Little Black Book

An Art Brat's Guide to the Venice Biennale

by Geren Lockhart

Ai Wewei's exhibit in the German Pavilion. All photos by Geren Lockhart.

When you're surrounded by hundreds of exhibits at the Biennale, it's easy to give up and go for an aperitivo. Self-professed art brat and Fathom contributor Geren Lockhart gives us the ins and outs of the 55th annual art festival, which closes in November, and hammers out a list of must-see exhibits and best places to recharge.

VENICE – Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to experience two very important life firsts: my first trip to Venice, Italy and my first Biennale. I quickly threw caution to the wind when I walked into my Grand Canal fronting room at the Palazetto Pisani, where on the spot I decided to double the length of my trip. Contemporary art and Italy both at their best. This deserved more time.

The 55th Venice Biennale runs from June to November 2013. Critically, it's being touted as the best in decades. I don't have a reference point as it is my virgin voyage, but it is the most inspiring four days of art that I have ever experienced, and I've experienced a lot of art in my life. The term "art brat" describes my childhood similarly to that of an army brat, except in my case it was art bootcamp, galleries, museums, and studios, providing a full immersion to the idea of art as life.

There are hundreds of exhibitions on display at official and un-official pavilions and Venice's many museums (here's a full site), but here's my cheat sheet of the best in show:


The best exhibit of the show was The Prada Fondazione's When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013 at the stunning Ca' Corner della Regina on the Grand Canal. The exhaustively creative way that the curators, Germano Celant along with Thomas Demand and Rem Koolhaas, pay homage to the original German exhibition is impressive. The current show feels new, providing an as-yet unseen documentation of how the first show came to be and its lasting effects on the art world as we know it today. The Bern show featured Donald Judd, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, and Joseph Beuys, among others — long before they were the art world household names. It is an exciting and inspirational story of then-versus-now, and I walked away feeling that everything and nothing had changed.

Gold Coins

Raining gold coins in the Russian Pavilion at the Giardini.


Ca' Giustinian, San Marco 1364/A; +39-041-521-8711
All of it. Especially the pavillions of Argentina, Bahamas, Italy, China, and the main exhibit halls.

Castello; +39-041-521-8711
All of it. The best were Britain, USA, Russia, Korea, and the main exhibit halls.

Ai Weiwei Disposition
The show at Zuecca Project Space in Giudecca and Church of Sant' Antonin in Castello exhibited Ai Weiwei's impressive new solo exhibit. It left me knowing what a great artist he is and dispelling any questions I had about all the hype. It's an engaging and emotional show presented in a gorgeous church right in the middle of Venice.

Zuecca Project Space

Ai Weiwei's Disposition at Zuecca Project Space.

There are tons of other exhibits throughout the city. I found that it was most exciting to happen upon them. Just grab the map when you go to the main exhibits and wander afterward.


Peggy Guggenheim Collection
704 Dorsoduro; +39-041-240-5411
If you see nothing else, see this. The house is one of the world's great chances to peek behind the curtain of the wealth of generations past. The collection is second to none: Every piece is a perfect example of the artist's work. Peggy was a genius collector. Save extra time for this one — you'll want to sit on the patio on the canal, in the living room, and in the garden, taking in the life that she lived in the home she did it in. Peggy is buried in the courtyard along with her pups. I took a moment to pay homage, and I will never forget it.

Palazzo Grassi
Campo San Samuele; +39-041-523-1680
The Rudolf Stingel show is stunning and unlike any you've ever seen. The Palazzo and the café in the basement are worth a visit. So is the new Teatrino next door, which was recently re-imagined by Tadao Ando and is hands down the chicest theater in the world right now.

In the museum

The Korean Pavilion at Giardini.

Punta Della Dogana
Dorsoduro, 2; +39-041-271-9031
The art in Francois Pinault's architectural masterpiece is contemporary and exhaustive. I felt I was seeing the art of tomorrow.

Ca' Pesaro / Galleria Interazionale d'Arte Moderna
Piazza San Marco 52; +39-041-240-5211
The Sonnabend Collection on view is next to the Ca' Corner della Regina, where Prada is on show. Very worth a stop and a part of your pass.

Palazzo Pisani

Breakfast at Palazzo Pisani.


I was traveling alone and the days easily unfolded before me without reservations and plans. Venice is usually a town that requires reservations, but I had great luck just wandering into restaurants and bars — no matter how fancy — and showering them with praise. You'll be wonderfully surprised at the reception it allows you.

Bauer Hotel, San Marco 1459; +39-041-520-7022
Order the black ink squid risotto.

Da Fiore
San Polo 2002; +39-041-721-308
The legend. For good reason.

Hotel Cipriani
Giudecca, 10; +39-041-520-7744
Have lunch by the pool. There's a complementary boat to the hotel from San Marco.

Harry's Bar
Calle Vallaresso, 1323; +39-041-528-5777
Get a Campari spritz.

Piazza San Marco
After you've had a morning coffee, go at sunrise. The piazza will be empty, and you'll have the beauty all to yourself.



Venice Card costs just under 40, is valid for seven days, and gets you free admission to many of the city's museums and discounts to most of the rest, including the Biennale.

Actv Public Transport card which will allow you unlimited use of the city's vaperetti (water taxis) which are a wonderful way to see the art, the city, and local residences all from the canals.

iBiennale is the official app of the Festival, with maps, guides, and useful information. 


So much art. Such a pretty city. Take a virtual tour.


See the locations mentioned in this story. (Google Maps)


Impressions from the Venice Biennale
Just Back from Venice

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