The Venice Biennale (/ˌbɛˈnɑːl, -li/; Italian: La Biennale di Venezia) is an international cultural exhibition hosted annually in Venice, Italy by the Biennale Foundation.[1][2][3] The biennale has been organised every year since 1895, which makes it the oldest of its kind. The main exhibition held in Castello, in the halls of the Arsenale and Biennale Gardens, alternates between art and architecture (hence the name biennale; biennial).[4][5][6] The other events hosted by the Foundation—spanning theatre, music, and dance—are held annually in various parts of Venice, whereas the Venice Film Festival takes place at the Lido.[7]

Venice Biennale
Biennale di Venezia (Italian)
GenreBiennale; focuses on contemporary art, and also includes events for art, contemporary dance, architecture, cinema and theatre
FrequencyAnnual; the main exhibition alternates every second year between art and architecture
Location(s)Venice, Italy
Inaugurated30 April 1895
FounderCity Council of Venice
Organised byThe Biennale Foundation


Common name Formal name Founded Frequency
Art Biennale International Art Exhibition 1895 Even-numbered years (since 2022)
Venice Biennale of Architecture International Architecture Exhibition 1980 Odd-numbered years (since 2021)
Biennale Musica International Festival of Contemporary Music 1930 Annually (Sep/Oct)
Biennale Teatro International Theatre Festival 1934 Annually (Jul/Aug)
Venice Film Festival Venice International Film Festival 1932 Annually (Aug/Sep)
Venice Dance Biennale International Festival of Contemporary Dance 1999 Annually (June; biennially 2010–16)
International Kids' Carnival 2009 Annually (during Carnevale)

Art Biennale

The Art Biennale (La Biennale d'Arte di Venezia) is one of the world's largest and most important contemporary visual art exhibitions. So-called because it is held biannually, it is the original biennale on which others in the world have been modeled. The exhibition space spans over 7,000 square meters, and artists from over 75 countries are represented in the collective exhibition spaces as well as in the national pavilions.[8][9]

Until 2019, the Art Biennale used to take place in odd years and the Architecture Biennale in even years, but after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a postponement the Art Biennale now takes place in even years (2022, 2024) and the Architecture Biennale in odd years (2021, 2023).

Architecture Biennale

The Architecture Biennale (La Biennale d'Architettura di Venezia) is held in odd-numbered years. Similarly to the Art Biennale, the exhibition is based one main exhibition in the arsenale halls, as well as national exhibitions hosted in the pavilions of the arsenale and Biennale gardens.




First edition official poster.

On 19 April 1893, the Venetian City Council passed a resolution to set up an biennial exhibition of Italian Art ("Esposizione biennale artistica nazionale") to celebrate the silver anniversary of King Umberto I and Margherita of Savoy.[10]

A year later, the council decreed "to adopt a 'by invitation' system; to reserve a section of the Exhibition for foreign artists too; to admit works by uninvited Italian artists, as selected by a jury."[11]

The first Biennale, "I Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte della Città di Venezia (1st International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice)" (although originally scheduled for 22 April 1894) was opened on 30 April 1895, by the Italian King and Queen, Umberto I and Margherita di Savoia. The first exhibition was seen by 224,000 visitors.

The event became increasingly international in the first decades of the 20th century: from 1907 on, several countries installed national pavilions at the exhibition, with the first being from Belgium. In 1910 the first internationally well-known artists were displayed: a room dedicated to Gustav Klimt, a one-man show for Renoir, a retrospective of Courbet. A work by Picasso "Family of Saltimbanques" was removed from the Spanish salon in the central Palazzo because it was feared that its novelty might shock the public. By 1914 seven pavilions had been established: Belgium (1907), Hungary (1909), Germany (1909), Great Britain (1909), France (1912), and Russia (1914).

During World War I, the 1916 and 1918 events were cancelled.[12] In 1920 the post of mayor of Venice and president of the Biennale was split. The new secretary general, Vittorio Pica brought about the first presence of avant-garde art, notably Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

1922 saw an exhibition of sculpture by African artists. Between the two World Wars, many important modern artists had their work exhibited there. In 1928 the Istituto Storico d'Arte Contemporanea (Historical Institute of Contemporary Art) opened, which was the first nucleus of archival collections of the Biennale. In 1930 its name was changed into Historical Archive of Contemporary Art.

