Notes from the Venice Biennale: Mapping the Madness


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Sometimes billed as the Olympics of the art world because it draws together so many different countries, the Venice Biennale does have something of a competitive edge. On Saturday, when the sprawling exhibition officially opens to the public after several days of previews and press events, the 89 different countries participating will be looking to see who is awarded best pavilion for 2011.

But today, when many curators and artists were fresh off the waterbus and busy checking into their hotels, the real contest was to see which iPhone/iPad app was worth downloading. For this year, has two apps for the Biennale: an official guide created by the event organizers (iBiennale) and another created by Christie’s (Christie’s Bienniale). Both are free.


This one is easy to call. The official Biennale app is so heavy on background information and light on anything interactive that it might as well come in pamphlet form -- and probably does.

Christie’s offering is just the opposite. The program has Google-powered maps of the national pavilions (there are 89 this year, scattered throughout town), the officially sanctioned related events (39) and also restaurants. All of the maps can detect your current position, or alternately can be read in list form. And it comes with sundry tips, mainly from Christie’s specialists, for what to see and do.

Christie’s is not a sponsor of the Biennale, celebrated as one of the few international art events today free from concerns about selling art. But the auction house managed with this small piece of programming to splash its name all over this year’s program, making one wonder about the market subtext.

It also raises another, perhaps more fundamental, question: Could modern mapping technology take all the fun out of the age-old tradition of being lost in Venice?

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-- Jori Finkel, from Venice