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Venice Biennale 2017 — What to see, and where to eat, drink and relax

Our panel of artists, curators and Biennale veterans discuss what they’re most excited about seeing, and offer their insider tips on the best places for lunch, dinner, cocktails and more

Gaetano Pesce
Award-winning artist, designer and architect

Gaetano Pesce has worked in glass throughout his career. This spring he brings to Venice’s Museo del Vetro an exhibition entitled Five Glassmaking Techniques. Pesce calls it ‘one part retrospective and another part, the first exhibition of my work with Venini’. The latter is a reference to the famed Venetian glass company, which has a history of collaborations with the likes of Ettore Sottsass, Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby, and Tadao Ando.

Both the material and the city have a longstanding significance in Pesce’s life and work. ‘My artistic approach to glass developed many years ago, when I was studying architecture in Venice,’ he explains. ‘It is a material that is processed in its liquid state, which then solidifies and remains intact for centuries.’

To Pesce, Venice itself is crucial to the success of this biannual art binge. ‘The Biennale’s success is owed to where it takes place — visitors also go to enjoy Venice, a unique urban place,’ he says. ‘During the Biennale, it is the art capital of the world; for the rest of its time Venice is a splendid, intriguing labyrinth.’

Gaetano’s Little Black Book recommendations

Places to eat: ‘I would recommend Al Covo in the Castello area or the extraordinary Caffè Florian in Saint Mark’s Square.’

Museum or gallery to visit: ‘There are so many of them. The most extraordinary is Gallerie dell’Accademia.’


The Palazzo Contarini Polignac, where the the Future Generation Art Prize will be presented

The Palazzo Contarini Polignac, where the the Future Generation Art Prize will be presented

Björn Geldhof
Artistic Director at Kiev’s Pinchuk Art Centre (PAC)

For the third time since its inception in 2009, the Future Generation Art Prize (FGAP) comes to Venice. The shortlisted artists and winners of these annual awards from Kiev’s Pinchuk Art Centre (PAC) are presented at the Palazzo Contarini Polignac.

Artistic Director at the PAC, Björn Geldhof was one of the international jury that selected South African Dineo Seshee Bopape as the main award winner. He stresses the significance of this exhibition: ‘Being in Venice gives all 21 shortlisted artists an exclusive opportunity to present their work to the assembled art world.’

The importance of the prize is further revealed by the presence of both current and previous winners around Venice. ‘I am excited to see the Brazilian Pavilion with the first winner of the FGAP, Cinthia Marcelle,’ he says. ‘One of our shortlisted artists, Sasha Pirogova, is representing Russia, and I’m looking forward to the Georgian Pavilion, represented by Vajiko Chachkhiani (also part of FGAP this year), and the Ukrainian Pavilion with Boris Mikhailov.’

Björn’s Little Black Book recommendations

Places to eat: ‘A nice place is Co Vino, near to the more well known restaurant Corte Sconta. It serves wines from small producers who use traditional methods to make the wine.’

Museum or gallery to visit: ‘One of my favourite places is La Scuola Grande di San Rocco. It was part of the biennial curated by Bice Curiger [in 2011] and holds amazing paintings by Tintoretto.’


Mark Bradford, Father You Have Murdered Me, 2012. Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, purchased with funds from Mortimer & Sara Hays Acquisition Fund and the Rose Art Museum. Courtesy of the artist
Mark Bradford, Father You Have Murdered Me, 2012. Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, purchased with funds from Mortimer & Sara Hays Acquisition Fund and the Rose Art Museum. Courtesy of the artist

Xin Li
Deputy chairman, Christie's Asia

It is Venice’s American Pavilion that immediately appeals to Xin Li, Deputy Chairman at Christie’s Asia. ‘I’m a huge Mark Bradford fan, although I always come across unexpected and remarkable presentations at Venice that catch me by surprise,’ she says.

This sense of discovery extends to Li’s assessment of Christine Macel’s exhibition Viva Arte Viva, and Intuition, the show being curated by ‘the brilliant’ Axel Vervoordt and the Palazzo Fortuny’s director, Daniela Ferretti.

Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi also appeal. ‘They are so bold and successful in their endeavours to push the boundaries of the viewer’s imagination. The Damien Hirst exhibition is a perfect example of that.’

Xin’s Little Black Book recommendations

Places to eat: ‘Breakfast at The Aman, lunch at Corte Sconta or Trattoria alla Madonna, and dinner at Antiche Caranpane.’

Museum of gallery to visit: ‘I can’t stay away from the Guggenheim.’


Installation view, Phyllida Barlow’s British Council commission is at the Biennale Arte 2017 from 13 May to 26 November. Photo by Ruth Clark
Installation view, Phyllida Barlow’s British Council commission is at the Biennale Arte 2017 from 13 May to 26 November. Photo by Ruth Clark

Emma Dexter
Director of Visual Arts at the British Council

Emma Dexter is clear about what sets the Biennale apart: ‘It has been an important centre of exchange of goods and ideas for more than a century. Venice lends itself to absorbing these inflows of artists, curators, exhibition-makers and visitors with elegance and grace.’

Following the decision of the 2017 selection committee (of which Dexter was a member), the incumbent of the British Pavilion will be Phyllida Barlow, who as Dexter explains, ‘has an ambitious approach that takes into consideration the context of Venice, the Biennale and the British Pavilion.’

Britain’s representation extends to Cymru yn Fenis Wales  in Venice and Scotland + Venice, while Christine Macel’s international exhibition Viva Arte Viva  has, according to Dexter, ‘made a brilliant selection of artists from the UK.’

Emma’s Little Black Book recommendations

Place to stay: ‘Recently I’ve stayed in Castello, which is close the Giardini and Arsenale. It can be wonderfully quiet and off the beaten track. I love the small cafés where there is only room to stand.’

Museum or gallery to visit: ‘A recent happy discovery is the Fondazione Giorgio Cini on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore — an important arts centre and library. This summer they have solo exhibitions by Ettore Sottsass and Alighiero Boetti, the latter with a special curatorial intervention by Hans-Ulrich Obrist. It is a special place and well worth the trip.’

British artists to see in Venice: ‘Nathaniel Mellors, who is exhibiting alongside Erkka Nissinen at the Finnish Pavilion; and the Diaspora Pavilion near the Rialto, with work by Isaac Julien, Yinka Shonibare, Barbara Walker and others. And, of course, I’m excited to seeing Damien Hirst’s exhibition at Palazzo Grassi and Punta Dogana after reading all of the press about it!’


Alighiero Boetti, Aerei (detail), 1989. Ink and watercolour on photographic paper mounted on canvas, 59 x 118⅛ in (three
elements, each 59 x 39⅜ in). Courtesy Fondation Carmignac, Paris
Alighiero Boetti, Aerei (detail), 1989. Ink and watercolour on photographic paper mounted on canvas, 59 x 118⅛ in (three elements, each 59 x 39⅜ in). Courtesy Fondation Carmignac, Paris

Vik Muniz
Artist and regular exhibitor at Venice

Artist Vik Muniz has created Afterglow  at the Palazzo Cini in response to its exceptional collection of Old Master paintings by Francesco Guardi, Dosso Dossi, Canaletto and others.

‘Although I have visited the city frequently,’ he explains, ‘I was unfamiliar with this precious little museum. Its manageable scale and the quality of its collection immediately inspired me to produce work that dialogued with the space, while making reference to Venice in a wider, conceptual and historic context.’

Created using cut-up auction catalogues and art reference works, Muniz has produced emulations rather than recreations, as he explains: ‘There is a certain degree of complexity and interference that has to be achieved in order to create an intelligent comparison between the copy and the original.’ The collages, which give the impression of thick impasto oil paint, are then scanned at ultra high-resolution and printed.

The final element of the exhibition is a sculpture called Quantum Leap (below), a monumental ruby-coloured glass reproduction of an 18th-century Venetian wine goblet. ‘Along with the Guardis and Canalettos, the viewer will bump into something else, different but equally and purely Venetian,’ Muniz explains. 

Vik’s Little Black Book recommendations

Places to stay: ‘I will not recommend my hotel near Campo Santo Stefano because it only has eight rooms and I want to stay there the next time I come. When I am not there, I stay at the Bauer simply because the entire art world is there.’

