10 Essential Italian Expressions for the Venice Biennale

Neven Allegeir
Neven Allegeir

Arguably the most important contemporary art event in the world, the Venice Biennale opens for the press and VIPs a few days before the general public gains entry. During this week of excess, the city turns into the capital of both art and freeloading. Being proper journalists, SLEEK perfected our party strategy this year. Here is our essential Italian phrasebook that will make your next Biennale into an experience almost as affordable as a trip to ALDI – though infinitely more exciting.


An event billeted as exclusive but ends up involving furious elbowing, envious side-eye and potential riots.The South African Pavilion party drew so many people there was a queue for the queue; France hosted a quintessentially French soiree, with private boat shuttles and endless rivers of champagne and dealer Johann Ko?nig threw a party so sought after his director said “You’re not on the list” at the same pace he sells 7 Alicja Kwade’s works at Art Basel.


A quality required for anybody planning to witness the handsome millenials in Berghain attire performing at the German Pavilion. Anne Imhof’s crew of blase? hipsters did things expected of blase? hipsters, such as staring into the void and pushing each
other in weird slo-mo, like clubbers failing to escape a K-hole. Gripping and fascinating, it was the most discussed thing of the whole Biennale and drew more crowds than the techno mecca would on CSD Sunday

3. BOH…

The Italian, more multifaceted version of “meh”, able to convey a wider spectrum of meanings, from “pretty great!” to “inherently dreadful”. This versatility is particularly handy when talking about the art. At the Biennale, you encounter many new people but can never be sure whom you’re talking to. Hence, saying “boh” is a safer option than dissing the overwhelming amount of textile-based works if your interlocutor is Sheila Hicks’s gallerist, for example.


Question one desperately asks a local after having wandered the city in circles. Palazzo Pisani is to Venetian buildings what a spandex Balenciaga outfit is to fashionistas: an exclusive and almost untraceable source of discomfort. Location, appearance and address of this prime party spot kept changing, driving at least one person (the author) into deep hysteria and madness. Not even Katja Novitskova’s immersive post-human fantasy managed to trigger 10 such intense anxiety.


Internationally valid expression of supreme importance in Venice. Whether it’s to Isabella Bortolozzi’s boat party or Canada’s lavish reception: even if you weren’t invited originally, RSVP nevertheless. To find out whom to RSVP to, harass your influential acquaintances. Eventually, your insistence will result in an email with twenty ‘Fwds’ in the subject line – perhaps the key to an unforgettable night.


Qualifier to be used when feeling either affectionate or opportunistic. A tesoro is someone who infinitely improves your Venice by inviting you to a trendy lunch hosted by Miche?le Lamy, or spices up your nightly walk home from Hotel Bauer with a subtle flirt. It can also be someone who’s considering including your abstract tapestries or bulbous ceramics in a group show at
his edgy Milan gallery, in which case tesoro can be applied once that’s confirmed


Bag worn by 95 percent of preview visitors. Among the more luxurious models, the Balenciaga bazaar shopper was king, seen amongst others on artist Isa Melsheimer and gallerist Nadine Zeidler, both stylish Berlin powerhouses with no patience for impractical leatherwear. For those on a budget, a wide range of options was available at the national pavilions, of which almost every single one handed out a tote bag. This odd yet apparently obligatory art world tradition spawned a frantic scramble for the more desirable options, leading to top ten tote bag listicles – a sign, perhaps, of an art world tired of itself?


Feeling most preview visitors wake up with every morn- ing. During preview week, the Venetian diet consists of 60 percent prosecco, 30 percent white wine and 10 percent of either something fried or squished between two layers of damp bread. Needless to say, the body begs for a detox by day three. However drunkenness makes your humid, 70cm wide hostel bed bearable, so most people accept the hangover and resultant weight gain.


Adjective abusively employed to describe mediocre things in Venice. During preview week, too much honesty can be counterproductive. One must think strategically. Hence, a lukewarm glass of second-rate prosecco or a dodgy exhibition can be “fantastico”. Just say it to the person responsible for it so you’ll get invited again in two years. You might not have enjoyed it that much, but hey, those soggy micro-tramezzini were free and fed you for the night.


Two women slowly dancing in some Scandinavian art dealer’s eccentric apartment, a gorgeous security agent caught breathing in the air dense with the smell of rain, some eyebrow-less woman gazing at Ciprian Muresan’s drawings… the combination of such an otherworldly place and people reveling in its magnificence can be overwhelming; there comes a point
at which one suddenly understands why Thomas Mann wrote Death in Venice and not Death in Wuppertal.

Interview with Käthe Kollwitz Prizewinner Katherina Sieverding