In 1930, the Biennale was transformed into an Ente Autonomo (Autonomous Board) by Royal Decree with law no. 33 of 13 January 1930. Subsequently, the control of the Biennale passed from the Venice city council to the national Fascist government under Benito Mussolini. This brought on a restructuring, an associated financial boost, as well as a new president, Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata. Three entirely new events were established, including the Biennale Musica in 1930, also referred to as International Festival of Contemporary Music; the Venice Film Festival in 1932, which they claim as the first film festival in history,[13] also referred to as Venice International Film Festival; and the Biennale Theatro in 1934, also referred to as International Theatre Festival.

In 1933 the Biennale organized an exhibition of Italian art abroad. From 1938, Grand Prizes were awarded in the art exhibition section.

During World War II, the activities of the Biennale were interrupted: 1942 saw the last edition of the events. The Film Festival restarted in 1946, the Music and Theatre festivals were resumed in 1947, and the Art Exhibition in 1948.[14]


1962 Art Exhibition.

The Art Biennale was resumed in 1948 with a major exhibition of a recapitulatory nature. The Secretary General, art historian Rodolfo Pallucchini, started with the Impressionists and many protagonists of contemporary art including Chagall, Klee, Braque, Delvaux, Ensor, and Magritte, as well as a retrospective of Picasso's work. Peggy Guggenheim was invited to exhibit her collection, later to be permanently housed at Ca' Venier dei Leoni.

1949 saw the beginning of renewed attention to avant-garde movements in European—and later worldwide—movements in contemporary art. Abstract expressionism was introduced in the 1950s, and the Biennale is credited with importing Pop Art into the canon of art history by awarding the top prize to Robert Rauschenberg in 1964.[15] From 1948 to 1972, Italian architect Carlo Scarpa did a series of remarkable interventions in the Biennale's exhibition spaces.

In 1954 the island San Giorgio Maggiore provided the venue for the first Japanese Noh theatre shows in Europe. 1956 saw the selection of films following an artistic selection and no longer based upon the designation of the participating country. The 1957 Golden Lion went to Satyajit Ray's Aparajito which introduced Indian cinema to the West.

1962 included Arte Informale at the Art Exhibition with Jean Fautrier, Hans Hartung, Emilio Vedova, and Pietro Consagra. The 1964 Art Exhibition introduced continental Europe to Pop Art (The Independent Group had been founded in Britain in 1952). The American Robert Rauschenberg was the first American artist to win the Gran Premio, and the youngest to date.

The student protests of 1968 also marked a crisis for the Biennale. Student protests hindered the opening of the Biennale. A resulting period of institutional changes opened and ending with a new Statute in 1973. In 1969, following the protests, the Grand Prizes were abandoned. These resumed in 1980 for the Mostra del Cinema and in 1986 for the Art Exhibition.[16]

In 1972, for the first time, a theme was adopted by the Biennale, called "Opera o comportamento" ("Work or Behaviour").

Starting from 1973 the Music Festival was no longer held annually. During the year in which the Mostra del Cinema was not held, there was a series of "Giornate del cinema italiano" (Days of Italian Cinema) promoted by sectorial bodies in campo Santa Margherita, in Venice.[17]



1973 saw the start of the five-year presidency of Carlo Ripa di Meana. The International Art Exhibition was not held (until it was resumed in 1976). Theatre and cinema events were held in October 1974 and 1975 under the title Libertà per il Cile (Freedom for Chile)—a major cultural protest against the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

On 15 November 1977, the so-called Dissident Biennale (in reference to the dissident movement in the USSR) opened. Because of the ensuing controversies within the Italian left wing parties, president Ripa di Meana resigned at the end of the year.[18]

In 1978 the new presidency of Giuseppe Galasso (1978-1983) began. The principle was laid down whereby each of the artistic sectors was to have a permanent director to organise its activity.

