Dining for Free at the Venice Biennale
Get ready to get hungry. This is a food review of the Venice Biennale.
Eating free food during the intense press preview week of the 55th Venice Biennale requires work. You need to plan weeks ahead and RSVP (with the PR agencies, embassies, institutions, or other national pavilion organizers). With that one skill, you could easily hit 25 parties a day. That includes the food and drink tab, too.
At posh art events like la Biennale, everyone rides around in golf carts going from one exhibition to the next (until midnight). One begins to wonder: is the art world freeloading on art events like Venice? VIP parties begin as early as 9 AM with champagne and strawberry tarts. Journalists talk their way out of water-boat tickets. Crafty artists accredit themselves as media. And curators play the lux hosts. Is anyone actually working?
That’s why I figured I should review the food. Why not? The fancy fare at Venice is a vital part of the spectacle of art. At the 2011 Venice Biennale, I met John Waters and interviewed Robert Crumb. This time around, I’m (probably the only one) focusing on the food and what it says about each country, with a little star spotting between apps.
Hands down, the Venezuela Pavilion had the most badass pineapple. Pricked with kebabs of mini mozzarella and cherry tomatoes, they also had traditional Venezuelan dishes mixed with Italian treats, starting with the spiked banana and peach punch. Accompanying an exhibit by the Colectivo de Artistas Urbanos Venezolanos, they served a variety of rice dishes, breaded olive balls, north Italian-style shrimp and mayo treats, meat cubes, cheese cubes, and a meat wall. By far, they had the best variety of treats! Feast!
The Iraq pavilion dinner party featured a three-course meal with tight security at the door. For starters, they had fish in white goo, cups of shrimp, followed by the main course of meat, asparagus, and rice. For dessert, mousse and strawberry pineapple fruit cake. I got to hang out with comic artists from Baghdad, like Abdul Raheem Yassir.
AA Bronson was at the Canadian Pavilion, which hosted the exhibition by Shary Boyle. The catering offered an eclectic mix of a rice dish featuring corn, salad, seafood pasta, fruit salad, salmon hors d'oeuvres, a bowl of parmesan as well as mozzarella and cherry tomatoes on kebabs. Guests were reusing the kebab sticks for the strawberries. Clever trick.
The MOMENTUM Nordic Biennale cocktail party was a riot. It pissed rain but they had potato chips, nachos, salami, and Swiss cheese snacks, as well as tuna. They love fish up in the Nordics. So do pigeons.
The Austrian pavilion featured organic ice cream and one of their local beers. The art was Disney-like cartoons by Mathias Poledna. Ice cream was a smart bet. The server was swamped.
Iceland pavilion’s press conference had roasted eggplant and ricotta sandwiches, as well as Gouda cheese sandwiches sprinkled with rosemary. To drink, there was berry juice, orange juice, and small bottles of Icelandic water straight outta Ölfus Spring in Iceland. Also, the press conference was held in some type of holy space, as the artist Katrin Sigurdardottir read from her notebook before a cross. It felt like Bible class (in a good way). After, I ran into Icelandic art star Olafur Eliasson at an ATM machine.
The Lyon Biennial, upcoming this September, held a press breakfast with cappuccino, orange juice, powdered and raisin croissants, mouse with strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, and yogurt. They also had three types of meats and two types of white cheeses. They really went all out with as many French touches as possible.
The Finnish pavilion—a strictly champagne affair. Everyone was drunk. The Russian pavilion was the same.
The Germany pavilion partnered with the France pavilion this year, showcasing the art together. They were serving little almond cookies. The recipe is hybrid Chinese and French (fittingly, Ai Weiwei was part of the show). They also had bowls of strawberries and prosciutto wrapped breadsticks that everyone ravaged. The margherita pizza was gone in 15 minutes.
Eating the Greek Fries on the train back to Milan was a little unspectacular. But salty.
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