Places to eat: ‘For food, I recommend Alle Testiere, Trattoria Antiche Carampane and Da Fiore. That said, Venice’s best-kept secret is having a quiet and delicious lunch in the garden of Bauer Palladio in Giudecca. Once you are within the thick walls of this 16th-century Andrea Palladio building, time ceases to have a meaning.’

Best for cocktails: ‘The happy hour at Haig’s Bar — it’s a classic art-world schmooze spot.’


Vik Muniz, Quantum Leap, 2017

Vik Muniz, Quantum Leap, 2017

Leonie Moschner
Christie’s senior specialist in Post-War and Contemporary Art

Leonie Moschner has a personal interest in one of the highest profile exhibitions at the 57th Venice Biennale. ‘I have known Christine Macel for many years and have always admired her vision,’ she explains. ‘Viva Arte Viva  promises to be inspiring.’

Aside from Phyllida Barlow’s British Pavilion and Mark Bradford’s American Pavilion, she also enjoys a personal connection with the Iraqi Pavillon, which is ‘curated by my friends Tamara Chalabi and Paolo Colombo.’

Leonie’s Little Black Book recommendations

Exhibitions to see: ‘James Lee Byars’ 65 Foot Tall and Golden  will be one of my first stops since I particularly love this artist. What else? Philip Guston and the Poets  at Gallerie dell’Accademia, Ettore Sottsass at La Stanza del Vetro, and it is always a treat is to discover what Axel Vervoordt has in store for us at Palazzo Fortuny.’

Best for cocktails: ‘The Bauer is my all-time favourite hotel with its wonderful terrace and bar, which is mobbed every night.’

Places to eat: ‘I absolutely love the romantic Locanda Cipriani and Harry's Bar.’

Best-kept secret: ‘The wonderful Chiarastella Cattana, the eponymous shop run by my friend Chiarastella, who sells the most beautiful linen tableware, bath towels and hand-blown glasses.’


The church of Santa Maria Della Salute, built between 1631 and 1687. Courtesy Aman
The church of Santa Maria Della Salute, built between 1631 and 1687. Courtesy Aman

Axel Vervoordt
Renowned Belgian interior designer and collector

Over the last five Venice Biennales Axel Vervoordt has hosted a series of critically acclaimed exhibitions at the Palazzo Fortuny. The title of this final show in the series, Intuition, is also the subject. ‘The exciting challenge is to save the most difficult [theme] for the last exhibition,’ Vervoordt explains. ‘Intuition is something that’s always there, but is not easy to describe.’

The intuitive experience is explored through diverse artists, from Vassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee through Lucio Fontana and Joseph Beuys to Marina Abramović and Anish Kapoor. Surrealist artists are also an important component of this show, with works by the likes of André Breton, Man Ray and Joan Miró shown with contemporary artists such as Robert Morris, William Anastasi, Isa Genzken and Susan Morris. This stellar cast is joined by a series of performance pieces.

Intuition  comes as the logical successor to the previous exhibition, Proportio: ‘The concept of studying proportions is something that humans invented to give body to their intuition. Intuition  is a duo together with Proportio, and marks a way to close this series at the Palazzo Fortuny.’

Axel’s Little Black Book recommendations

Places to eat: ‘One of my favourite restaurants is A beccafico on Campo Santo Stefano; Trattoria Antiche Carampane is also great.’

Museum or gallery to visit: ‘It always depends on which exhibition they show. But besides Palazzo Fortuny, I always go to Peggy Guggenheim’s, Punta della Dogana and Museo Correr.’


Damien Jalet, The Ferryman. Video and installation by Gilles Delmas (France, 1966) 2017. Choreography, performance and texts by Damien Jalet. Voice Marina Abramovic. Courtesy Gilles Delmas and Damien Jalet
Damien Jalet, The Ferryman. Video and installation by Gilles Delmas (France, 1966) 2017. Choreography, performance and texts by Damien Jalet. Voice: Marina Abramovic. Courtesy Gilles Delmas and Damien Jalet

Shirin Neshat
Artist who has won honours at both the art and film biennales in Venice

Shirin Neshat returns to Venice with an exhibition hosted with Germany’s Written Art Foundation. Taking place at the Museo Correr, the exhibition consists of photographic portraits with hand gestures reminiscent of an El Greco or Titian.

