Thursday, 6 June 2013


The Venetian Businessman is very excited. He flicks through a catalogue from one of the national pavilions at the last Biennale until he finds a glossy image of a painting, a Sergeant Pepper style gatefold, and points to the top right corner.

"See, there we are!"

Sure enough, there he is. With his entire family, gaily waving at the viewer as they drive off in a taxi. I have to admit, I'm impressed. He doesn't just like the Biennale, he's actually been in it.

He smiles.

"Of course, the best part is always the...vernissage! How do you say that in English?"

I have to tell him that we don't really have an equivalent. We're boringly literal and just say “the opening party”.

We have tickets for the Scottish opening on Thursday, and we run into old friends and acquaintances ("You live here? I thought I hadn't seen you in a while..."). It's touching to hear people wishing us well. There are some of the great and the good from the Scottish arts scene, the culture minister makes an OK speech, and the gin (yes, the gin) is flowing freely. Food is non-existent. We're going to drink spirits on an empty stomach at 3 in the afternoon. What do you mean, “where are the tasty bar snacks?”, this is Scotland!

It's a good event but what about the art? Ah.  Well now. We really want to like it but the overwhelming impression is one of “will this do?”. To be fair, the place is packed out, and it's too noisy to really take in any of the video work so we'll go back and give it another go. .

 We head off to Iraq (not literally) with some of our friends. One of the highlights of the last Biennale, their pavilion at Ca'Dandolo is a mixture of the political and the lyrical, and very impressive. As well as the art, the intention is to create a salon atmosphere where the visitor can just wander in, select a book or newspaper to read, and enjoy a cup of tea. Excellent art, well thought out, making great use of the space. And on a shallower level, their opening party is a veritable banquet!

It's early evening now, and we move on to Ireland at Fondaco Marcello. We don't actually have tickets for this, but the man on the door mistakenly thinks he recognises us and lets us in anyway. The food has already been hoovered up by the time we arrive, but thanks to our Iraqi chums we're not in danger of going hungry; and at least there's no sign of the prosecco running out. The artist, Richard Mosse, has created a multi-screen video installation, a grimly compelling piece on rebel enclaves in Congo, shot on colour infrared film that renders the green landscapes pink and red. It's a powerful piece of work. At nearly forty minutes in length we only have time to see about half of it, but we'll be sure to return.

Back across the Grand Canal, then, to Newfoundland at Galleria Ca'Rezzonico. The art is nothing special, but the catering by Ai Artisti is first-class. We really aren't going to need dinner tonight.

Right next door at the Workshop gallery is a non-Biennale event, where new sculpture from the Syrian artist Diana al-Hadid is displayed alongside a piece by the late 19th century Italian sculptor Medardo Rosso. It's excellent work. A classy touch is provided by the presence of an actual sommelier, chain of office and all, for prosecco duties.

Technically, I have a rehearsal tonight, but then we run into a friend of mine and decide to stay for another drink. Oh what the hell, let's make it two. I started drinking gin at 3pm, my absence is probably advisable anyway.

Slowly, but steadily enough, we make our way home. We may not have made it onto any yachts, but we've had a good afternoon's vernissage.


  1. I could positively hear your voice speaking to us in this post, Phil.

    Continue having good artistic strolls, with plenty of liquid and solid refreshments to fortify you.

  2. The English equivalent of vernissage is "varnishing day", and it refers not to the opening day of a public showing, but to the day before the opening, when painters applied a coat of varnish to their finished works, sealing them. The most noted Varnishing Day was at the Royal Academy, and it was particularly valued by artists as a way of selling paintings, since invitations to attend were extended only to the well-heeled.

    Here is a lovely little painting of J.M.W. Turner on Varnishing Day. (He was famous for turning Varnishing Day into competitions with other painters.)$$CONTAINS$$CGSG00741?acc=CGSG00741

  3. Heh, you know I'd never made that connection before - thanks for the feedback (and the links), you learn something new every day :-)


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