The park is only a couple of stops on the Valporetto from St Mark’s or a pleasant stroll along the waterfront. It is a park of two halves; the gardens facing onto the water with their lawns, trees and sitting areas which are a pleasant contrast to the rush and bustle of the centre of Venice, and the pavilions of the Biennale which takes over Venice throughout the summer and autumn and when the area is busy and the character of the area changes.
What is the Giardini like on the 27th of November, the day after the Venice Biennale closes? It must be like the day after an immense party. Presumably the gates are locked, the visitors have gone elsewhere and increase the queues to St Mark’s Cathedral as an army of joiners, electricians and other tradesmen arrive to dismantle the art installations and a fleet of trucks arrive with empty packing cases, which have been stored somewhere in Venice or in Paulo Bruscky’s sculptural installation, to be filled with art which is then shipped home across the world.
The Biennale’s two primary locations, the Giardini and the Arsenale, each justify a day to visit, plus there are additional exhibitions across the whole of Venice itself. The Biennale really takes over the city, the only comparator perhaps being the Edinburgh Festivals. The Giardini is home to a varied collection of national pavilions which have been built over the years and are used for both the architecture and art biennales. The Central Pavilion with its welcoming banner by Sam Gilliam is filled with works by invited artists grouped into themes; the best being large scale installations such as Hassan Sharif’s “Supermarket” of discarded and thrown away items, Olafur Eliasson’s “Green Light”, Raymond Hains retrospective which explores society and commercialism, even of the Biennale itself, Takahiro Iwasaki’s “Turned Upside Down – It’s a Forest” and Gal Weinstein’s exploration of mythical history in Israel’s pavilion. The national pavilions really come into their own when an artist takes over the entire pavilion and breaks free of the architectural constraints to create a unique installation, as with Phyllida Barlow’s “Folly” for Great Britain, Mark Bradford’s decaying pavilion for the USA, Erwin Wurm and Brigette Kowanz for Austria and Geoffrey Farmer for Canada, this last so extreme that much of the pavilion has been demolished. Several of the installations have performances and music intertwined with the art such as Anne Imhof for Germany, where visitors walk over a glass floor under which is the performance area and Xavier Veilhan has totally transformed the French pavilion, while Greece has created a black and white maze which takes the visitor through the story of the experimental “Laboratory of Dilemmas”. Russia immerses the visitor in a physical and digital experience along with secret images on i-phones and I-pads with its black and white installations by Grisha Bruskin, Recycle Group and Sasha Pirogova.
The pavilion which perhaps provides the best exhibition of the work of one artist is Romania with “Apparitions”, covering the career of Geta Bratescu.
The Biennale is now in its 57th edition and continues to grow in size and diversity.