An Introverts Guide To The Venice Biennale 2017: The Innovative & Alternative Exhibitions And Initiatives


This May, Venice will once again undergo its biannual transformation, temporarily becoming the capital of the global art scene as members of the art world descend upon the city for the opening of “Viva Arte Viva.” The highly-anticipated 2017 Biennale, curated by Christine Macel, promises to pack a punch, with 120 artists slated to show their work in the artist-focused exhibition. The main exhibition at the Biennale sets a stage that generously expands tangentially. That’s the heart. Sure, it will be dead space at times, but it’s open position is there for moments of wonder.

There is an enormous intensity of information, knowledge and ideas on display at this year’s Venice Biennale. The opening week of the Venice Biennale sees the global art community, including artists, institutional curators, influencers, gallerists, and the collectors (in their super Yachts), descending on the labyrinthine city. The vaporettos, river taxis, and winding streets will be heaving with people that you know and recognize, dressed in this summer’s global art fashion, tapping furiously on hand-held devices to try and deal with the FOMO which appears to increasingly terrorize and drive our global art tribe. But to a certain extent, this whole idea about being too vast and too plentiful is also an analysis of our current world condition; we are in a moment where there are so many different issues or crises that it’s hard to get the full picture. Alongside the tourists and the inevitable main Biennale come the satellite shows—some officially partnered with the Biennale, others functioning entirely independently.

Being exhibited at the Venice Biennale, and in particular representing your country, is one of the highest accolades a living artist can achieve. But how do artists who are working outside the mainstream art market exhibit if not chosen for their national pavilion or invited into the group show at the Arsenale? The answer is exhibitions that run alongside the Biennale, either as an official Collateral Event or simply as an Independent Exhibition concurrent with it. Creativity unscathed by artistic fashion can be exhilarating and inspiring for artists, curators and collectors. The big trend emerging from the last Venice Biennale is that ‘Outsider Art’ has become the latest art world fashion and passion. With the growing interest in Outsider Art comes the seeming contradiction that most Independent Exhibitions are invariably the most interesting thing at The Biennale for those on the inside. It is, I suspect, a reaction against the increasing commodification of what is called ‘Outsider Art’ ironically, becoming part of the global art market. Yet there is a concurrent move away from the raw emotional impact you might get from an image to the delight of intellectual curiosity it may give you with the electric charge of global politics tempered by a subtle play between materials and form. This can be explained as part of the commercial and popular success of the former versus the latter. You can’t move in the global art centers for ‘ironic’ child-like line drawings and naive paintings- sculptures and paintings that should have no connection with the formal history of art- presented in the corporate art world in an imitation of a pure unsullied voice. International biennales and the art world in general still seem incredibly homogenous and all this irony seems to thrive as an expression of powerlessness and hopelessness in the voids left by an increasingly fractured social framework whose coherence is faltering thanks to rampant privatization, economic deregulation, ubiquitous social risk and day-to-day precariousness. There is a small coterie that endeavors to prove that things on Planet Earth are not just going well, but have, in fact, never been better. Both the physical facade of power and the ideological facade of power appears to remain intact and yet it has less and less credibility. It is getting increasingly difficult to tell the difference between what is ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ and what is not. In general, I am doubtful that art is there to solve the big sociopolitical questions. I have never seen it happen over the course of history. What art can do, however, is force the questions.

The first thing to do outside the main Biennale events at the Giardini and the Arsenale is to establish whether an event is part of the official Collateral Events program, and subject to selection procedure, or an Independent Exhibition. The financial aspect of a collateral event is just as critical as the selection process. Organizing an official show does not come cheaply, with a starting price at around €200,000 for a modest event.  But the average is around double as much, and if someone takes a Palazzo on the Grand Canal, the rent alone from May to November could come up to €500,000. So there are always going to be certain limitations on the art shown when the purse strings are attached. The more money spent the more mainstream. Still, applying to be listed as a collateral event may be one of the most effective and cheapest ways to get an individual artist’s work shown around the Venice Biennale.

