My Guide to the Biennale

Byzantine, Medieval and Renaissance splendors, gondola rides through the grand canal, music in St. Mark%26rsquo;s Square and stolen kisses under the Bridge of Sighs. These are but a few of the features that have captivated world travelers for generations and are but some of the things that drew my family to visit there mere weeks ago.%26nbsp;

Little did we know, our long-awaited trip to Italy coincided with the highly revered Biannale %26mdash; an occurrence that takes place every two years, when Venice houses the latest and greatest in global Contemporary art. This world-renowned fair breathes nonstop energy and life into Venice for a stunning five months. During our trip, we devoted half of our time in Venice to this highly talked about exhibition %26mdash; it's safe to say my appreciation for art has never been greater.%26nbsp;

My Biannale journey begins at the Giardini (home base to the pavilions boasting works of art from the 89 participating countries) and continues into the Arsenale, known for its sprawling Italian pavilion. But wait, there's more to stumble upon: Many collateral Biannale events are tucked away into beautifully ornate spaces throughout the city. There is abounding contemporary art %26mdash; some so abstract that I'm still pondering the hidden messages and others so profound it becomes hard to talk about them. Herewith, I hit my Biannale highlights:%26nbsp;

%26bull; The Stage is Set at the Grand Pavilion: This year, art historian and critic Bice Curiger %26mdash; co-founder of the prestigious art magazine, Parkett %26mdash; added director of La Biennale to her endless list of artful accomplishments. Inspired by Renaissance artist Tintoretto%26rsquo;s use of dramatic lighting, Curiger themed the 54th art extravaganza ILLUMinations. She handpicked three of Tintoretto%26rsquo;s canvases %26mdash; The Last Supper, The Stealing Body of St. Mark and The Creation of the Animals %26mdash; to show in the main room of the Giardini's Central Pavilion. Perched above the Renaissance masterpieces, the ceiling was lined with birds so real looking it took me 30 minutes to realize they were, in fact, sculptures. The Tintorettos were in stark contrast to the Contemporary art lining the clean, white walls of the rest of the building. Take, for example, the award-winning room devoted to German painter and photographer, Sigmar Polke. Polke's imaginative style leaves indelible marks on the human mind. His awe-inspiring prints are perfectly crafted, three-dimensional hybrids melding digital and paint mediums. His best? Unquestionably, the giant wall-sized modern print with a historical twist%26nbsp;%26mdash; an army general sitting adjacent his pig, who is cleverly donning the general%26rsquo;s hat.%26nbsp;

%26bull; Giardini's Dazzling Duo: After admiring the curator%26rsquo;s den, we made our way to two of the most interesting pavilions at the Giardini. First stop: Israel, whose main message, %26ldquo;One Man%26rsquo;s Floor is Another Man%26rsquo;s Feelings,%26rdquo; says it all. The two-story pavilion stars an instillation made of water, soil and salt %26mdash; symbolic metaphors for interdependence among human beings, bringing to light a dialogue regarding the controversial relationship between Israel and its bordering countries. Second stop: The United States, which showed a political collaboration at the hand of curators Jennifer Allora, Guillermo Calzadilla and the USA Olympic Gymnastics and Track %26amp; Field teams. The main attraction, Track and Field, featured Olympic decathlon gold-medalist Dan O%26rsquo;Brien running on a treadmill atop an upside down military tank. Inside the press-garnering spectacle, the curators mixed various artistic practices such as sculpture, performance, video and sound by way of a gymnastics performance taking place on an airplane-inspired sculpture, recalling the familiar experience of being on an American Airlines flight. The critically acclaimed collaboration questioned notions of national identity, democracy, militarism and international commerce.

%26bull; Italian Spectacle: One vaporetto stop over %26mdash; think Venice's version of a New York City subway on water %26mdash; we arrived at the Arsenale. The main attraction here? The popular Italian pavilion, of course. The Italian hub explores the state of the arts within Italy by an ironic message that reads loud and clear via a lit-up neon sign: %26ldquo;L%26rsquo;Arte non e cosa nostra%26rdquo; or, "art is not our thing.%26rdquo; Despite its somewhat overwhelming nature %26mdash; here, more than 200 participating artists represent their host country%26nbsp;%26mdash;%26nbsp;the jam-packed space tells a story beyond art itself, one focused on the nation of Italy.

%26bull; Best in Show, Ukraine: As I rode along the canal on the vaporetto, I spotted what I thought was a huge digital screen in front of San Stae. It wasn%26rsquo;t until I took a closer look that I realized the screen-like walls were actually huge installations, consisting of thousands of palm sized, colorfully painted wooden eggs. In an attempt to reclaim the sphere as a geometric shape Ukranian artist Oksana Mas re-created small sections of the Van Eyck brothers%26rsquo; The Ghent Altarpiece. Mas' awe-inspiring, architectural structure pieced together the wooden eggs into a colorful mosaic making up one, recognizable image. To top it all off, Mas entrusted thousands of volunteers to paint these bright eggs with details of familiar figures, symbols, brand names and images representing each person's perceptions of sin and transgression. The creation was, without question, the highlight of the Biennale, winning top prize in my book. It is a testament to the practice of art, an establishment that evokes jaw-dropping, indescribable reactions from all who come across it.%26nbsp;

This grand celebration of art brings an already timeless city to life unlike any other. The Biennale made my trip to Venice unforgettable, one that I will remember for many years to come. Whether you're a fervent art expert, a passionate contemporary art lover, or simply, a curious traveler stumbling upon new experiences, the Biennale is nothing short of an artistic journey that challenges and captivates the mind and satisfies the soul.

Ready to book a flight to Italy, yet?%26nbsp;

The deets: Venice, Italy. June 4, 2011, through November 27, 2011, 10 am to 6 pm;

Photography by Katie Broder


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