In 1980, the Architecture section of the Biennale was set up. The director, Paolo Portoghesi, opened the Corderie dell'Arsenale to the public for the first time. At the Mostra del Cinema, the awards were brought back into being (between 1969 and 1979, the editions were non-competitive). In 1980, Achille Bonito Oliva and Harald Szeemann introduced "Aperto", a section of the exhibition designed to explore emerging art. Italian art historian Giovanni Carandente directed the 1988 and 1990 editions. A three-year gap was left afterwards to make sure that the 1995 edition would coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Biennale.[12]

The 1993 edition was directed by Achille Bonito Oliva. In 1995, Jean Clair was appointed to be the Biennale's first non-Italian director of visual arts[19] while Germano Celant served as director in 1997.

For the Centenary in 1995, the Biennale promoted events in every sector of its activity: the 34th Festival del Teatro, the 46th art exhibition, the 46th Festival di Musica, the 52nd Mostra del Cinema.[20]



The 48th and 49th editions, in 1999 and 2001, were directed by Harald Szeemann. These editions had a larger representation of artists from Asia and Eastern Europe and young artists and expanded the show into several newly restored spaces of the Arsenale.

In 1999 a new sector was created for live shows: DMT (Dance Music Theatre).

The 50th edition, 2003, directed by Francesco Bonami, had a record number of seven co-curators involved, including Hans Ulrich Obrist, Catherine David, Igor Zabel, Hou Hanru and Massimiliano Gioni.

The 51st edition of the Biennale opened in June 2005, curated, for the first time by two women, Maria de Corral and Rosa Martinez. De Corral organized "The Experience of Art" which included 41 artists, from past masters to younger figures. Rosa Martinez took over the Arsenale with "Always a Little Further." Drawing on "the myth of the romantic traveler" her exhibition involved 49 artists, ranging from the elegant to the profane.

In 2007, Robert Storr became the first director from the United States to curate the Biennale (the 52nd), with a show entitled Think with the Senses – Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense.

Swedish curator Daniel Birnbaum was artistic director of the 2009 edition entitled "Fare Mondi // Making Worlds".

The 2011 edition was curated by Swiss curator Bice Curiger entitled "ILLUMInazioni – ILLUMInations".

The Biennale in 2013 was curated by the Italian Massimiliano Gioni. His title and theme, Il Palazzo Enciclopedico / The Encyclopedic Palace, was adopted from an architectural model by the self-taught Italian-American artist Marino Auriti. Auriti's work, The Encyclopedic Palace of the World was lent by the American Folk Art Museum and exhibited in the first room of the Arsenale for the duration of the biennale. For Gioni, Auriti's work, "meant to house all worldly knowledge, bringing together the greatest discoveries of the human race, from the wheel to the satellite," provided an analogous figure for the "biennale model itself...based on the impossible desire to concentrate the infinite worlds of contemporary art in a single place: a task that now seems as dizzyingly absurd as Auriti's dream."[21]

Curator Okwui Enwezor was responsible for the 2015 edition.[22] He was the first African-born curator of the biennial. As a catalyst for imagining different ways of imagining multiple desires and futures Enwezor commissioned special projects and programs throughout the Biennale in the Giardini. This included a Creative Time Summit, e-flux journal's SUPERCOMMUNITY, Gulf Labor Coalition, The Invisible Borders Trans-African Project and Abounaddara.[23][24]

The 2017 Biennale, titled Viva Arte Viva, was directed by French curator Christine Macel who called it an "exhibition inspired by humanism".[25] German artist Franz Erhard Walther won the Golden Lion for best artist in the central pavilion, while Carolee Schneemann was awarded a posthumous Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.[26]

The 2019 Biennale, titled May You Live In Interesting Times, was directed by American-born curator Ralph Rugoff.[27]

The 2022 edition, curated by Italian curator Cecilia Alemani, was entitled "The Milk of Dreams" after a book by British-born Mexican surrealist painter Leonora Carrington.[28]

The Biennale has an attendance to date of over 500,000 visitors.[29][30][31]

In February 2024, thousands of artists and cultural workers, including Jesse Darling, Joanna Piotrowska, Nan Goldin, Michael Rakowitz and Leila Sansour,[32] signed a petition calling for Israel to be excluded from the Venice Biennale due to Israel's military campaign in the Gaza Strip.[33] The Biennale rejected the petition, saying it would "not take into consideration any petition or call to exclude" countries recognized by Italy.[34] Italian Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said that: "Israel not only has the right to express its art, but it has the duty to bear witness to its people precisely at a time like this when it has been ruthlessly struck by merciless terrorists. The Venice Art Biennale will always be a space of freedom, encounter and dialogue and not a space of censorship and intolerance."[34]

