The legendary Grand Canal hasbeckoned travelers for centurieswith its intricate palazzos and thefresh Adriatic seafood served atthe restaurants lining its banks.Every two years, the art cognoscentidescends on its mysteriousand narrow alleyways to feast onthe diverse offerings of the world’smost famous biennial, now in its53rd edition. Here’s the latest onhotels, restaurants, museums andshops worth seeking out, on footor via vaporetto.
THE 53RD ANNUALBIENNALE DI VENEZIA
WHAT: Seventy-sevencountries presentpavilions devoted toartists of their choice inan event that is theclosest thing the artworld has to theOlympics. Althoughthere are no goldmedals, there areGolden Lions — prizesawarded for best inshow. This year’s Lionsfor lifetime achievementgo to Yoko Ono andJohn Baldessari.
WHEN: June 7 toNovember 22
WHERE: The Arsenaleand the Giardini, amongother locations.
HIGHLIGHTS: Geoff Dyer,whose recently publishednovel Jeff in Venice,Death in Varanasi followsa journalist at the event,praises the Biennale forits diversity. “You see anamazing quantity of artin a short period of timeand in a limited amountof space,” he says. Thisedition hosts morecountries than ever, withdebut pavilions fromGabon, Monaco,Montenegro, Pakistanand the United ArabEmirates.• The USshowcases its belovedprovocateur BruceNauman in a 40-yearretrospective that alsointroduces the artist’snew sound installation.• In an odd twist,Germany will feature theBrit Liam Gillick, who isknown for his colorfulPlexiglas sculpture. • Atthe Arsenale, Venice’smassive former shipyard,and also at the formerItaly Pavilion, in Venice’sGiardini park, you’ll findthe main exhibition,“Making Worlds.” DanielBirnbaum,this year’sBiennale director, ismost excited aboutGarden of the Virgins,a part of the show thatjoins playful installationsby the American artistand filmmaker MirandaJuly and the Italiansculptor Lara Favaretto,among others. “It will beimpossible not to lovethis place,” Birnbaumsays. • One millionVenice-themed postcardsdesigned by Polishartist AleksandraMir willbe distributed for free.
HOTEL GRITTI PALACE
The Gritti represents the peak of old-world elegance. "It’s got a great staff and lots of elegance," says Larry Lovett, the chairman of the historical preservation group Venetian Heritage. Fine fabrics and antiques adorn this 16th-century palazzo, and breakfast on the hotel’s Grand Canal terrace is a joy.
Santa Maria del Giglio 2467
Located on the island of Giudecca, only a stone’s throw from the rest of Venice but retaining just enough stand-offish hauteur, is this popular playground for art world luminaries like Christie’s owner François Pinault as well as celebrities like Tom Hanks. Sumptuous rooms and a pool with a lagoon view complete the picture.
HOTEL BAUER IL PALAZZO
Owner Francesca Bortolotto Possati, a board member of Save Venice, has created an intimate lodging on the Grand Canal — attached to the larger and more modern Hotel Bauer — with suites of unsurpassed opulence.
San Marco 1413/d
"This place has a wonderful medieval feeling, a great roof terrace, and it’s close to the Arsenale," says Michael Hue-Williams, of London’s Albion Gallery. Even if you don’t stay, you should stop by to gawk at the fantastic Gothic-Moorish lobby, original to the 14th-century Palazzo Dandolo.
Riva degli Schiavoni 4196
CHARMING HOUSE DD724
This tiny hotel, named for its address, is a clean-lined contemporary option. "None of that fussy and oppressive traditional Venetian decor," says Dyer. Some of the rooms look onto the serene garden of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
IL NUOVO GALEON
When Robert Storr, now dean of the Yale School of Art, was the Biennale director, in 2007, he ate lunch at this nautically themed fish restaurant nearly every day. "It’s expensive, but a patron bought me a tab there," says Storr. "They have a great octopus in broth."
Via Garibaldi 1308
Known as the best restaurant in town, this tony spot lives up to that reputation daily. Its mission is to serve local ingredients in traditional preparations — no fusion fireworks here. "The food is always delicious, and they use a very delicate batter on the fritto misto," says Lovett. The wine list is vast and varied.