Applications for the Collateral Events were vetted by the artistic director, and the criteria attempts to offset the more mainstream art market monopolizing these events: In order for the Biennale to accept the application it must be autonomous and from a non-profit organisation. These selections are, for the most part, beyond the control of the art market and are subject to the selection criteria and regulations of the Biennale.  Importantly, the shows can’t be directly commercially funded and must be proposed by a “promoter” organization. The proposal will include details of the art works, the curatorial direction, some technical explanation of how the exhibition will be achieved, and a location. This is a serious business—once a proposal has been selected, the Biennale will enter into dialogue with successful applicants to discuss and refine the final exhibition. The selection is then officially announced in Venice at a press conference, which took place on the February 6, although individual promoters will have been informed before this.

All the talk about precariousness, which can seem abstract or pretentious in other contexts, seems powerfully embodied in the Independent Exhibitions, as both a contemporary condition and a historical legacy. But no matter how refreshingly honest and direct independent gallerists, artists, and foundations are, they are also increasingly aware of the importance of visibility in meeting this global audience and obtaining the cache of being exhibited in Venice. And there are other organizations and institutions in Venice, like Espace Louis VuittonThe Pinault Collection, The Prada Foundation, and many of the museums, who choose to have shows alongside the Biennale, but to remain independent. When artnet News discussed this with the Pinault Collection, Martin Bethenod, director of Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, clarified their position, commenting that “Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana are two institutions with their own exhibition program. We have never been a ‘collateral event’ which does not prevent us from having the best relations with the Bienniale and to collaborate with them whenever we have this opportunity. We have been hosting events of the Dance Biennale as well as theater projects.”

Venice presents many high points. You really have to dig in and it’s virtually impossible, both physically and mentally, to digest all of it. Here, presented in no particular order, are some of our top suggestions from across the Biennale and beyond:



  Museo Correr:  Shirin Nashat 

Featuring a selection of photographs from the series The Home of My Eyes (2015), and Nashat’s new video Roja (2016), this presentation of recent works marks a shift in the Iranian artist’s practice, as her newer work takes the focus off her native country and instead points an eye towards other cultures. The 2015 series The Home of My Eyes depicts the various people of Azerbaijan through a hefty 55 portraits, while 2016’s video work Roja turns the camera inward to look at Nashat’s personal experience of living as a foreigner in the US

 Museo Correr

Piazza San Marco, 52, 30124 Venezia

May 13 – November 26



AVBIV & Art Selectronic: The Anomaly

Many of us often see the Internet as impossible to control based on its very structure, as it gives everyone access to a democratic form of communication free of government control. The Great Firewall of China shows us that it isn’t quite that simple — the Internet has its bottlenecks where censorship can be instituted and technologies abused to aid in censorship. From China’s blocking and filtering system, Singapore’s class license system, and the United States’ government-private partnership model we are dealing with an ideological thing: a perfectly seamless machine for the centralization of power that negates any criticism.

Tom Estes‘ Live Art performance is based on a scene from Cinema Paradiso in which a priest rings a bell in order that the projectionist cuts certain imags from films before public viewing. The costume is a fusion of characters from The Terminator and The Matrix and so is reflective of our on-going relationship to censorship and images within the cybersphere.

Estes will be performing The Anomaly at various sites around Venice from May 11th to 14th. Chosen by high profile judges from over 900 entries from around the globe, The AVBIV Selected Artists for this year at La Biennale di Venezia include Tom Estes’ Live Art Performance: The Anomaly. So if you don’t catch his live performance, documentation from Estes’ performance will also be on display at a champagne reception hosted by The Biennial Project at  ARTIsm3160

San marco 3160 Salizada Malipiero, 30124 Venice, Italy

Virtual Reality Commissions at Fondazione Giorgio Cini

One American, and one German expand their dark visions into the realm of virtual reality. These two bad-boy provocateurs—Christian Lemmerz, whose sculptural output celebrates an almost cartoonish level of gore and offensiveness, promises a visceral “close-up experience with a burning corpse of Jesus Christ, which ‘rains’ embers” (sure to be a crowd-pleaser among the Italian Catholic community). And Paul McCarthy, never known for a subtle touch, will doubtlessly revel in the chance to push some high-tech buttons. (The projects were accomplished in collaboration with Khora Contemporary, a Copenhagen-based company helping contemporary artists branch out into VR technology.)

Paul McCarthy and Christian Lemmerz Virtual Reality Commissions at Fondazione Giorgio Cini

Isola di San Maggiore

May 12–AUG. 27

Opening: MAY 11, 6–8 P.M.




