Chronological overview of the history of the Venice Art Biennale
Compiled by Elfriede Dreyer
The summary of Art Biennales has been compiled according to the information available on the official site of the Venice Biennale, La Biennale Di Venezia (https://www.labiennale.org/), Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venice_Biennale) and other sources on the Venice Biennale as listed in the Bibliography. For some of the Biennales there is not much information available. South Africa’s participation receives specific attention. The focus is only on the main exhibition venues, but over the years some South African artists also exhibited privately in Venice.
The 1st International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. During the winter of 1894-1895, work continued on the construction of the Palazzo dell’ Esposizione (exhibition venue) in the Giardini di Castello. The design was by the City Council’s architect, Enrico Trevisanato, and the neoclassical façade by Venetian artist, Marius De Maria. Its name was initially ‘Pro Arte’ and was subsequently changed to ‘Italia’. On 30 April, the I Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte della Città di Venezia (1st International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice) was opened in the presence of the King and Queen, Umberto I and Margherita di Savoia. The exhibition met with great public acclaim (224,000 visitors).
The 2nd International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. In the early 1900s, an increasing number of works by British artists were shown at the Venice Biennale, some of whom were presented with gold medals. This growing presence of British art at the biennial led to the opening of a separate exhibition space later in 1909 called the British Pavilion.
The 3rd International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. On 18 May, the new Modern Art Gallery opened at Ca’ Pesaro, thanks to a bequest from duchess Bevilacqua-La Masa. Its management was left to the Biennale’s secretariat.
The 4th International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. French art found visibility with an exhibition of French landscape of the 1930s with the work of Corot and Millet, and a solo of Rodin.
The 5th International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. The 5th Biennale the exhibition included decorative arts and the Salon des Refusés.
Foreign pavilions (not Italian) arrived in 1907. The first national pavilion opened in the Giardini di Castello, that of Belgium, followed by Britain, Germany and Hungary. The 6th International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. Monet visited the Biennale in Venice and painted almost 40 canvases as a result.
The 7th International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. On 8 July, futurist poet Marinetti arranged a drop of anti-Biennale leaflets in St. Mark’s Square. The first names of international repute appeared on the scene, with one room dedicated to Klimt, a one-man show for Renoir, and a retrospective dedicated to Courbet. Fradeletto had a work by Picasso removed from the Spanish salon in the central Palazzo, fearing that its novelty might shock the public.The first exhibition of the Spanish artist at the Biennale was in 1948.
The 8th International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. The French and Swedish Pavilions arrived, but Sweden was transferred to the Netherlands in 1914.
The 9th International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. The façade of the Pro Arte Pavilion was restored. With the inauguration of the Russian pavilion, the number of national pavilions in the Giardini other than the Italian Pavilion rose to seven: Belgium (1907), Hungary (1909), Germany (1909), Great Britain (1909), France (1912), and Russia (1914). Between 1916 and 1918, the Biennale was cancelled because of the First World War.
The 10th International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. During World War I, the 1916 and 1918 events were cancelled.
The 11th International Art Exhibition of City of Venice. Cancelled.
The 12th International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. For the first time, the post of mayor of Venice and president of the Biennale was split. This Biennale marked the presence of the Modernist avant-garde art at the Biennale (Impressionists, Post-impressionists, Die Brücke): Signac, curator of the French Pavilion, exhibited his own work, Cézanne, Seurat, Redon, Matisse and Bonnard. The Netherlands offered a retrospective of Van Gogh, and Switzerland on Hodler.
The 13th International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. The first retrospective of Modigliani was held, as well as an exhibition of sculpture by African artists. These selections caused some criticism and diffidence, and in order to restrict the ‘boldness’ of Pica, the town council set up an Administrative Board to work alongside him (in part a board of directors, in part a controller of the cultural selections), which initially comprised 7 members (these became 8 in 1924, 13 in 1926 and 9 in 1928; the Board was dissolved in 1930). There was also an exhibition of sculpture by African artists.
The 14th International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. The Russian Pavilion had a strong presence at this Biennale, as a result of Russian work being exhibited during the 1920s in a number of countries in Europe.
