MC Biennale events © The Venice Insider
La Biennale di Venezia

The Entrance of the Biennale by The Venice Insider

La Biennale di Venezia

Now and then I like to ask to some of my fellow bloggers to be guests on my site and to talk about Venice from their point of view. Today is the time for Katia of The Venice Insider. She has been writing about Venice for a long time and she dishes, out on a daily basis, tips and suggestions to enjoy Venice in a more sustainable and eco-friendly way! 

So here is her article on the Venice Biennale!

la biennale di venezia

Arsenale by The Venice Insider

The fascinating history of La Biennale di Venezia

The upcoming Venice Biennale Arte 2017 officially kicks off on May 13, 2017. This 57th International Art Exhibition is only one of the many events organized by La Biennale, one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. In this guest post, I will give you more details about the history of the organization behind the Art Biennale, as well as on the expansion of the exhibition area and pavilions and on the other Biennale events. 

MC Biennale giardini australian pavilion © The Venice Insider

Biennale giardini australian pavilion © The Venice Insider – La Biennale di Venezia


Even though the first Art Exhibition was organized in 1895, the history of La Biennale really starts in 1893. The Mayor of Venice, Riccardo Selvatico, and the city council decided to organize an exhibition of Italian art. Already during the preparation, they agree to open it to foreign artists. Their goal was to transform the artists’ evening meetings at Caffè Florian into a prestigious international exhibition.

MC Biennale Giardini central pavilion © The Venice Insider

Biennale Giardini central pavilion © The Venice Insider

On April 30, 1895, the ‘L’ Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte della Città di Venezia’ was opened in the presence of the King and Queen, Umberto I and Margherita di Savoia. There were over 200,000 visitors, which was a very high number for that era. For your reference, the 2015 exhibition ‘All The World’s Futures’ attracted approx. 501,000 visitors and more than 8,000 accredited journalists (excluding collateral events and national participations outside Giardini and Arsenale). 120 years and 56 editions later, I think we can say that the Mayor succeeded in his goal.

The Art Exhibition was set up as a bi-annual event from the start, hence the name Biennale. The concept of a ‘Biennale’ was first launched in Venice, and later followed by many other cultural events in the world. The Biennale events were cancelled during the two world wars.

For the first 25 years, the Mayor of Venice was also the president of La Biennale. In 1920, an ‘independent’ president was appointed by the government commissioner. In 1930, an autonomous board was created and the financing and the articles of association were established by a royal decree. This transformation implied that La Biennale passed from the control of the Venice city council to that of the Italian government.

In 1968, student protests hindered the opening of the Biennale and resulted in a period of institutional changes. As a result, a new Statute was approved by the Italian Parliament in 1973. A democratic board with 19 members was set up, including representatives from the government, the most important local organisations, major trade unions, and a representative of the staff. The board elected the president and nominated the sectorial directors (visual arts, cinema, music, theatre).

MC Biennale entrance arsenale © The Venice Insider

Biennale entrance arsenale © The Venice Insider

Thirty years later, in 1998, a legislative decree transformed the Biennale into a legal personality in private law. It was renamed ‘Società di Cultura La Biennale di Venezia’. The president is now nominated by the Minister for Cultural Affairs. The board of directors consists now of the president, the Mayor of Venice, and three members nominated respectively by the Regione Veneto, the Consiglio Provinciale di Venezia and private backers. Paolo Baratta, who currently still presides La Biennale, was nominated for the first time as president.

The last organizational changes date from 2004 when the Biennale was transformed into a Foundation, which is open to contributions from the private sector.

MC Architecture Biennale 2016 arsenale cordiere © The Venice Insider

Architecture Biennale 2016 arsenale cordiere © The Venice Insider – La Biennale di Venezia

Exhibition area

In 1894 and 1895, the city quickly built the Palazzo dell’Esposizione to host the first exhibition in the public gardens, Giardini, in Castello. The design was by the council’s architect, Enrico Trevisanato, and the neoclassical facade by the Venetian artist Marius De Maria. The pavilion’s name was initially ‘Pro Arte’ and was subsequently changed to ‘Italia’. The first foreign pavilion, Belgium, followed in 1907 for the 6th Art Biennale. The other countries followed in the next years: Hungary (1909), Germany (1909), Great Britain (1909), France (1912) and Russia (1914).