On 13 February 2024, the Holy See Press Office announced that Pope Francis would attend the Venice Biennale. He visited the Pavilion of the Holy See in the Prison Giudecca on Sunday 28 April 2024.[35] This was the first time a pope has visited the international exhibition.[36]

Role in the art market


When the Venice Biennale was founded in 1895, one of its main goals was to establish a new market for contemporary art. Between 1942 and 1968 a sales office assisted artists in finding clients and selling their work,[37] a service for which it charged 10% commission. Sales remained an intrinsic part of the biennale until 1968, when a sales ban was enacted. An important practical reason why the focus on non-commodities has failed to decouple Venice from the market is that the biennale itself lacks the funds to produce, ship and install these large-scale works. Therefore, the financial involvement of dealers is widely regarded as indispensable;[15] as they regularly front the funding for production of ambitious projects.[38] Furthermore, every other year the Venice Biennale coincides with nearby Art Basel, the world's prime commercial fair for modern and contemporary art. Numerous galleries with artists on show in Venice usually bring work by the same artists to Basel.[39]

Central Pavilion and Arsenale


The formal Biennale is based at a park, the Giardini. The Giardini includes a large exhibition hall that houses a themed exhibition curated by the Biennale's director.

Initiated in 1980, the Aperto began as a fringe event for younger artists and artists of a national origin not represented by the permanent national pavilions. This is usually staged in the Arsenale and has become part of the formal biennale programme. In 1995 there was no Aperto so a number of participating countries hired venues to show exhibitions of emerging artists. From 1999, both the international exhibition and the Aperto were held as one exhibition, held both at the Central Pavilion and the Arsenale. Also in 1999, a $1 million renovation transformed the Arsenale area into a cluster of renovated shipyards, sheds and warehouses, more than doubling the Arsenale's exhibition space of previous years.[40]

A special edition of the 54th Biennale was held at Padiglione Italia of Torino Esposizioni – Sala Nervi (December 2011 – February 2012) for the 150th Anniversary of Italian Unification. The event was directed by Vittorio Sgarbi.[41]

National pavilions

Austria national pavilion.

The Giardini houses 30 permanent national pavilions.[12] Alongside the Central Pavilion, built in 1894 and later restructured and extended several times, the Giardini are occupied by a further 29 pavilions built at different periods by the various countries participating in the Biennale. The first nation to build a pavilion was Belgium in 1907, followed by Germany, Britain and Hungary in 1909.[12] The pavilions are the property of the individual countries and are managed by their ministries of culture.[42]

Countries not owning a pavilion in the Giardini are exhibited in other venues across Venice. The number of countries represented is still growing. In 2005, China was showing for the first time, followed by the African Pavilion and Mexico (2007), the United Arab Emirates (2009), and India (2011).[43]

The assignment of the permanent pavilions was largely dictated by the international politics of the 1930s and the Cold War. There is no single format to how each country manages their pavilion, established and emerging countries represented at the biennial maintain and fund their pavilions in different ways.[42] While pavilions are usually government-funded, private money plays an increasingly large role; in 2015, the pavilions of Iraq, Ukraine and Syria were completely privately funded.[44] The pavilion for Great Britain is always managed by the British Council[45] while the United States assigns the responsibility to a public gallery chosen by the Department of State which, since 1985, has been the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.[46] The countries at the Arsenale that request a temporary exhibition space pay a hire fee per square meter.[42]

Sweden national pavilion.

In 2011, the countries were Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czechia and Slovakia, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela, Wales and Zimbabwe. In addition to this there are two collective pavilions: Central Asia Pavilion and Istituto Italo-Latino Americano. In 2013, eleven new participant countries developed national pavilions for the Biennale: Angola, Bosnia and Herzegowina, the Bahamas, Bahrain, the Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Kuwait, the Maldives, Paraguay, Tuvalu, and the Holy See. In 2015, five new participant countries developed pavilions for the Biennale: Grenada,[47] Republic of Mozambique, Republic of Seychelles, Mauritius and Mongolia. In 2017, three countries participated in the Art Biennale for the first time: Antigua and Barbuda, Kiribati, and Nigeria.[48] In 2019, four countries participated in the Art Biennale for the first time: Ghana, Madagascar, Malaysia, and Pakistan.[49]