The 15th International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. An exhibition of Futurists was shown. The Czechoslovak Pavilion was added.
In 1927 an independent location for the head office was established in a ground-floor warehouse of Palazzo Ducale. The 16th International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice. The Istituto Storico d’Arte Contemporanea (Historical Institute of Contemporary Art) opened its doors on 8November; this constituted the first nucleus of archival collections of the Biennale. In 1930 its name was changed into Historical Archive of Contemporary Art. French art continued to dominate with Bissière, Chagall, Ernst and Zadkine. 10 countries participated.
In 1930 the term ‘Biennale’ came into use. The 17th Venice Biennale had 11 participating nations.The Biennale was transformed into an Ente Autonomo (Autonomous Board) by Royal Decree with law no. 33 of 13-1-1930. The forms of financing and the board’s articles of association were established by a decree of 1931. With this transformation, the Biennale passed from the control of the Venice City Council to that of the Italian fascist state. Thanks to increased funds and the impulse provided by its president, count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, new events were set up (Music, Cinema, and Theatre) and the Biennale took on the multidisciplinary character that it has to this day. The pavilion of the United States of America was built in the Giardini.
The 18th Venice Biennale had 13 participating nations. The Festival was organised for the first time in 1932, under the auspices of the President of the Biennale, Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, the sculptor Antonio Maraini, and Luciano De Feo and obtained a great popularity, so as to become an annual event from 1935 onwards.
The 19th Venice Biennale had 16 participating nations. In 1934 the International Theatre Festival was added. The Austrian Pavilion was built in 1934.
The 20th Venice Biennale had 13 participating nations. Britain included the so-called East London Group.
The 21st Venice Biennale had 18 participating nations. Winners of the Gran Premio included Ignacio Zuloaga, Herman Hubacher, Blair Hughes-Stanton, Felice Casorati, Venanzio Crocetti, and Mario Delitala.
1939 – 1945
Following the outbreak of hostilities during the Second World War, the activities of the Biennale were interrupted in September 1942. The last edition of the Art Exhibition took place in 1942 to resume only in 1948. In September 1943, Cinecittà installed itself in the Giardini di Castello, using the pavilions as studios (Cinevillaggio), and remained there until April 1945.
The 22nd Venice Biennale had 12 participating nations. Winners of the Gran Premio included Vilmos Aba Novàk, Arno Breker, Maurice Brocas, Felice Carena, Guido Galletti and Marcello Boglione.
The 23rd Venice Biennale, had 11 participating nations. Winners of the Gran Premio included Arthur Kampf, Charles Otto Bänninger, Stif Borglind, Alberto Salietti, Francesco Messina and Luigi Bartolini.
Due to the Second World War, the Biennales of 1944 and 1946 were suspended.
The International Art Exhibition reappeared as the 24th Biennale – the first following the war and the fall of fascism – with a major exhibition of a recapitulatory nature. The Secretary-General, art historian Rodolfo Pallucchini, who was the Biennale’s artistic director until 1956, started with the Impressionists (proposed by Roberto Longhi) and many protagonists of contemporary art (Chagall, Klee, Braque, Delvaux, Ensor and Magritte). A retrospective of Picasso’s work was presented by Guttuso. Pallucchini invited Peggy Guggenheim to exhibit her famous New York collection, which subsequently found a home at Ca’ Venier dei Leoni and became one of the cultural treasures of modern Venice. Winners of the Gran Premio included Georges Braque, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, Giorgio Morandi, Giacomo Manzù and Mino Maccari.
In 1949 the Arena at the Lido was enlarged and given its definitive arrangement. The Leone di San Marco, later renamed the Leone d’oro (Golden Lion) was created for the first time.
The 25th Venice Biennale had 23 participating nations. Winners of the Gran Premio included Henri Matisse, Ossip Zadkine, Frans Masereel, Carlo Carrà, Marcello Mascherini, Luciano Minguzzi and Giuseppe Viviani.
