The 55th Venice Biennale: An Encyclopedic Palace of Art

Photo of Stephanie Chang
30 April 2018

The hottest date on the international art calendar, every two years the Venice Biennale transforms the floating city into a city of art, where the biggest names in the contemporary art world, internationally-renowned galleries, curators and collectors rub shoulders with aspiring artists, art aficionados and the simply curious. Here, The Culture Trip offers a handy guide to the 2013 Biennale.

Occurring bi-annually on odd-numbered years since 1895, the International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale is one of the most anticipated events in the international cultural calendar. Curated by Massimiliano Gioni and organised by La Biennale di Venezia, the theme of the 2013 edition of the Biennale is Il Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace). Beginning in June, the Biennale’s 88 national participants, ten of which will exhibit for the first time, will transform Venice into a floating city of art.

Poster of the 1936 Venice Biennale.

Massimiliano Gioni who selected this year’s exhibition theme has stated that he was inspired by the utopian dream of a bygone era. Marino Auriti, a self-taught, Italian-American artist designed his Il Encyclopedico Palazzo del Mondo (The Encycopedic Palace of the World) in 1955 and sought to have it built on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Boldly intended as a museum ‘to hold all the works of man in whatever field, discoveries made and those which may follow’, Auriti’s dream remained unrealised; his scale model for the Encycopedic Palace was relegated to a storage warehouse for decades.

Photograph of Marino Auriti with scale model of Il Enciclopedico Palazzo, American Folk Art Museum, c.1950s.

Seeing in Auriti’s dream an example of humanity’s ambition to encapsulate the infinite variety and richness of the world in a definable structure, Gioni describes Il Palazzo Eycicopedico / The Encycopedic Palace as ‘a show about obsessions and about the transformative power of the imagination’. This concept will be realised through the organisation of the 2013 Venice Biennale exhibition space, as the Arsenale will be ordered according to a progression of natural to artificial forms, which harks back to the wunderkammers and cabinets of curiosities of the 16th and 17th centuries through which attempts were made ‘to construct a visual compendia of the world’.

To Gioni, Auriti’s unrealised and unrealisable dream, The Encycopedic Palace of the World, represents an‘elaborate but fragile construction, a mental architecture that is as fantastical as it is delirious’. Juxtaposed with the ever-growing array of artists and artworks in all different media, the 2013 Venice Biennale theme suggests that the attempt to encapsulate and order the knowledge of the world of contemporary art through the various National Pavilions and exhibition spaces ‘now seems as dizzyingly absurd as Auriti’s dream’.

Canaletto, A Regatta on the Grand Canal, c.1732. Royal Collection, Windsor.

The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Series

The 55th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale will take place from 1 June – 24 November. The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Series is an article series leading up to the start of the exhibition. With 88 countries participating in this year’s Biennale — 10 of them for the first time — and 150 artists from 37 countries, our coverage over the next couple of months will highlight a selection of the National Pavilions that will be participating in the 2013 edition of the Venice Biennale.

Presenting art per country is particuarly precious in times of globalization, because it gives us the primary fabric of reference on which the always new, always varied, autonomous geographies of the artists can be observed and better highlighted. Thus from Belgium to Iraq, our country-specific profiles will take an in-depth look at the ways in which artists and curators grapple with contemporary issues through their Pavilions’ chosen themes and the ways in which this is visually communicated through art. Our Countries List provides links to our featured National Pavilions. You can follow our daily Venice Biennale updates on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

The Culture Trip’s National Pavilion Highlights






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