They come from the series entitled The Home in My Eyes. ‘Part of the works were for a museum in Baku in Azerbaijan,’ Neshat explains. ‘By casting a large number of people in these photographs, my idea was to create a portrait of a country and of a culture.’ The portraits are joined by a video work: ‘Roja  came from my personal experiences in the United States — in fact from one of my dreams. It is a video that questions the idea of home.’

Shirin’s Little Black Book recommendations

Museum or gallery to visit: ‘For me, the Accademia collection with the works of the Venetian masters from the 16th century is a must. I also love to see the churches that still show masterworks of Renaissance art.’

Exhibition to see: ‘I’m really keen to see Christine Macel’s exhibition, Viva Arte Viva.’


Installation view, Phyllida Barlow’s British Council commission is at the Biennale Arte 2017 from 13 May to 26 November. Photo by Ruth Clark
Installation view, Phyllida Barlow’s British Council commission is at the Biennale Arte 2017 from 13 May to 26 November. Photo by Ruth Clark

Bianca Arrivabene
Venice resident and deputy chairman, Christie’s Italy

‘I live here and love my entire city,’ enthuses Bianca Arrivabene, who will not, at first, be drawn on what to visit in Venice. For her the pace of the Biennale is what differentiates it from more commercial events: ‘There is no shopping rush and the location is not a box. The mood is so relaxed.’

Video: Kan Yasuda: The quest for the perfect form

Arrivabene is excited about seeing many of the national pavilions. ‘Phyllida Barlow at the British Pavilion. The Italian Pavilion curated by Cecilia Alemani’, she says, as well as the Japanese-born Italian resident, sculptor Kan Yasuda, whose show Between Water and Sky  is at the discreet Aman Canal Grande hotel.

Bianca’s Little Black Book recommendations

Places to eat: ‘Breakfast at Quadri  in the piazza sitting in the sun; lunch at Carampane, outside, or at Aman/Palazzo Papadopoli in the garden. Dinner can only be at Harry's Bar, which is also the best place to go for a cocktail.’

Exhibitions to see: ‘I am looking forward to the Future Generation Art Prize at Palazzo Polignac. Exhibitions at the Fondazione Prada are always surprising, and there is a recreation of James Lee Byars’ sculpture 65 Foot Tall and Golden  in the Campo San Vio.’

Advice for first-time visitors to Venice: ‘Get lost in every calle  [narrow alley], enter every open door, don’t look at your watch, don’t make plans!’


A moment of calm for one of the city’s beloved water taxis. Courtesy Aman

A moment of calm for one of the city’s beloved water taxis. Courtesy Aman

Louisa Buck
Contemporary art correspondent for  The Art Newspaper

Louisa Buck is a frequent visitor to Venice during the Biennale, and will be as busy as ever this year. ‘I will hotfoot it straight away to Phyllida Barlow in the British Pavilion — she never disappoints. I am looking forward to Geoffrey Farmer in the Canadian Pavilion; the wonderful nonagenarian Geta Bretescu in the Polish Pavilion; and James Richards in Wales. The Iraqi Pavilion is mixing contemporary artists with antiquities, and Irwin Wurn in Austria is another I will be sure not to miss.’

These national offerings are added to the main international exhibition, Christine Macel’s Viva Arte Viva. ‘I like the way she is breaking it up into nine separate sub-pavilions, and introducing many new artists unfamiliar to me and certainly not the usual suspects,’ says Buck. ‘I’m especially looking forward to the Dionysian Pavilion!’

Louisa’s Little Black Book recommendations

Museum or gallery to visit: ‘I love the intimacy of the Ca' Rezzonico.’

Exhibitions to see across Venice: ‘Philip Guston at the Accademia is a must, and also the last of Axel Vervoordt’s wunderkammer extravaganzas, Intuition, in Palazzo Fortuny — it has intuition, dreams, telepathy and Surrealism as its themes.’