MC Architecture Biennale 2015 Singapore pavilion in Arsenale © The Venice Insider

Architecture Biennale 2015 Singapore pavilion in Arsenale © The Venice Insider – La Biennale di Venezia

The exhibitions moved for the first time to the Arsenale in 1980, with the opening of the ‘Corderie dell’Arsenale’ and the ‘Magazzini del Sale’. The other historical spaces of the Arsenale (Artiglierie, Isolotto, Tese, Gaggiandre) were still being restored and are part of the exhibition area since 1999. Some of these host national pavilions during the Art Biennale and the Architecture Biennale.

MC Biennale arsenale pavilion china © The Venice Insider

Biennale arsenale pavilion china © The Venice Insider

Even the large space in Giardini and Arsenale is limited. Many countries, who joined the Biennale later, are therefore exhibiting in palazzos in the historical centre of Venice or even on the lagoon islands.

Thanks to the collaboration with the Google Cultural Institute since 2015, the exhibitions can now also be visited online. This could generate more interest and buzz around the event, especially towards a different audience, and attract new visitors to future editions.

MC Biennale cinema lido © The Venice Insider

Biennale cinema lido © The Venice Insider

Other events

The Biennale Arte is no longer the main event of La Biennale. The other events are becoming increasingly important and play a major role within their area.

Music was the first extension of the original activity. In 1930, the first International Festival of Contemporary Music was organized. It was initially a bi-annual event, and changed into an annual event in 1937. It has shown premieres of international quality, with works by Stravinsky, Britten and Prokofiev.

The Venice Film Festival was established in 1932 and is the oldest and one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. The festival takes place on the island of Lido with screenings in the historic Palazzo del Cinema (opened in 1937 and enlarged in 1952) on the Lungomare Marconi and in other venues nearby. The ‘Leone di San Marco’ was awarded for the first time in 1949 and later renamed the ‘Leone d’Oro’ (Golden Lion)

In 1934, the Festival Internazionale del Teatro di Prosa (International Theatre Festival) was held for the first time. The basic idea was to perform classic works of a Venetian subject in the scenery of Venice. Among the first performances was Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’, that was played in Campo San Trovaso.

MC Biennale events © The Venice Insider

Biennale events © The Venice Insider

The Venice Architecture Biennale is a relatively new event. The first steps were taken in 1975, when three exhibitions were organized in the Magazzini del Sale on Zattere. These can be considered as the precursors of the current Architecture Biennale. The first International Architecture Exhibition, which is the official name of the Architecture Biennale, was organized in 1980. Since the 7th Architecture Biennale in 2000, the exhibition takes place in the 2 main locations in Giardini and Arsenale. Since the 2016 edition, its exhibition time has been extended and it can be visited from the end of May until the end of November.

The Dance section of the Venice Biennale was established in 1998, following the organizational changes of La Biennale. Before 1998, dance performances presented at the Venice Biennale were part of the Music program.

La Biennale was one of the driving forces to re-establish the traditional Venetian carnival in 1979. As from 1999, they also organize the International Kids’ Carnival with specific events for children during the carnival period.

MC Biennale Venezia headquarters © The Venice Insider

Biennale Venezia headquarters © The Venice Insider

There are clearly plenty of interesting events organized by La Biennale di Venezia. If you would like to attend the upcoming Biennale Arte 2017, I suggest you read my article ‘What to expect from the Art Biennale 2017’ on my blog. The Venice Insider is a travel guide for frequent visitors to Venice and will give you plenty of inspiration.

Katia – The Venice Insider

Thank you so much Katia for the wonderful and clear explanation of what La Biennale di Venezia is. You can follow Katia on Twitter, Facebook or her blog The Venice Insider.

And don’t forget, after visiting the Biennale, make sure to take a little rest in Serra Dei Giardini, an oasis of green in the middle of Venice!

Food & Travel Blogger, Culinary & Food Tour Guide, Cooking Consultant & Instructor - this is well as an event organiser and overall talker - always in Venice! #aphotoofveniceaday Offering cooking lessons at As a friend once said: A Fire Cracker full of energy, not crazy but a visionary!

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