Things to do with children in Venice – Go to the Biennale

The children were adamant that they didn’t want to see any more churches! A few years ago, we could have bribed them with the promise that they could light a candle. This no longer works.

They were more than happy to see a modern art exhibition. We had been to the Peggy Guggenheim twice before, so we decided to spend two afternoons at the two main sites of the Biennale with the children. This exhibition rubs every two years (hence the name) in odd ending years from June to November.

It’s a huge exhibition. Of course, there is a mixture of dross and thought-provoking exhibits. To me the best installations were:

1. The Clock by Christian Marclay

There is a large cinema screen and multiple very comfortable sofas. The film lasts exactly 24 hours and consists of excerpts from films where time is seen or mentioned. The time referred to on screen is always that of the time zone you are in.

We spent 45 minutes watching this exhibit and could have spent the whole day. The clips were sometimes familiar, and sometimes new to me. They ranged from Laurel & Hardy to Columbo. They were predominantly English language films.

I would love to have a copy of this film and stream it live into my kitchen at home onto a flat screen TV dispensing with our clock.

2. Car crash Opera

You enter a room to see a BMW that has been totally wrecked/written off. The front is caved in; the bodywork scratched; the wheels are unaligned; and the tyres deflated.

You then enter a second room consisting of 12 music stands. Each music stand has different words of a score on it. You hear an opera aria and quickly appreciate that the aria sung corresponds to one of the scores on the stands. They all tell a story of how the car accident happened.

The third room is a film of an opera diva singing one of the 12 stories.

3. Clay modelling

There is a room and lots of different colours of modelling clay. Visitors are encouraged to add their “art” onto the walls of the room. My kids really liked this one. Overall, it’s an impressive sight. Tilly stayed for 30 minutes, and was pleased that fellow visitors were taking pictures of her adding to the exhibit.

4. Wax works (Urs Fischer)

The premise behind this exhibit is that there are multiple wax statues complete with lit wicks. Some are fairly new statues and you see a flickering flame at the top of their head with wax running down their head giving the appearance of hair; others have been there longer, perhaps the head has become gnarled and fallen onto the floor.


5. Swiss house (Thomas Hirschhorn)

Each nation can produce an exhibit. Towards the end of the first afternoon, we were tired and only had energy forgone final exhibit. Nancy chose Switzerland over Russia and one other. Lorna was expecting something traditional (and dull); I was expecting the opposite, a reaction to the stifling culture there. This exhibit is not for children*. It consists of horrendous pictures of mutilated bodies from war or torture as part of more ordinary scenes from normal life. A lot of work had gone into this installation.

6. South africa photos (David Goldblatt) & sound

This set of installations are housed in stud walls lined with (horrible) flock wallpaper. The walls are not parallel with the surrounding structure, given an odd vertex to walk down. One room is a sound exhibit. The others are photos from South Africa. Nancy spent over 30 minutes in one room, where there were photos and interviews of a number of ex-offenders.

Interestingly, it didn’t make me want to return to South Africa.

7. Dead stuffed pigeons. Everywhere, like in Hitchcock’s The Birds

8. The cafe at the Giardini

You need to rest after an hour or so, and there was nowhere better than this Retro 1950s cafe.


One final piece of advice:- get your tickets from Arsenale not Giardini (the queues are much shorter). The Arsenale buildings are works of art in themselves. That said, I think the installations at the Giardini are slightly stronger. There are installations elsewhere in Venice, but we didn’t see them

*This was our fault. The installations that are not appropriate for children are clearly marked.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Sarah on August 14, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    Hope the girls aren’t scarred for life


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