Places to eat: ‘I am fond of Da Gianni on the Zattere waterfront for lunch — simple Venetian food, reasonably priced and a great location. For dinner, I always love Montin, under the vines and full of memories.’

Best for cocktails: Harry’s Bar for a definitive Bellini, or an Aperol spritz in Cantinone già Schiavi (992 Ponte San Trovaso), because it comes accompanied by the best bar snacks in Venice. I also love that it is opposite the last gondola-building workshop in Venice.’

Best-kept secret: ‘Claudia Canestrelli’s treasure-filled antique shop tucked away in Campiello Barbaro Dorsoduro (I don’t know why I’m telling you this though…).’


Philip Guston, The Line, 1978. Oil on canvas. 180.3 x 186.1 cm (71 x 73¼ in) © The Estate of Philip Guston, Private Collection. Photo Genevieve Hanson
Philip Guston, The Line, 1978. Oil on canvas. 180.3 x 186.1 cm (71 x 73¼ in) © The Estate of Philip Guston, Private Collection. Photo: Genevieve Hanson

Yana Peel
CEO of London’s Serpentine Galleries

Phyllida Barlow, British representative at this year’s Biennale, has a long history with London’s Serpentine Galleries, as CEO Yana Peel reveals. ‘It’s hard to believe her show with us was seven years ago,’ she says. ‘It was a highlight for me, for Hans-Ulrich [Obrist, artistic director at the gallery], and our team.’

There’s also a Serpentine connection at the Diaspora Pavilion at Palazzo Pisani Santa Marina. ‘It is showcasing the work of 11 emerging UK artists from diverse backgrounds,’ says Peel. ‘Our trustee David Adjaye is among the mentors, together with artists such as Alan Gallagher and Yinka Shonibare.’

Elsewhere during the Biennale, Peel is eagerly anticipating the Future Generation Art Prize. ‘For me, the prize recalls artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, who is now a board member at the Serpentine,’ she explains. ‘It gave her a big break, and I hope it does the same for another artist.’

Yana’s Little Black Book recommendations

Best for cocktails: ‘The bar at the Gritti Palace Hotel.’

Place to eat: ‘The far-flung Cipriani Torcello for the most beautiful journey to find a restaurant.’

Exhibitions to see in Venice: ‘Christine Macel’s international exhibition Viva Arte Viva, which is what I call an exhibition of optimism. As someone who is an unwavering optimist, I can’t help but respond to these sentiments. At the Serpentine we’re always thinking about how art is at the heart of everything we do.’

Best-kept secrets: Libreria Acqua Alta — the library of high water, which sets a high standard for bookstores the world over! The Cadognato family has the most beautiful palazzo, with a collection and a treasure trove of jewellery celebrating more than 150 years of history. And, if I may go off-piste, there is an amazing mask-making place called Tragi-Comica where I spent an afternoon with my children — it’s a wonderful place to unleash your own creativity.’


The most beautiful city on earth is known to many as The Bride of the Sea. Courtesy Aman

The most beautiful city on earth is known to many as The Bride of the Sea. Courtesy Aman

Jennifer Higgie
Co-editor of  Frieze  magazine and editor  of Frieze Masters magazine

‘There are so many pavilions that it’s almost impossible to narrow it down,’ says Higgie. ‘One of the great things about the Venice Biennale is seeing the work of artists you’re not familiar with. As an Australian, I’m looking forward to seeing the work of Tracey Moffatt — the first Australian Indigenous artist to present a solo exhibition. Also, I was honoured to be on the selection committee for the British Pavilion, and I’m excited to see what Phyllida Barlow dreams up.’

Higgie is also intrigued by the International Exhibition, Viva Arte Viva, curated by Christine Macel. ‘[It’s] a show that the curator — both enthusiastically and vaguely — declares will be “a passionate outcry for art and the state of the artist”.’

Jennifer’s Little Black Book recommendations

Places to eat: ‘For breakfast, I love the cafés on Campo San Stefano. Lunch is usually on the run somewhere. For dinner, I always like Campo Santa Margherita: it’s lively and full of locals. For something more fancy, dinner at Harry’s Dolci on Giudecca is always a joy — sit by the water and drink in the view across the Grand Canal. (And Giudecca is a boat ride away from the crowds).’

