitions - and rightly so - was the Nordic and Danish Pavilions. They combined their venues for the first time for a showcase of works curated by Elmgreen and Dragset, who collected examples of northern European furniture, Tom of Finland drawings and trophy underpants to create a mythical art collector's bachelor pad - but with a sinister and hilarious subtext. Each artist's work stands alone, but the collection is designed to be part of the lifestyle of the collector - who is floating face-down in the pool outside.
3. What advice would you give a first-timer to the Biennale?
The festival is huge - but it is on for almost six months - so time is what a visitor really needs. Even the most devoted art follower can only absorb a few hours a day of this concentration of art - there are a lot of side exhibitions and minor collections too. I had nine days and that was enough to see most, but not all, of the things I wanted to see. Optical exhaustion competes with sore feet to bring you to the point of art collapse.
4. How should a visitor prepare for a visit to the Biennale?
Bring comfy shoes! You really have to approach the Biennale - like all contemporary art - with an open mind, because the best of it will surprise and challenge you, and there is no preparation for that. Again I would stress that time is important to spend with works that are confusing and attractive. If you're in a hurry, you'll rush past and disregard unexpected gems.
5. Is there any nearby bars or cafes you'd recommend?
Grab the ArtWorld guide, which is a free pocket guide to the exhibitions - it has participating artists' favourite bars, eateries and off-the-track rest areas. Venice can be very expensive for even the simplest fare in tourist areas, so head into the side alleys - you'll find a lot of small cafes where the locals eat. These are almost without addresses though.
6. Anything else? Rules? Regulations? Etiquette?
Venice is crawling with tourists and yes, it can be annoying and yes, they get in your way - until you remember that you are a tourist too. Even art lovers have to squash onto the vaporettos, bustle into lines at the magnificent Doges Palace, and share the crowded bridges and cafes with the rest of them. But it's worth it. The Biennale, like Venice itself, is extraordinary and unmissable.
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