South African Pavilion – In 1950 South Africa debuted at the Venice Biennale, exhibiting in the foreign halls of the biennale’s central pavilion. Artists: Walter Battiss, Alexis Preller, Irma Stern, Maud Sumner, Sydney Kumalo and Maurice van Essche. Stern exhibited throughout the 1950s in Venice. After 1950 to 1968 South Africa was excluded due to apartheid politics.
The 26th Venice Biennale had 26 participating nations. Winners of the Gran Premio included Raoul Dufy, Alexander Calder, Emil Nolde, Bruno Cassinari, Bruno Saetti, Marino Marini and Toni Zancanaro.
The 27th Venice Biennale had 31 participating nations. Lucien Freud debuted at this Biennale. Winners of the Gran Premio included Max Ernst, Jean Arp, Joan Miró, Giuseppe Santomaso, Periucle Fazzini, Paolo Manaresi and Cesco Magnolato.
The 28th Venice Biennale had 34 participating nations. Winners of the Gran Premio included Jacques Villon, Lynn Chadwick, Shiko Munakata, Aldemir Martins, Afro, Emilio Greco, Zoran Music, Carlo Mattioli and Anna Salvatore. South African Alexis Preller had an exhibition in Venice.
The exhibition of Young Italian and foreign artists was presented within the 29th Art Exhibition that year. The artistic director was Gian Alberto Dell’Acqua (until 1966). Baj, Crippa, Dorazio, Scanavino and Jasper Johns were exhibited. Winners of the Gran Premio included Mark Tobey, Edurado Chilida, Fayga Ostrower, Osvaldo Licini, Umberto Mastroianni and Luigi Spacal.
The 30th Venice Biennale had 34 participating nations. Winners of the Gran Premio included Jean Fautrier, Hans Hartung, Emilio Vedova and Pietro Consagra.
Informal art was given an airing at the 31st Art Exhibition with Fautrier, Hartung, Vedova, and Consagra. Mostra del cinema: Golden Lion ex aequo to Ivanovo Destsvo by Andrei Tarkovsky and Cronaca organised by Valerio Zurlini. Winners of the Gran Premio included Alfred Manessier, Alberto Giacometti, Antonio Berni, Giuseppe Gapogrossi, Ennio Morlotti, Aldo Calò, Umberto Milani, and Antonino Virduzzo.
The 32nd Venice Biennale introduced Europe to Pop Art: the Americans exhibited in the building that used to house the US consulate at San Gregorio. Robert Rauschenberg was the first American artist to win the Gran Premio, and the youngest to date. Winners of the Gran Premio included included American painter Robert Rauschenberg, Zoltan Kemeny, Joseph Fassbender, Andrea Cascella, Arnaldo Pomodoro and Angelo Savelli.
The 33rd Venice Biennale had 33 participating nations. Winners of the Gran Premio included Julio Le Parc, Robert Jacobsen, Étienne Martin, Masuo Ikeda, Lucio Fontana, Alberto Viani and Ezio Gribaudo.
The artistic directors were Maurizio Calvesi and Guido Ballo. Student protests hindered the opening of the 34th Biennale. A period of institutional changes started, ending up with a new Statute (1973). This Biennale had 34 participating nations. Inners of the Gran Premio included Bridget Riley, Nicolas Schöffer, Horst Janssen, Gianni Colombo and Pino Pascali.
South African Pavilion – South Africa was not officially included as pavilion, but in 1968 Lucas Sithole and Rorke’s drift weavers were included in the Biennale. Cecil Skotnes also showed work. After this South Africa only showed in 1993 again.
The artistic director was Umbro Apollonio. The 35th Venice Biennale had 33 participating nations. No prizes were awarded between 1970 and 1986.
The artistic director was Mario Penelope. For the first time, the 36th Venice Biennale had a theme (as also in the following years): Opera o comportamento (‘Work or Behaviour’).
The artistic director was Vittorio Gregotti. The Venice Biennale was not held (it was resumed in 1976).
The artistic director was Vittorio Gregotti. July saw the inauguration of the new headquarters of the Archivio Storico delle Arti Contemporanee (the ASAC, Historical Archives of Contemporary Arts), in Palazzo di Ca’ Corner della Regina at San Stae, Venice. The 37th Venice Biennale had 33 participating nations.
