8 Hits of the Venice Biennale

They used to call this waterlogged city the Most Serene Republic, but there is nothing serenissima about the opening days of the Venice Biennale.

The world’s longest-running and most extravagant festival of contemporary art opens to the public on Saturday after a preview biathlon of fine art and financial profligacy that has grown more hectic than ever. The first days’ forecast included a severe rainstorm and a large pro-Palestinian protest, but both turned out to be milder than projected — and neither demonstration nor precipitation put a dent in the global art world’s pre-eminent celebration of its own good taste.

You hoof across bridges and shove through crowds. You exchange tips on shows not to miss. You judge, you gossip, you wash it all down with Prosecco. Have you seen the Uzbekistan pavilion? Can you get me into the Tate reception? Do you have a boat? Do you know who I am?

This is the 60th edition of the Biennale to take place since 1895. Its massive crowds — the last edition drew some 800,000 visitors despite the pandemic — come to see a show in two parts. There’s a principal exhibition of hundreds of artists, all chosen by a single curator, which spans two locations: the genteel, Napoleonic-era park called the Giardini della Biennale and the massive Renaissance shipyard known as the Arsenale.

This year’s guest curator is Adriano Pedrosa, the director of the São Paulo Museum of Art. He’s brought some excellent new work for the show, called “Foreigners Everywhere,” including valuable displays of lesser-known Brazilian artists. He’s also assembled a pell-mell array of older painting and sculpture from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. The success of this historical section is far less evident. (More on all this in the coming days.)

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