Best for cocktails: Harry’s Bar — the martinis are the best anywhere, and they invented the Bellini! Although it’s touristy, I always love Florian’s on San Marco.’

Exhibition to see in Venice: ‘Given the state of the world, I’m particularly looking forward to the NSK State-in-Time Pavilion at Palazzo Ca’ Tron. NSK State is a territory-less state set up in 1992 to question the idea of national boundaries. It has been issuing passports since 1993, and now has around 15,000 citizens. It is setting up a passport office for the duration of the biennale.’

To visit: San Michele, the cemetery island, is amazing: visit the graves of Stravinsky, Diaghilev et al. Also, the smaller islands, such as Murano and Burano, are wondrous.’


Gondolas ply the shimmering lagoon in time-honoured fashion. Courtesy Aman

Gondolas ply the shimmering lagoon in time-honoured fashion. Courtesy Aman

Alistair Hicks
Former senior curator of the Deutsche Bank Collection and now an independent curator and writer

Alistair Hicks is, by his own admission, ‘going to the Biennale late this year’. He is preparing a show at Istanbul’s Pera Museum, but remains well versed in Venice. ‘Turkey's Pavilion will be primarily an aural experience with Cevdet Erek, and Marko Tadic might unleash a surprise for the Croatians,’ he observes. ‘Nigeria, one of the more dynamic art centres, has its first pavilion, but the three artists are unlikely to convert many people to the art of their nation. But then nor will the American Pavilion, although that does not matter because the American-led art market has already made Mark Bradford a hot commercial property.’

Alastair’s Little Black Book recommendations

Places to eat: ‘The Zattere is Venice’s sun trap in the morning. Allow most of the day for the Cipriani on Torcello (and leave time to stroll through to the mosaics in the Cathedral at the end of the garden). Dinner has to be at Pane Vino, where the stage set of Campo dell’ Angelo Raffaele becomes your private dining room.’

Best for cocktails: ‘Don’t fight tradition too much on this one! Most advise Harry’s Bar, but I prefer my Bellini on the Gritti Palace terrace on the Grand Canal.’

Exhibition to see in Venice: ‘Can you believe that it may be Damien Hirst making the biggest sensation? He is a professional sensationalist. Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable  will fill both the Pinault Foundation’s Venetian venues.’


Part of Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable. Photographed by Christoph Gerigk © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.

Part of Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable. Photographed by Christoph Gerigk © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.

Ziba Ardalan
Founder of London’s Parasol Unit

London’s Parasol Unit has become a gallery well known for its programme of innovative and groundbreaking contemporary art. Founder Dr Ziba Ardalan brings this same attitude of discovery to Venice. ‘Usually, I like to let myself be surprised, so I try not to anticipate too much,’ she says. ‘However, the British Pavilion has always been exciting for me, even for its sheer location — right at the top of the main alley in Il Giardino. This year we should all be looking forward to the ideas and creation of the unpredictable Phyllida Barlow.’

The Biennale is also an opportunity for Ardalan to revisit artists. ‘Shezad Dawood, another artist who exhibited a couple of years ago at Parasol Unit, has an interesting project,’ she says. ‘But I always approach the Venice Biennale like a blank canvas, without any preconceptions and allow myself to be impressed by what I see.’

Ziba’s Little Black Book recommendations

Places to eat: ‘For breakfast, few places can compete with the lively and busy terrace of the Hotel Monaco. For lunch, I think the Gritti Palace terrace is unique, because of its elegance and buzz; alternatively, the Acqua Pazza on Campo Sant’ Angelo serves delicious food in a spacious outdoor space, and I can never forget their delicious pizza. For dinner, I enjoy one of the by-the-water and local places such as, for example, Osteria al Bacco in Cannaregio.’

Best for cocktails: ‘The terrace of the Hotel Danieli. At that time of day the view over the silvery surface of the water is simply out of this world.’

Place to visit: ‘The Armenian monastery on the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni has always been my favourite. I recall a superb installation there by the late Jannis Kounellis, in 2003, which won me over for ever.’