Venice, Italy Is Where the Really Rich Go to Find Art’s Next Big Thing
The Venice Biennale has emerged as the place where curators, collectors, advisers, and artists come to a consensus on what art is important.
“It’s been interesting to understand what the art world thinks is relevant,” said Maria Guilia Maramotti, the senior director of North American retail for Max Mara Ltd, which was founded by her grandfather.
“I’ll go home knowing about some artists who I would not have necessarily thought about collecting, but who now I think could be interesting as a part of the Collezione Maramotti,” the family art collection based in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
Over the course of just 1 week in May, hundreds of the world’s wealthiest people converge on Venice for openings, parties, and receptions that revolve around the commencement of the 57th International Art Exhibition, an ostensibly not-for-profit art show that’s known colloquially as the Venice Biennale.
The Biennale comprises 85 national pavilions, 29 of which are in a park called the Giardini, where countries that include the US and Russia host contemporary art exhibits.
The rest of the official show is in the Arsenale, a massive warehouse complex in which one curator assembles hundreds of artworks around a theme. This year’s is Viva Arte Viva, a show “inspired by Humanism.”
The Biennale will run from 13 May through 26 November.
Satellite exhibitions will also be sponsored by philanthropies and museums.
Because of the large number of global rich, and the cadre of art dealers who cater to them, the Biennale has become an unofficial forum where consensus is formed about art market standouts.
New artists are anointed as stars/saints, and the status of existing art celebrities is reinforced.
“It doesn’t always make careers, but it definitely can make careers,” said Heather Harmon, a director of the New York-based art advisory KCM Fine Arts.
“Take the Anne Imhof’s installation at the German Pavilion. That’s going to be one of the great takeaways from this Biennial, namely that she’s one of the people who need to be paid attention to on a global level.”
Other standouts included a video by New York-based artist Rachel Rose in the Central Pavilion in the Giardini, Brooklyn-based artist Carol Bove’s sculptures in the Swiss Pavilion, and George Drivas’s installation at the Greek Pavilion, which included a shining, mirrored maze and a movie starring Charlotte Rampling. “On a grand scale, these works are speaking to a larger audience,” said Ms. Harmon.
Less-publicized shows have emerged as must-sees, including the Future Generation Art Prize, which features an exhibition of 21 shortlisted artists in an ornate palazzo.
One of the artists in the show is Njideka Akunyili Crosby, a Los Angeles-based artist whose last painting to sell at auction was estimated $515,680 to $774,000 and sold $3.2-M in March at Christie’s London. Before that sale, just 2 of Crosby’s works had ever gone to auction, according to Artnet, 4 of her works will be up for sale at this week’s New York auctions, carrying estimates that range from $40,000 to $2-M.
Another must-see ancillary event is at the Palazzo Fortuny, a gothic mansion that Belgian dealer Axel Vervoordt turns into an exhibition space featuring contemporary photography, medieval drawings, neolithic sculptures, and Japanese pottery.
“The whole art world is in Venice,” said Mr. Vervoordt, standing in the Palazzo’s courtyard as waiters in white coats served coffee and fruit skewers during a private opening last Thursday morning. “All the collectors, all the art museum people, they’re all here. It’s the best period.”
Venice is the only art world event to attract a global audience.
Art fairs, including Frieze in London, TEFAF in Maastricht, and Art Basel in Switzerland, attract comparable levels of wealthy collectors and influential curators, and the documenta art exhibition in Kassel, Germany, has a reputation for its impact on curatorial taste.
But whereas documenta is often inscrutably avant-garde, Venicehas a sweet spot. “As someone that goes to art fairs, the level that you find here is so much more elevated,” said Ms. Maramotti as she prepared to go inside the Dogana. “The intellectual energy of this is way more interesting to me.”