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Behind the Venice Biennale

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Super-curator Massimiliano Gioni, who, at age 39, serves as the youngest director of the Venice Biennale in its 110 years this summer, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the famed global art festival.

Do you have any rituals to prepare yourself mentally for Venice?

A: I kind of started smoking again since I took this job. Not sure if it counts as a ritual, but certainly it’s an indication of my stress level.

Q: What can I absolutely not miss in Venice?

A: Well, focusing on the Giardini and the Arsenale is probably your safest bet. In the Arsenale there are many new pavilions, and I think that adds another layer to a very stratified, polyphonic landscape, which after all is what makes Venice so beautiful.

Q: Do you have a favorite hotel or restaurant?

A: While working on the Biennale, I get a special deal at the Hotel Danieli, which will probably never happen again in my life. As for restaurants, I don’t have time for special meals. I mostly feed myself on the delicious tramezzini from small bars and cafés.

Q: Be honest: How annoying are the politics of putting together a show of this magnitude?

A: There is a terrible virus that bites every participant in the show—it’s called “Biennalite.” It’s an awful disease that forces even the most modest and sweet artist to ask for bigger spaces. This is the first time I am witnessing it. It must be the humidity of the lagoon.

Q: The attendant “scene” is often as talked about as the actual art. Which country throws the best parties?

A: We have more than 90 pavilions this year and many new nations, including Lebanon, Nigeria, even the Vatican. I’m curious if the Holy See has a big dinner planned. I remember a Scandinavian party a few editions ago in which a guy fell into the canal. That seemed like the ne plus ultra of parties. If there’s one thing I really regret about being the Biennale’s director this year, it’s that I will probably have to go to bed earlier than ever.

Q: In 2003 you were invited to curate a temporary pavilion that won many accolades but was annihilated by critics. How do you feel about it ten years later?

A: I have often fantasized about simply reinstalling that exact same Biennale from 2003 and calling it “How do you like me now?”

The 2013 Venice Biennale runs June 1 to November 24;


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