As well as the national pavilions there are countless "unofficial pavilions"[50] that spring up every year. In 2009 there were pavilions such as the Gabon Pavilion and a Peckham pavilion. In 2017 The Diaspora Pavilion bought together 19 artists from complex, multinational backgrounds to challenge the prevalence of the nation state at the Biennale.[51]

The Internet Pavilion (Italian: Padiglione Internet) was founded in 2009 as a platform for activists and artists working in new media.[52][53][54] Subsequent editions were held since,[55] 2013,[55] in conjunction with the biennale.[56]



The Venice Biennale has awarded prizes to the artists participating at the Exhibition since the first edition back in 1895. Grand Prizes were established in 1938 and ran until 1968 when they were abolished due to the protest movement. Prizes were taken up again in 1986.[12] The selections are made by the Board of la Biennale di Venezia, following the proposal of the curator of the International Exhibition.

Also upon the recommendation of the curator, the Biennale names the five members of its international jury, which is charged with awarding prizes to the national pavilions.[57] The international jury awards the Golden Lion for best national participation, the Golden Lion for best participant in the international exhibition, and the Silver Lion for a "promising young participant" in the show. It may also designate one special mention to national participants, and a maximum of two special mentions to artists in the international exhibition.[58]

Collateral events


In conjunction with the primary international exhibition and national pavilions, many local and international galleries, museums, foundations, and nonprofits stage independent exhibitions throughout the city of Venice. The curator of the international exhibition chooses a number of these exhibitions to be included as Collateral Events in the Biennale program. While these exhibitions are not organized by the Biennale, exhibitions chosen as Collateral Events are promoted by the Biennale as an additional component of the event.[59][60]



The offices of the Biennale are at Ca' Giustinian in the sestiere San Marco.

On 26 July 1973, Italian Parliament approved the Organization's new statute for the Biennale. A "democratic" Board was set up. It included 19 members made up of representatives from the Government, the most important local organizations, major trade unions, and a representative of the staff. The Board was to elect the President and nominate the Sectorial Directors – one each for Visual arts, Cinema, Music, and Theatre.

In 1998 the Biennale was transformed into a legal personality in private law and renamed "Società di Cultura La Biennale di Venezia". The company structure – Board of directors, Scientific committee, Board of auditors and assembly of private backers – has a duration of four years. The areas of activity became six (Architecture, Visual arts, Cinema, Theatre, Music, Dance), in collaboration with the ASAC (the Historical Archives). The President is nominated by the Minister for Cultural Affairs. The Board of directors consists of the President, the Mayor of Venice, and three members nominated by Veneto regional government and private backers. Dance was added to the others.

On 15 January 2004, the Biennale was transformed into a foundation.


Paolo Baratta has been the longest-serving president of Venice Biennale, in office for more than 15 years (1998–2001; 2008–2020).



For the 2013 edition, the main exhibition's budget was about $2.3 million; in addition, more than $2 million was raised mostly from private individuals and foundations and philanthropists.[62] The budget for the international exhibition was 13 million euros (about $14.2 million) in 2013[63] and nearly $19 million in 2022.[64]

See also



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  64. ^ Zachary Small (24 October 2023), To Star at the Venice Biennale, Artists Need Patrons’ Deep Pockets New York Times.

Further reading

  • Sophie Bowness and Clive Phillpot (ed), Britain at the Venice Biennale 1895–1996, The British Council, 1995
  • Martino, Enzo Di. The History of the Venice Biennale, Venezia, Papiro Arte, 2007.
  • Sarah Thornton. Seven Days in the Art World. New York: WW Norton, 2008.
  • Digitalarti Mag (2009). Venice Biennale (PDF). pp. 8–12. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 10, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2010.
  • 52nd Venice Biennale and Documenta 12 in Kassel vol.20 July 2007 n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal pp. 88–92
  • Vittorio Sgarbi, Lo Stato dell'Arte: 54 Esposizione internazionale d'Arte della Biennale di Venezia. Iniziativa speciale per il 150° Anniversario dell'Unità d'Italia, Moncalieri (Torino), Istituto Nazionale di Cultura, 2012

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