Ahead of the 59th Biennale — postponed for a year due to the pandemic — Venetian resident Bianca Arrivabene shares her insider’s tips on the shows to get excited about, the restaurants to reserve now and the best places to relax
The build-up to the Venice Biennale is the most exciting time. Over the next two months our most important clients will pass through the city.
You hear about which artists are coming and their plans, and your imagination starts running.
This year the conversations are all about Nan Goldin and her work Sirens at Cecilia Alemani’s exhibition The Milk of Dreams. There is also a lot of excitement around Marlene Dumas at Palazzo Grassi and Anish Kapoor at the Accademia, where he’s about to become the first British artist to stage a solo show.
Also worthy of note is Anselm Kiefer at the Doge’s Palace. His mind-blowing painting installation (below), produced specially for the space in 2020 and 2021, has just opened.
I was a teenager when I first visited the Biennale. I found it exhilarating, and I knew I wanted to be part of this huge organisation that involved artists from all over the world, each one of them with something important to say.
Start the Biennale with a coffee at Paradiso in the Giardini. Get there early, before
the gates open, and think about which artists you would like to see. Make the
Central Pavilion your first destination of the day and take it from there.
I love the island of Certosa, which is a short boat ride from the Giardini. Once you’ve had your fill of the pavilions, hop on a boat to the far side of the island and have a good walk around before lunch at the Hostaria in Certosa. There are rabbits hopping around, and the lagoon surrounds you. It’s very beautiful, a dream place.
Another good spot to unwind is the Lido — everyone’s favourite beach. We hire bikes and cycle out to the lighthouse. It’s windy and cool in the spring, and the views are stunning.
If you sit in Harry’s Bar long enough you’ll see everyone in town. All the artists, collectors and celebrities pass through those doors at some point during the Biennale.
Caffè Florian on Piazza San Marco is another good people-watching spot. Go there at sunset and you’ll see the whole art world walk by.
The best focaccia comes from Dal Non Colussi bakery in San Barnaba. It is a family business that was started by the grandfather in 1956 and is now run by the granddaughter. It’s very special.
One of my favourite places is the Museo Fortuny. It is the perfect spot to take a break from contemporary art. Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949), who lived and worked here for 50 years, was such a polymath. Not only was he an incredible designer, but he could also paint, draw and sculpt. He was always experimenting. He was a pioneer in photography, and even invented a portable theatre. He changed the visual world around him, and his work still resonates today.
When friends visit I like to remind them about the Tintorettos in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the Bellinis in the Accademia (below). It is too easy to forget that these wonderful artists exist when there is so much contemporary art to see. Don’t forget, they were the radical revolutionaries of their day.
My husband Giberto has been running his Murano glass business Giberto.it since 2005, and he has made some stunning editions. His glass reproduction of Canova’s nude of Napoleon’s sister, Paolina Borghese, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Don’t leave Venice without a pair of my daughters’ ViBi Venezia furlane, the traditional slippers worn by gondoliers. You can buy them from Al Duca d’Aosta, which is not far from Piazza San Marco.
I am very lucky because I live on top of the Aman Hotel, which has the most beautiful garden (above). It’s a great spot to hang out in. It is very calm and never gets crowded, and the food is delicious.
My favourite party was one we held at our home, the Palazzo Papadopoli, in 2005, before it became the Aman Hotel. It was for the artist Ed Ruscha, who was representing the United States at the Biennale. Stefan Ratibor and Larry Gagosian were our clients, and it was such an amazing night.
Any waterfront café will give you a taste of Venetian life, but for a sense of the real Venice you should head to the Rialto fish market on a Saturday morning. Have a drink at Naranzaria, just off the market square. They do great cicchetti and aperitifs.
A trip to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore is not to be missed if you have a little more time. It’s a great half-day out. The island is currently the site of the Homo Faber Event, a fantastic survey of craftsmanship from around the world, featuring artisans from Italy, Japan and South Korea, among many other countries.
You can watch these incredibly skilled craftsmen in action and have a go yourself. It is so important that we support traditional crafts and preserve them for future generations.
Eat at the wonderful San Giorgio Café, and don’t miss the copy of Paolo Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana at the Giorgio Cini Foundation (above). The original painting was stolen by Napoleon and is now in the Louvre, but the foundation has installed an amazing replica by Factum Arte — I imagine it is just how it would have looked in the 16th century.
Finally, don’t arrive in Venice without a pair of sneakers. Leave the Louboutins at home!