In 1979, the historian Giuseppe Galasso was nominated President of the Biennale, and critic Luigi Carluccio became Director of the Visual Arts sector. The director of the Theatre section Maurizio Scaparro, and that of Architecture, Paolo Portoghesi, led the first important initiatives of the decade. Scaparro linked the activities of the Biennale to the Venice Carnival with great success, and Portoghesi recuperated the Corderie of the Arsenale, a vast space until then left derelict, to host the exhibition on Postmodernism: La via novissima.
In the 1980s, the Art Exhibition was set up on specific themes: Art as Art (1982), Art in the Mirror (1984), and Art and Science (1986). Giovanni Carandente did not use the thematic structure in the 1990 edition which was instead, organised by sections: Ambiente Berlin and Aperto.
The International Art Exhibition of 1980 presented a diverse range of exhibitions, among which, one curated by Jean Leymarie dedicated to Balthus in the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, and another designed by Jiri Kotalik at Ca’ Pesaro (Modern Czechoslovakian Art in the Museums of Prague). Achille Bonito Oliva and Harald Szeemann created Aperto ’80, set up in the Magazzini del Sale in Dorsoduro. This new initiative was presented as a special section for young artists and was repeated in many succcessive editions. It was in this section that the Trans avant-garde movement, according to Bonito Oliva’s definition, came about with artists Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Nicola De Maria and Mimmo Paladino.
Art as Art: Persistence of the Art Work was the title of the exhibition conceived by Luigi Carluccio for the following edition (interrupted by his untimely death in Brazil in 1981). In the 1982 edition Gian Alberto Dell’Acqua, already General Secretary in the ‘60s, realized the projects that his predecessor had outlined. The exhibition that was to be dedicated to Matisse, presented only two works from the Hermitage. An exhibition was set up in homage to the sculptor Brancusi, and another, dedicated to Egon Schiele.
In the summer of 1983, an exhibition entitled The Enchanted Mountains, with paintings by Michelangelo Antonioni was presented at the Museo Correr.
Paolo Portoghesi, the famous Italian architect took up his position as President from 1984 to 1992. The art historian Maurizio Calvesi was appointed director of the Visual Arts sector. The theme of the 1984 edition was Art and the Arts. History and the Present. The main exhibition hosted in the Palazzo Grassi was dedicated to The Arts in Vienna from the Secession to the fall of the Habsburg Empire. Two large exhibitions on current artistic issues were set up in the Giardini.
Art and Science was the theme of the 1986 edition, divided into two sections: the first entitled Between Past and Present, including Space, Art, Alchemy and Wunderkammer, the second The Age of Science including Art and Biology, Colour, Technology and Computer Science, and The Science of Art. It was a complicated and articulate edition which included an open-air sculpture exhibition set up in the Giardini. The work of artist Isamu Noguchi, presented by the United States, gained particular attention. In that year the management of the American Pavilion passed from the New York MOMA to the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation. Vincenzo Eulisse’s anti-racist initiative received much press coverage as he hung up black figures by butcher’s hooks, inaugurating it as the South African Pavilion.
The United States were also protagonists of the 1988 edition entitled The Place of the Artist. The Golden Lion was awarded to Jasper Johns, this was the first personal exhibition of the American artist who had participated in the Biennale since 1958. The Aperto section of the exhibition declared the American Barbara Bloom best young artist. Giovanni Carandente, director of the Visual Arts section in that year, set up some special exhibitions amongst which Ambiente Italia, dedicated to eight foreign artists active at that time in Italy, such as Twombly, Sol Lewitt, and Lüpertz.