From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Venice Biennale (Italian: Biennale di Venezia) is a major contemporary art exhibition that takes place once every two years (in odd years) in Venice, Italy. The Venice Film Festival is part of it, as is the Venice Architecture Biennale, which is held in even years.
The very first Biennale was held in 1895; during the first editions, decorative arts played an important role. The event became more and more international in the first decades of the 20th century: from 1907 on, several countries started installing national pavilions at the exhibition. After World War I, the Biennale showed increasing interest in innovative traditions in modern art. Between the two World Wars, many important modern artists had their work exhibited there.
In 1930, control of the Biennale passed from the Venice city council to the national Fascist government. In the 1930s, several new sections of the event were established: the Music Festival in 1930, the International Film Festival in 1932 and the Theatre Festival in 1934. From 1938, Grand Prizes were awarded in the art exhibition section.
After a six-year break during World War II, the Biennale was resumed in 1948 with renewed attention to avant-garde movements in European, and later worldwide, movements in contemporary art. Abstract expressionism was introduced in the 1950s, pop art in the 1960s. From 1948 to 1972, Italian architect Carlo Scarpa did a series of remarkable interventions in the Biennales exhibition spaces.
The protests of 1968 marked a crisis for the Biennale; the Grand Prizes were abandoned and more emphasis went to thematic exhibitions instead of monographic ones. The 1974 edition was entirely dedicated to Chile, as a major cultural protest against the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. New prizes - Golden Lions, like the awards for the Venice Film Festival - were installed; postmodern art entered the scene with increasingly varied and popular exhibitions.
In 1999 and 2001, Harald Szeemann directed two editions in a row (48th & 49th) bringing in a larger representation of artists from Asia and Eastern Europe and more young artist than usual and expanded the show into several newly restored spaces of the Arsenale.
The 51st edition of the Biennale opened in June 2005, curated, for the first time by two women, Maria de Corral and Rosa Martinez. A former director of Madrid's Reina Sofia Museum, de Corral organized "The Experience of Art" which included 41 artists, from past masters like Francis Bacon (painter), Philip Guston, Bruce Nauman and Dan Graham, to younger figures like Tania Bruguera, Tacita Dean, and Leandro Erlich. Meanwhile, Rosa Martinez -- having curated Manifesta, the Istanbul Biennale, and SITE Santa Fe -- took over the Arsenale with "Always a Little Further." Drawing on "the myth of the romantic traveler" her exhibition involved 49 artists, ranging from the elegant (Ghada Amer) to the profane (Oleg Kulik) and including interesting collaborations like Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Christoph Buchel and Gianni Motti, Blue Noses, and the Centre of Attention.
At the 51st Biennale, American artist Barbara Kruger was awarded with the "Golden Lion" award for lifetime achievement.
In 2007, Robert Storr became the first director from the United States to curate the 52nd edition of the Biennale entitled Think with the Senses – Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense. This year, Mexico made its official debut at the Biennale with an exhibition by artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer at the Van Axel palace.