Insider's Guide to Venice Biennale

All you need to know about the most star-studded event in the art world calendar

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Words by John Brunton

So what is it?

As nothing quite compares to Cannes when it comes to movies, so the Venice Biennale is in a class of its own when it comes to the art world. Every two years, artists, gallery owners and museum curators from across the globe descend on Venice in their thousands for the opening of this mythical event, trailing a wake of A-listers intent on some serious partying.

When is it?

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The extravaganza officially opens on 1 June, running through to 24 November, but the elusive invite everyone is after is for the Preview, a myriad of private openings, viewings and partying held for three decadent days from 29-31 May.

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(GETTY)

Can you see any action if you're not invited?

Crashing anything is no easy task, but just being in La Serenissima at this time carries everyone along on an incredible buzz. Even if you’re not going to sneak into the grand national pavilions in the official Giardini gardens (where the majority of official events are held), or blag your way on to a private motorboat zipping guests over to the (secret) lagoon island, where the British Pavilion will hold a party for its artist, former Turner Prize winner, Jeremy Deller, you can still try and spot the likes of Tracy Emin, Gilbert and George and Grayson Perry wandering around. If you’re lucky, you may catch celebrity art-lovers such as Elton John, Karl Lagerfeld and Bono.

Remember that the Biennale is not just about the Giardini, as now events take place all over the city in ancient palaces, churches, monasteries, museums and theatres - and these are the venues that tend to be far more relaxed about letting in art enthusiasts who don’t have the magic invite.

(Kate Hudson at Venice Biennale, REX)

Where to star-spot?

Begin by having a drink in Venice’s most famous watering hole, Harry’s Bar (Calle valaresso, San Marco 1323, enq 041 528 5777, cipriani.com). Yes, it is a tourist trap, but it still acts like a magnet for the stars - just forget about ordering their overpriced Bellinis and stick to a Martini.

And just hanging out in local bars and trattorie, you stand a pretty good chance of bumping into one of the thousands of organisers working here on the exhibitions, who often have a spare invite for at least an after-hours party.

(Harry's bar, San Marco)

Party time

During the three day Preview there are something like 300 openings going on, so watch out when wandering around the city as the Prosecco starts flowing as early as 10.00am receptions, and those held in city squares or outside a church are much easier to casually wander over for a drink, rather than getting past a legion of bouncers when a top DJ is performing and free Champagne is flowing.

Bear in mind that every luxury hotel in town - especially the landmark DanielI, Gritti and Bauer - is transformed into a venue for a nonstop whirlwind of cocktails, dinners, receptions and parties. So at least wander in, splash out for a drink at the bar, who knows who you’ll bump into.

Some of the hottest tickets in town are events organised at the Guggenheim Museum, where even an invite entails queuing for ages to get in. This year, the Bronx Museum of New York will be throwing a bash there on 30 May, with legendary hiphop artist Afrika Bambaataa DJing.

Has this star-studded event inspired you to visit Venice? Check out our Venice Guide. Or see all our travel guides.

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