Best of the Venice Biennale

Giorgio Zucchiatti, Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

La Biennale’s festivals bring cutting-edge currency to the old stones of Venice.

A quick Venetian cultural history lesson: In 1910, giants of the day Renoir and Klimt star at the Biennale art exhibition, while Futurist F. T. Marinetti drops anti-Biennale leaflets in Piazza San Marco. In 1951, Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon makes its European première at the Film Festival, taking home the Golden Lion. John Cage is nearly jeered off the stage of La Fenice while performing an experimental piece during the 1960 Festival of Contemporary Music. Four years later, Robert Rauschenberg wins the Gran Premio prize at the Art Biennale as Pop dominates. The inaugural Architecture Biennale in 1980 presents a landmark survey of postmodernism, from Venturi to Gehry to Koolhaas. In 2005, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain wins the Golden Lion.

That’s nearly a century of touchstones from Venice’s contemporary arts festivals, which now include art, architecture, film, music, theater and dance—all overseen by the organization La Biennale. Only art and architecture are actually biennials, held in alternating years, while the annual film festival takes place in late August–early September. The other three, more fluid in their scheduling, are moving beyond festival-only models to include programming throughout the year. Below, a brief on what’s current and coming. For more details, visit


By the time it wraps up, the 54th Contemporary Music Festival will have staged 27 premières, including Luca Francesconi’s experimental opera Don Giovanni a Venezia. Composer Wolfgang Rihm got the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement. Through October 2.


Overseen by 2010 Pritzker prize–winner Kazuyo Sejima, the centerpiece of the 12th Architecture Biennale is an exhibition of 48 architects, engineers and artists responding to the theme “People Meet in Architecture.” Through November 21.


Bice Curiger, a curator at the Zurich Kunsthaus, is director of the 54th Art Biennale and will oversee the main exhibition at the Arsenale. The Italian Pavilion plans to host a show curated by controversial art historian Vittorio Sgarbi. June 4– November 27, 2011.


Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan opened the recent 67th Film Festival, which also debuted films by Julian Schnabel and Sofia Coppola. The première of a posthumous work by legendary director Nicholas Ray will highlight next year’s slate. September 2011.


Under the direction of Spaniard Alex Rigola, the theater section will stage workshop performances this fall at the restored Sala delle Colonne in the Ca’ Giustinian and at the Teatro Piccolo Arsenale, with a festival slated for a year from now. October 2011.


During the 7th Dance Festival, held in the spring, William Forsythe was given the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement. Brazilian-born Ismael Ivo, who has headed the dance section since 2005, will stay on to oversee the next festival, likely in 2012. Dates TBA.