The Art Olympics

by James Cocks

Before I left:

"What are you going to do in Venice for a month?".                                    

A common question from friends, family, and colleagues not accustomed to the 'funny world of the art world'.

"I'm working at the Venice Biennale".                                                               

Followed by a detailed and comprehensive description of the event.

A confused look or a too eager nodding of the head usually follows.

After repeating this conversation a few times, I settled on a fool-proof response.

"I'm working at the Venice Biennale. It's like the Art Olympics".          

No detailed and comprehensive explanation needed. It is understood. 

I wondered why this was so that an art festival with a similar length of history as the modern Olympic games (the first Biennale was held in 1895 and the first modern Olympics was held in 1896) in its own right is needs so much explanation. Yet when compared or referred to as the Art Olympics, its understood.

I wondered if this was because of the level of funding and media interest in the Olympics that the Biennale does not have, which leads to a wide-spread knowledge of the event in the public consciousness. 

After arriving

Once arriving here, I realised there was more to this 'Art Olympics' that I previously thought.

The weight of history and the politics that plays out at the Olympic Games plays out here, with national pavilions jockeying for position and prominence.

Also, there is a multitude of conversations based solely on the pavilions and not the artists. 

"What did you think of Germany? or Ireland?" or "Have you seen Finland yet and don't you think it's weird that they are also in the Scandinavian Pavilion?' and "I wonder what the Catalan show thinks of the Spanish Pavilion?"

I now wonder when the Biennale will be introducing an opening ceremony, the Biennale Torch, flag parade, national anthems, and international boycotts.