Art retains its appeal (and so does Venice): Biennale visitors set records

The 2022 Venice Biennale always looked like it was going to be a success – in terms of numbers, let alone the art – and so it proved: Covid restrictions and Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine couldn’t prevent a record number of visitors cramming into the city to see more than 1,500 artworks by 213 artists from 58 countries.

The final total hasn’t been specified yet, but more than 800,000 tickets were sold over the seven months (plus the 22,498 who attended the preview).

The record-breaking figure is 35 percent up on the 593,616 visitors in 2019, the last pre-Covid Biennale – though the fair did run for 197 days in 2022 rather than the 173 that year. Still, the average daily figure for visitors in 2019 was 3,431, and for 2022 it was 4,062; and for most of the Biennale’s run you could certainly feel the extra 600 bodies around the exhibits (and in the coffee queue).

It’s interesting to see how many of them were prepared to travel during pandemic restrictions. Biennale President Roberto Cicutto commented on the “low presence of visitors from the Asian area” – especially China, presumably – but still 59 percent of visitors were foreign.

A couple of other numbers of notes: around 10,000 journalists registered as press, which we think was slightly down on the 2019 total; certainly more attended the pre-opening week then. And while the Biennale website actually had fewer page views in total – 9.5 million in 2019 against 7.9 million in 2022, despite the 24 fewer days – the difference can presumably be accounted for by the preference for social media, with two million interactions of one kind or another in 2022 (the organisers don’t seem to have been counting in 2019).

Looking to the future, tickets for young people and students represented 30 percent of all visitors, a total of 239,276. Of the 213 artists invited to take part in Cecilia Alemani’s The Milk of Dreams exhibition, 180 were showing at the Biennale for the first time. And we’re told the Biennale will be announcing that its sustainability programme has resulted in a certificate of carbon neutrality for the 2022 Biennale (and indeed all its associated activities, like the Venice International Film Festival).

The Biennale Curator Cecilia Alemani thanked all the participating artists, and you could feel the sense of relief and pride even in her statement for the official press release: “it’s been a very long journey that took us through a pandemic, a cruel war, and a collective sense of uncertainty. To organise this exhibition under such circumstances has been a great adventure, but not one without hurdles and complications. I have conceived this exhibition remotely, with hundreds of studio visits done on zoom with artists from all over the world. Very few artists were able to come and do site visits. Nobody knew if the artworks would get to Venice on time.

“Even if now things seem to have returned to a sort of normalcy, we all know it was an extraordinary period and that it took more than two years to get to this point. The fact that this exhibition could open on time back in April is still somewhat miraculous.”


Next year it’s the turn of the Biennale Architettura, which runs 20 may to 26 November (with a pre-opening on 18 and 19 May).

Sonia Boyce’s Golden Lion installation Feeling Her Way won the award for the Best National Participation at La Biennale di Venezia 2022. It combines video, collage, music and sculpture to present a body of work that centres around the vocal experimentation of five black female musicians. Feeling Her Way was commissioned by the British Council for the British Pavilion
The Golden Lion for the Best Artist in the International Exhibition went to Simone Leigh, a popular choice, for what the jury called “the rigorously researched, virtuosically realised, and powerfully persuasive monumental sculptural opening to the Arsenale, which … provided a compelling entrée to the ideas, sensibilities and approaches constellated and animated throughout ThMilk of Dreams

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