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The Venice Biennale 2015 – five reasons to take a punt on it (and five not to)

Unmissable international art event of the summer? Or overblown hype-driven horrorshow? Time Out art editor Martin Coomer presents the case for and against…


© Martin Coomer

Why you should go to the Venice Biennale


1. It’s good, clean, competitive fun

The Venice Biennale is where countries pit their best artists against each other in pursuit of a Golden Lion – gongs include best national participation, best artist, best metaphorical use of a hole in a wall*.

Antonio Manuel

So, while we’re always told that culture isn’t a competition, this is in fact contemporary art’s World Cup, Olympic Games and Eurovision Song Contest rolled into one. To wander round the national pavilions in Venice’s enchanting Giardini, then, is to engage in some good-natured patriotism – which always adds a certain frisson to proceedings.

* this isn’t an actual category, but if it were, Antonio Manuel would be a shoo-in for his photogenic portals (above) in the Brazilian pavilion.

2. You will see this sort of thing

An inflatable cactus/eggs combo ploughing cockily up and down the Grand Canal. Why not? Or how about a crazy golf course on the Arsenale docks (courtesy of London resident Doug Fishbone)…

Doug Fishbone

… or a moving tree (by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot in the French pavilion), or a giant Trojan dragon complete with telescopic portholes (Heri Dono for the Indonesian pavilion)?

Henri Dono

Or thousands of keys dangling from a crimson net (Chiharu Shiota’s ‘The Key in the Hand’ at the Japanese pavilion). Venice: it’s where artists pull out all the stops and you’ll see a knockout spectacle round every corner.

3. The mile of art at the Arsenale

The national pavilions are only the beginning of your Venetian art experience. The vast warehouses of the Arsenale are where the bulk of the Biennale’s official exhibition, ‘All the World’s Futures’ curated by Okwui Enwezor, takes place. It’s a mile of art, probably more, as well as one-stop shop for some of the most exciting work you’ll see anywhere in the world right now – including stunning new paintings by Chris Ofili…

© Chris Ofili© Martin Coomer

Chris Ofili


… and searingly good neons by Bruce Nauman.

© Martin Coomer

Bruce Nauman

4. In fact, the whole city becomes one big art gallery

In addition to the Giardini and Arsenale, the Biennale offers 44 ‘collateral events’. For a few months, every church and palazzo in town becomes a temporary gallery – don’t miss Peter Doig’s luminous new paintings created specially for the Palazzetto Tito.

© Peter Doig

Peter Doig


5. You’ll be in Venice!

Can there anything more exhilarating than a morning Vaporetto ride across the turquoise lagoon, a whole day of incredible art viewing ahead of you? Or a well-earned Aperol spritz to round-off your exertions? We think not. So, what are you waiting for?



On the other hand…

-1. The FOMO factor is off the scale

Prepare yourselves for disappointment, art lovers. Because, quite simply, there is too much art for even the most ardent fan to see. The sense that you’re missing out will haunt you everywhere you go. Plus, everyone you bump into will say, ‘oh, haven’t you been to the such and such? It’s really the one thing you have to see while you’re here.’

© Martin Coomer

Sarah Lucas

-2. You will queue

Combined with the above, having to wait in line outside the most popular pavilions can seem especially cruel (especially if you’ve had too much vino at lunch).

© Angus Mordant

© Angus Mordant

-3. You will feel lectured

While the Arsenale is always a must-see, the theme of this year’s exhibition is distinctly political. Nothing wrong with that, except what it boils down to is a succession of works on themes like ‘war is bad’ and ‘capitalism is corrupt’, which not only sits uncomfortably with all those collectors’ mega yachts parked up outside, but can make for a fairly joyless viewing experience.

-4. You will see this sort of thing

Black rubber-coated chainsaws hanging from the ceiling (‘Latent Combustion’ by Monica Bonvicini)…

Monica Bonvicini© Martin Coomer

Monica Bonvicini

… or floral formations of long-handled knives (‘Nymphéas’ by Adel Abdessemed)… (See ‘You will feel lectured’, above.)

Adel Abdessemed© Martin Coomer

Adel Abdessemed

-5. Did we mention you’d be in Venice?

Sharpen your elbows. Yes, that morning Vaporetto ride can be a dream. But the boat, when it eventually arrives, will probably be packed with fellow tourists. And come evening, the same journey back to your hotel can feel positively purgatorial. And the whole time you’ll be surrounded by canal-water that’s been slowly stagnating since Canaletto was around. It’s true, Venice pongs a bit.

© Martin Coomer

Wish you were here?© Martin Coomer


The Venice Biennale is on until November 22. For more information visit







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