Inside the Giardini, art folk wielding tote bags and wearing all-black outfits are arriving for the opening week of the Venice Biennale. On the newsstands by the entrance, a headline reads, “Venezia scoppia” (“Venice is bursting”). The Biennale Arte is the most extravagant, attention-grabbing of the city’s regular appointments and, after a three-year absence, Venetians largely seem happy about its return.
And yet, having had the city almost to themselves since 2020, there’s some ambivalence. “In a way, it’s fantastic: everyone [in the art world] is so excited to come back and see each other,” says Chiara Bertola, the curator of contemporary art at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia, who is presenting an exhibition of work by Vietnamese artist Danh Võ. “But on the other hand, the chaos of tourism in Venice is a pain.” The feeling here is that the city missed an opportunity to change and grow over the pandemic and learn to better manage mass tourism.
But has the biennale learned anything in the past three years? Perhaps. Russia’s pavilion stands empty near that of the Nordics, which has been transformed for this edition into the Indigenous Sámi pavilion. In their own ways, both highlight the limits of national representation. Some attendees have also travelled across the continent by train instead of flying, suggesting that the art world is increasingly conscious of its emissions.
Some things are as they always were: the atmosphere remains upbeat and festive. “It has been really joyful for us to meet so many people we haven’t seen in so long,” says Viktor Neumann, co-curator of the Romanian pavilion, who is presenting a video installation about intimacy by artist Adina Pintilie. “Our work is about bodies coming together, so it feels extremely exciting to have all this now.” Despite some desire for change, it’s the irresistible temptations of normality and interaction that are most on show in Venice’s packed calli and pavilions this week.