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  • Longevity and Reinvention: Venetianization and the Biennale

    John R. Gold, Margaret M. Gold

    Chapter from the book: Smith, A et al. 2022. Festivals and the City: The Contested Geographies of Urban Events.


    The Venice Biennale is the world's first biennial art exhibition. It was founded in 1895 as a way for Venice to put itself on the Italian festival map, to generate tourism, and to boost the contemporary cultural sector in a city with a strong tradition in classical art. The Biennale has adapted and evolved into a portfolio of 7 international exhibitions. Today three of these – the Art Biennale, the Architectural Biennale and the Film Festival – are global players in their respective fields. At the same time, the festival has also impacted geographically on the city. Beginning by utilising the Giardini gardens in the east of the city, it then spread to the redundant shipyards of the Arsenale in the 1980s, where it became a driving force for regeneration. More recently, it has diffused outwards into the wider city as national pavilions and collateral events established themselves in suitable buildings after 1995. Described as the Venetization of the festival, this geographical spread of the Biennale from its original exhibition ground has rooted the biennale in the fabric of the city in new ways. This chapter looks at the origins of the festival and its current relationship to the city, highlighting the ways in which the festival has adapted to internal and external pressures for change while keeping its model of national pavilions, by which countries display their art. Initially a pragmatic solution to diversifying the exhibition, this was later interpreted as a straightjacket and an imperial anachronism, but has nevertheless endured as a feature of the Arts and Architectural Biennales. Seen as a means of promoting tourism, the Biennale is now ironically seen as an antidote to overtourism and mass cultural tourism by tempting visitors away from the crowded centre to explore the city beyond.

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    How to cite this chapter
    Gold J. & Gold M. 2022. Longevity and Reinvention: Venetianization and the Biennale. In: Smith, A et al (eds.), Festivals and the City. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book64.i

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    Published on Aug. 23, 2022