The Most Important Art Exhibition In The World
Politics and Activism

The Most Important Art Exhibition In The World

A student's memoir of the Venice Biennale.

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Julianna Wells

When I studied abroad in Italy this year, we paid a visit to the most important art festival held in the world: the Venice Biennale. A tradition that goes back 120 years, each nation hosts a pavilion in which they ask the best artists from their country to come and represent them. Each year, more and more countries join, and the artists push the boundaries further and further. The exhibition takes place in the Giardini and the Arsenale, as well as various satellite exhibitions across the historic city of Venice.

Behind the Biennale: A Short History of the World’s Most Important Art Exhibition from Artsy on Vimeo.

The Venice Biennale was like a playground for the senses. When we were in the Giardini traveling between the National Pavilions, it was like traveling from one world to another. The artists had complete control over their environments, for example the French Pavilion promoted a sense of calm while Finland’s created an atmosphere of fear and unease.


The French Pavilion. The tree was motorized and slowly moved across the floor and rotated. The viewers were able to lay down on comfy couches to observe it.

While the theme of the Biennale was All the World’s Futures, I feel like it was more of a reflection of what is going on in contemporary and past times, but perhaps as a gauge of what the future world will be like. Much of the work was political, both of past politics and current. How could it not be with an epic live reading of Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital” going on almost constantly like white noise?

Yes, this was a performance piece that was going on constantly "Hunger Game"s style.

One satellite exhibition that I particularly enjoyed was Iraq’s "Invisible Beauty." It featured five artists, and their work questioned United States involvement in Iraq as well as how to defeat ISIS. Much of the work was video and photography, asking people what they thought and how they as ordinary people felt about the fighting going on in their country. The most poignant work on display though was not made by world renowned artists, but by the child refugees from Northern Iraq and poems and statements made by elders. Ai Weiwei curated the works and put them in a publication called "Traces of Survival." The Iraqi refugees have always been close to my heart, and the experience of seeing the drawings of the children was deeply moving and humbling. Their drawings were full of hope. Their drawings wished for a more peaceful world. Their drawings had life. Their drawings communicated in a way that words cannot. The idea of art flourishing in Iraq is important as ISIS destroys more everyday. It is a story of creation versus destruction. The exhibit asked questions. It didn’t tell us what we needed to do about ISIS like the news does everyday, it presented the viewer with the facts of everyday life in Iraq and then asked what to do about the situation.

Most of the exhibition seemed to fly by, but this is one of the exhibitions that made me reflect and ponder. It seemed like as we traveled through the pavilions, the Arsenale, and all of the satellite pavilions that I was overwhelmed and left with tiny phrases stuck in my head. We began with Fabio Mauri’s “The End”.

Then we continued on through the central pavilion to Jeremy Deller’s text “Hello, Today You Have Day Off”.

Later, in the Arsenale, we were told that we were too expensive to buy.

And then the names of the satellite exhibitions seemed to ring in my head. I think I dreamed about “The Infinite Nothing”.

There was so much art compressed into so little time, but somehow it all managed to leave a lasting impression.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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