Žižek’s idiosyncratic style, popular academic works, frequent magazine op-eds, and critical assimilation of high and low culture have gained him international influence and a substantial audience outside of academia in addition to controversy and criticism

Thursday, 11 May 2017 at 5pm

Aula Magna, Tolentini
Iuav University of Venice
Santa Croce, 191

Opening of the Pavilion and inaugural exhibition: 10 May, 6 – 9 p.m.



Research Pavilion: Utopia of Access 

Under the title The Utopia of Access, the Research Pavilion wants to give room to a variety of artistic interpretations and viewpoints involving access-oriented thought, by connecting it with aesthetic, scientific and political perspectives.

The experimental exhibitions will be organized by different partners. The first exhibition, You gotta say yes to another access, is a Nordic collaboration (May-June), followed by the Zurich University of the Arts’ exhibition, Florian Dombois’s Galleria del Vento (July-August) and lastly an exhibition by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Hauntopia/what if (September-October).

The Research Pavilion constitutes a high level critical platform that produces a significant addition to the 57th Venice Biennale by showcasing how universities and academies function today as experimental laboratories within contemporary art.

The Research Pavilion will feature a parallel cross-artistic program called Camino Events that will include nearly 50 workshops, artistic interventions, screenings, discussions on artistic research and research within the arts and performances.

In generating a series of exhibitions and activities for critical art and thinking, the Research Pavilion will not only present artistic research to a wider audience, but also introduce visions of a reality that has not yet been realised in theory or practice.

The Research Pavilion is created and hosted by Uniarts Helsinki, and realized together with the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme and the Swedish Art Universities’ collaboration Konstex in co-operation with the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and Zurich University of the Arts.

Venue: Sala del Camino
Campo S. Cosmo, Giudecca, 621 Venice
Vaporetto stop: Palanca
Tue – Sun 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Admission free


The Diaspora Pavilion: International Curators Forum (ICF) and University of the Arts London (UAL) 

The Diaspora Pavilion is conceived as a challenge to the prevalence of national pavilions within the structure of an international biennale and takes its form from the coming-together of nineteen artists whose practices in many ways expand, complicate and even destabilise diaspora as term, whilst highlighting the continued relevance that diaspora as a lived reality holds today.

International Curators Forum (ICF) and University of the Arts London (UAL) present Diaspora Pavilion, an exhibition to be held in Venice from May 13th until November 26th 2017 at the Palazzo Pisani S. Marina during the 57th Venice Biennale.

from May 13th until November 26th 2017

The Palazzo Pisani S. Marina, 30100 Venice, Italy




Intuition at Palazzo Fortuny

This sprawling, ambitious group show marks the venue’s sixth collaborative effort from Axel Vervoordt and Daniela Ferretti. Previous iterations explored broad and malleable themes, like the concept of proportion. The focus this time around, according to a gallery statement, is on “dreams, telepathy, paranormal fantasy, meditation, creative power, hypnosis, and inspiration” which the curators tease out through works by a fantastic cast of characters, from Hilma af Klint to Anish Kapoor and Marina Abramović.

“Intuition” at Palazzo Fortuny

SAN MARCO 3780 MAY 13–NOV. 26

OPENING: MAY 10–12, 10 A.M.–5 P.M.


 Palazzo Ducale, Jheronimus Bosch and Venice and Venice

After a campaign of restoration financed by the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP) and the Getty Foundation of Los Angeles, the exhibition presents three newly-restored paintings conserved right in Venice at the Gallerie dell’Accademia. In her review of the show, artnet News’ Sarah Hyde wrote, “Despite advances in technology which have enabled human beings to go much further in articulating their deepest fears, Bosch is still the master.”

Heronimus Bosch and Venice and Venice” at the Palazzo Ducale, February 18 – June 4





About Art Selectronic

Art Selectronic is an artist-led initiative, that supports grass-roots contemporary art that remains unswayed by fashion, trends or the whims of government funding. The project involves ongoing research into the placing of contemporary art, it’s audiences and it’s relationship to the everyday. We place great emphasis on context. Our mission is to support new works of contemporary art and foster an audience from a wide range of backgrounds.
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