The artistic director was Luigi Scarpa. A quotation by Kandinsky, “great abstraction, great realism” provided the starting point for the 38th Venice Biennale, divided into six ‘stations’, with the title From nature to art, from art to nature.
The artistic director was Luigi Carluccio. The 39th Venice Biennale had 33 participating nations. Achille Bonito Oliva and Harald Szeemann introduced Aperto, a section for emerging artists.
The artistic director was Sisto Dalla Palma. The 40th Biennale was held in 1982 with 38 participating nations.
The artistic director was Maurizio Calvesi. Since this Biennale onwards, specific curators have been appointed to curate the Biennale. The 41st Venice Biennale presented the theme of Arte e arti (‘Art and arts’).
Calvesi, director of the Visual arts sector, revived the Gran Premio, which had not been assigned since the protests in 1968. The 42nd Venice Biennale explored the relationship between Art and Science.
The 43rd Venice Biennale, directed by Giovanni Carandente, was entitled Il luogo degli artisti (‘The place of artists’), with 44 participating artists. Prizewinners included Jasper Johns (International Prize/Golden Lion); the Italian pavilion (best national participation); and Barbara Bloom (best young artist).
The 44th Venice Biennale, directed by Giovanni Carandente, had as its title Dimensione futura (‘Future dimension’). Amongst the special exhibitions were Ambiente Berlin, Homage to Chillida and Ubi Fluxus ibi Motus (commissioner Achille Bonito Oliva).Two exhibitions were held within the headquarters of the Historical Archives at Ca’ Corner della Regina: one on Tadeusz Kantor with theatre sets, costumes, machines and objects, the other on four masters of contemporary print-making (Friedländer, Goetz, Hayter, Vedova). Prizewinners included Giovanni Anselmo and Bernd and Hilla Becher (International Prize/Golden Lions); the American pavilion with Jenny Holzer (best national representation); and Anish Kapoor (best young artist).
A three-year gap between exhibitions was left to ensure the 1995 edition would coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Biennale.
The 45th Venice Biennale, which should have been held the year before, was postponed to this year, in order to make the next exhibition coincide with the Biennale’s Centenary. The Biennale Director was Achille Bonito Oliva. Prizewinners included Richard Hamilton and Antoni Tapies (Golden Lion for painting); Robert Willson (Golden Lion for sculpture); the German pavilion with Hans Haacke and Nam June Paik (best national representation); and Matthew Barney (Premio 2000 for young artists).
South African Pavilion – Ostracised for decades due to apartheid, South Africa returned to Venice in 1993 on invitation from the director, Achilo Bonito Oliva. His theme was The Cardinal Points of Art. The South African Association of Arts (SAAA) curated the exhibition under chairmanship of Louis Jansen van Vuuren. There were three parts: two main artists, Jackson Hlungwani and Sandra Kriel, were part in Oliva’s exhibition in the Italian Pavilion; an exhibition of 24 artists in the Fondazione Levi; and Bonnie Ntshalintshali in the Aperto.
For the Centenary and the 46th Venice Biennale, it promoted events in every sector of its activity. At the centre of the events for the Centenary was the historic exhibition Identità e alterità (‘Identity and Alterity’), held in collaboration with Palazzo Grassi and curated by Jean Clair: an important recognition of the human face and body in the work of the leading artists of the 20th century, with works from the most important museums in the world. Prizewinners included Ronald Kitaj (Golden Lion for painting); Gary Hill (Golden Lion for sculpture); the Egyptian pavilion (best national participation); and Kathy Prendergast (best young artist).
South African Pavilion – Curator: Malcolm Payne. Artists: Malcolm Payne (solo), Rudolph Hartzenberg, Brett Murray.
Whilst awaiting a reform of the Organisation, the Biennale’s Administrative Board was renewed. The 47th Venice Biennale, curated by Germano Celant, revolved around the exhibition Futuro, Presente, Passato (‘Future, Present, Past’), in which three generations of artists between 1967 and 1997 met ‘virtually’. In total, the Exhibition hosted 58 participating countries. Golden Lions were awarded to Marina Abramoviç and Gerhard Richter.
