Okwui Enwezor’s Venice

The Nigerian/American curator and art critic is director of Munich’s Haus der Kunst museum and of this year’s Venice Biennale, the first African to hold the post

Image: Fabio Massimo Aceto

Saturday begins with coffee and scrambled eggs on the terrace of the Hotel Europa Regina, which overlooks the Grand Canal [pictured] and across to Punta de Dogana. If the weather’s good, I’ll wander to the flea market in front of the Santa Maria dei Miracoli church and just enjoy the jumble’s visual feast.

I’ll walk on to Palazzo Grassi, François Pinault’s art museum. Two years ago there was a particularly great exhibition by Rudolf Stingel, who covered the floors and walls with printed Persian carpets and a series of monochromatic paintings. Or I’ll visit the Fondazione Prada; the grand building and fantastic contemporary art programme are especially appealing.

Outside I’ll come across another thing I most love in Venice – my encounters with Senegalese and west African street traders and their bootleg goods. It sums up what Venice represents: a place of different types of trade, and of contrasts: luxury replicas in front of real luxury.

This sense of street drama continues on my walk across San Marco to Caffè Florian. It may be a tourist trap and the coffee overpriced, but I like to sit and people watch. Afterwards I’ll go to an exhibition at the Museo Correr; the combination of historic paintings and fabulous rooms designed by Carlo Scarpa is a huge source of pleasure.

From there I’ll walk across the square to the Olivetti store, also designed by Scarpa; I’m amazed at the ingenious ways he shapes space. Then there might be time for a convivial lunch with members of the Biennale team at Quadri, a restaurant on Piazza San Marco. The square isn’t the best place to get an incredible meal, but Quadri is excellent. I always order anchovies on toast with a glass of Caburnio – fantastic red wine that comes from the president [Paolo Baratta] of the Biennale’s vineyard.

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If it’s sunny, I’ll take a vaporetto across to San Giorgio Maggiore to visit the glass museum, Le Stanze del Vetro, and the Fondazione Cini, to walk in the beautiful gardens. The fondazione also has two libraries, one from the 16th century and a new one designed by Michele De Lucchi that’s an incredibly calm vaulted space where the play of light is sublime.

Later I’ll stop for a glass of wine and some cicchetti at Cantinone-già Schiavi. I don’t eat meat, so my favourites are eggplant, octopus, smoked salmon wrapped around cheese, or baccalà – salted cod – on toast. From there I’ll go to dinner at Antiche Carampane, which means “my old bitch” in Venetian. They bring fritto misto – tiny shrimps and squid wrapped in brown paper – to the table, and then I’ll have a sweet and salty tagliatelle nero followed by some fresh fish. It’s a great place to end the night.

On Sunday I’ll take a boat to the Lido, and wander in the Parco delle Rimembranze, or I might go to the Fondazione Emilio Vedova, designed by Renzo Piano. It’s a fantastic building with a fabulous collection of his paintings.

In the afternoon, I’ll walk along via Garibaldi, an old canal that was paved over during Napoleon’s occupation of the city, to the Giardini. I’ll go to the Scarpa-designed central pavilion to think about how the space might manifest during the Biennale, and on to Sant’Elena island, where the Brazilian and Austrian pavilions are located. Moving between these two spots is a way of thinking about the choreography of the exhibition.

Before dinner I’ll either have some cheese and wine at Vini da Arturo, a locals’ hangout, or a gin and tonic on the terrace of the Bauer Hotel. I tend to make it an early night; I’ll catch up on work and watch some of the artist films I’ve been sent. Then it’s off to sleep.

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More insider highlights in Venice can be found in our guide to a long luxurious weekend in the city, or for other Italy tips, read Nigel Coates’ perfect weekend in Tuscany or Brunello Cucinelli’s Smooth Guide to Norcia.

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