Calle del Scaleter 2202
The legendary Harry’s Bar is a San Marco icon for anyone with deep pockets, but Hue-Williams prefers its sister restaurant, also run by the Cipriani family. Located on Giudecca, this classically Continental place is less pricey and more charming. "It’s an extension of the Harry’s menu and a little less fussy," Hue-Williams says, adding, "I love eating while overlooking the water."
This restaurant prides itself on wines with low markups and on savory seafood dishes like black spaghetti with asparagus tips. The New York dealer James Cohan often throws gallery parties here during the Biennale: "In a city where people can be tough on tourists, they’re very hospitable, and it’s close to the Arsenale."
Calle del Pestrin 3886
TAVERNA SAN TROVASO
Located near the Accademia museum, this friendly two-story taverna has a tiled ceiling and a dining room swaddled in worn woods. Storr recommends the sautéed spinach and the mushroom pizza.
Fondamenta Priuli 1016
The Vervoordt Foundation, which began a series of exhibitions at the last Biennale, holds the final show from June 6 to November 15. In 2007 the art world thrilled to the eclectic high-low combinations that the trendsetting dealer and designer Axel Vervoordt assembled in the famed Palazzo Fortuny, formerly home to the fashion textile designer. This round even more space is available, since the foundation has restored additional rooms, including an old attic. "This show is about time itself," says Vervoordt. "It’s about things that are unfinished and infinity." In that spirit, he’s mixing sketches of an incomplete Pietà by Michelangelo with an Anish Kapoor sculpture called The Void. Other artists represented include Adam Fuss, Joan Mir and Gerhard Richter.
San Marco 3958
Even the most jaded museumgoer will be impressed by this treasure trove, which contains five centuries of Venetian painting. "They’re now showing Titians Presentation of the Virgin Mary at the Temple in the exact same place where it was originally installed," says the Berlin dealer Gerd Harry Lybke.
PUNTA DELLA DOGANA
François Pinault is still marching his contemporary-art crusade across Venice. In 2006, he took over the Palazzo Grassi, and on the opening night of the Biennale, he unveils his newest conquest: a Tadao Ando-renovated 17th-century customs house. The Dogana’s debut show, "Mapping the Studio: Works from the Pinault Collection," is so big that some of is 300 artworks will spill over into the Palazzo Grassi.
Visiting this exceptionally designed museum, located in a Baroque palace that took more than a century to create, is like taking a trip to 18th-century Venice. Among its many must-sees are the Tiepolo frescoes of classical figures that adorn the Nuptial Allegory Room. And take a peek into the historically accurate potion-and-powder-filled pharmacy that puts Damien Hirsts ruminations on the theme to shame.
PEGGY GUGGENHEIM COLLECTION
"You can’t miss the Guggenheim," says Lovett. "It’s a unique place." In 1949 the late patroness took over the canal-side Palazzo Venier dei Leoni as her home, filling it with works by such modern masters as de Chirico, Giacometti, Kandinsky and Picasso. The intimate setting still emits a whiff of the vie de bohème that she once cultivated behind its doors.
Day-trippers relish this Venetian Lagoon island, home to a 7th-century cathedral and stunning Byzantine mosaics. The spot has a rich history, as the first local waterlogged territory to be settled after the fall of the Roman Empire. "It’s magic," says Cohan. "You’re not too far away, but it’s another world."
Lybke frequents this cornucopia of fruits, vegetables and fish adjacent to the historic Rialto Bridge. "The top restaurants in Venice are well known," he says, "but I recommend going to the market and doing one’s own cooking." Picnic lunches are major time-savers for the on-the-go Biennale crowd.
Carlo and Giovanni Moretti have updated the Murano tradition in their sophisticated glass. Outfitted in custom-made iron and wood furnishings, their showroom features a wide array of smartly arranged glassware sure to please the eye. Don’t miss the etched lowball tumblers.
San Marco 1468
Peering into the workshop of this model-ship builder is a favorite Venice diversion of Yale’s Storr. "I would go and stare through the window all the time," says Storr. "He does great work." Penzo is revered throughout Venice for his replicas of gondolas, vaporetti and even warships. Bring one of Penzo’s boats home or try your hand as a craftsman with one of his model kits.
Calle Seconda dei Saoneri 2681
"When in Venice for the… Biennale" originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Art+Auction. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Art+Auction's May 2009 Table of Contents.