The new Biennale kicked off: the 48th Venice Biennale APERTO Over All recovered the historical spaces of the Arsenale (Artiglierie, Isolotto, Tese, Gaggiandre). Director: Harald Szeemann. Prize winners of the 48th Biennale included Louise Bourgeois and Bruce Naumann (lifetime achievement); Italy (best national participation); and Doug Aitken, Cai Guo-Qiang, and Shirin Neshat (International Prize).
Director: Harald Szeemann. On 9 June, the official opening of the 49th Venice Biennale, Plateau of Humankind, registered the largest participation of foreign countries in its history (63) and a record for the number of visitors (243,000) over the last 20 years. This edition of the festival introduced the novelty of a double competition by placing the Lion of the Year alongside the traditional Golden Lion; Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement to Eric Rohmer. Prizewinners included Richard Serra and Cy Twombly (lifetime achievement); Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Marisa Merz, Pierre Huyghe (International Prize); and Germany (best national participation).
The Venice Biennale presented its 50th edition: Dreams and Conflicts – The Dictatorship of the Viewer was the title chosen by director Francesco Bonami. The exhibition was open June 15 to November 2 and attracted a record number of 260,000 visitors. 64 countries participated. On 23 December the Italian Government approved the reform of the Biennale, presented by the Minister of Culture, which transformed the Biennale into a Foundation open to contributions from the private sector. Prizewinners included Michelangelo Pistoletto and Carol Rama (lifetime achievement); Peter Fischli and David Weiss (best work shown); Oliver Payne and Nick Relph (best young artists); Avish Khebrehzadeh (best young Italian female artist); and Luxembourg with Su-Mei Tse (best national participation).
The 51st Venice Biennale ran from June 12 to November 6, presenting two international exhibitions at the Giardini (The Experience of Art, directed by María de Corral) and at the Arsenale (Always a Little Further, directed by Rosa Martínez), 70 national participations and 30 collateral exhibitions. It was the first time females curated the Biennale. From 9 to 12 December, Robert Storr curated an international symposium on contemporary art, entitled Where art worlds meet: Multiple modernities and the global salon. Prizewinners included Barbara Kruger (lifetime achievement); the French pavilion with Annette Messager (best national representation); Thomas Schütte (best in International Exhibition); and Regina José Galindo (best young artist).
The main event in 2007 was the 52nd Venice Biennale, directed by Robert Storr. Titled Think with the Senses – Feel with the mind. Art in the present tense, the exhibition attracted around 320,000 visitors in a 165-day open period, which was the highest result in the last 25 years. Golden Lion for an artist of the international exhibition: León Ferrari. Golden Lion for a young artist: Emily Jacir.Golden Lion for a critic or art historian for contributions to contemporary art: Benjamin H.D. Buchloh. Golden Lion for lifetime achievement: Malick Sidibé. Golden Lion for best national participation: Hungarian pavilion with Andreas Fogarasi.
The 53rd Venice Biennale, directed by Daniel Birnbaum and titled Making Worlds, was back at the Giardini and Arsenale venues attracting a record number of 375,702 visitors in the period 7 June to 22 November. Golden Lion for best artist of the exhibition: Tobias Rehberger. Silver Lion for the most promising young artist of the exhibition: Nathalie Djurberg. Golden Lions for lifetime achievement: Yoko Ono and John Baldessari. Golden Lion for best national participation: American pavilion with Bruce Nauman.
From 2009 La Biennale Library (Asac) forms an integral part of the Central Pavilion at Giardini. In 2010 the reading room was inaugurated, used for conferences and workshops. This Library is an important research resource and is interlinked with international library systems. Entrance for students and researchers is at Calle Paludo. This Library contains a multi-disciplinary collection, including forgotten manuscripts, posters, astrophysical information, for instance, rare books, and philological, engineering and botanical resources, http://polovea.sebina.it/SebinaOpac/Opac.do#0.
The 54th Venice Biennale, curated by art historian and critic Bice Curiger, ran June 4 to November 27. The exhibition was titled ILLUMInations and attracted over 440,000 visitors making it a new record number for the show. Golden Lion for best artist of the exhibition: Christian Marclay. Silver Lion for the most promising young artist of the exhibition: Haroon Mirza. Golden Lions for lifetime achievement: Sturtevant and Franz West. Golden Lion for best national participation: German pavilion with Christoph Schlingensief.
In 2011 South Africa was part of the Biennale again after a 16-year hiatus. South African Pavilion – Curator: Monna Mokoena. Artists: Nelisiwe Xaba and Zanele Muholi.
The 55th Venice Biennale, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, took place from June 1 to November 24; the show, titled The Encylopedic Palace, attracted over 475,000 visitors, confirming itself as the most visited art exhibition in Italy; Tino Sehgal was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Artist, Angola won the Golden Lion for Best National Participation; the Holy See participated for the first time with a Pavilion inspired by the biblical narratives in the Book of Genesis.
South African Pavilion – Theme: Imaginary Fact: Contemporary South African Art and the Archive. Curator: Brenton Maart. Artists:Kay Hassan, Sue Williamson, Donna Kukama, Athi-Patra Ruga, James Webb, Kemang wa Lehulere, Penny Siopis, Wim Botha, Johannes Phukela, Cameron Platter, Andrew Putter, Sam Nhlengethwa, David Koloane, Gerhard Marx, Maja Marx and Philip Miller, and Joanne Bloch.
The 56th Venice Biennale entitled All The World’s Futures and curated by Nigerian-born Okwui Enwezor was open from 9 May to 22 November and attracted a record number of 501,000 visitors. Enwezor included several South Africans in his main exhibition, namely Kay Hassan, Joachim Schonfeldt, Marlene Dumas and Mikhael Subotsky. Golden Lion for best artist in the central exhibition: Adrian Piper. Silver Lion for a promising young artist: Im Heung-soon. Golden Lion for lifetime achievement: El Anatsui. Special Golden Lion for services to the arts: Susanne Ghez.
South African Pavilion – Curators: Christopher Till and Jeremy Rose. Artists: Willem Boshoff, Haroon Gunn-Salie, Angus Gibson, Mark Lewis, Gerald Machona, Mohau Modisakeng, Nandipha Mntambo, Brett Murray, Jo Ractliffe, Robin Rhode, Warrick Sony, Diane Victor and Jeremy Wafer.
The 57th Venice Biennale, curated by Christine Macel, opened to the public on 13 May. The Biennale Arte 2017 registered at the day of closure 615,000 visitors, and included the Viva Arte Viva main exhibition, more than 80 National Participations, 23 Collateral Events, and the Special Project – Between Art and Arts & Crafts by La Biennale di Venezia with the Victoria and Albert Museum. Viva Arte Viva presented, along an exhibition path consisting of nine thematic Transpavilions, the works of 120 artists from all over the world. The exhibition was accompanied throughout its duration by initiatives aimed at stimulating the dialogue and direct contact between artists and the public with a vast programme of ‘Open Tables’ and live performances. Golden Lion for best national participation: German pavilion (Anne Imhof). Golden Lion for best artist in the central exhibition: Franz Erhard Walther. Silver Lion for the most promising young artist in the central exhibition: Hassan Khan. Golden Lion for lifetime achievement: Carolee Schneemann.
South African Pavilion – Curator: Lucy MacGarry. Assistant-curator: Musha Neluheni. Artists: Mohau Modisakeng and Candice Breitz.
The 58th Venice Biennale was curated by Ralph Rugoff with the theme of, ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’. 90 countries contributed national pavilions. Golden Lion for best national participation: Lithuanian pavilion. Golden Lion for best artist of the central exhibition: Arthur Jafa. Silver Lion for the most promising young artist of the exhibition: Haris Epaminonda.
South African Pavilion – Theme: The stronger we become. Curators: Nkule Mabaso and Nomusa Makubu. Artists: Tracey Rose, Mawande Ka Zenzile and Dineo Bopape.
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