Although the Venice Biennale began its exhibitions in 1895, it was not until 1928 that it was deemed necessary to open an Archive of contemporary arts, annexed to the Biennale.
The correspondence and documentary material produced were gradually piling up in a warehouse on the first floor of Palazzo Loredan. When the sculptor Antonio Maraini took over the position of General Secretary from Antonio Fradeletto in October 1927, he managed to transfer the material to a small room on the ground floor of the Ducal Palace after a quick restoration. It was from here that the Historic Archive of Contemporary Arts took shape, inaugurating on 8 November 1928, under Domenico Varagnolo.
Varagnolo began gathering books and catalogues from Italy and abroad and contacted artists requesting documentation and photographic material of their work. Both newspaper cuttings regarding artistic events and documents kept at the Town Council were gathered, including letters and famous autographs. Photographers who had worked for years at the Biennale offered their negatives and reproductions of art works, thus initiating the nucleus of the Photo Library.
With its transformation into an independent body, following the R.D.L. 13 January 1930, n. 33, the Biennale extended its site to other adjacent rooms at the Ducal Palace and the Historic Institute of Contemporary Art, until becoming the Historic Archive of Contemporary Arts with the law 26 July 1973, n. 438. Meanwhile, the work of gathering collections was upgraded.
Following the death of Domenico Varagnolo in 1949, the direction of the Archive was entrusted to Umbro Apollonio, followed by Wladimiro Dorigo, Conservator from 1972 to 1983. In the meantime, the offices of the Biennale and the Archive found a more suitable home in the rooms of Palazzo Giustinian at San Moisè.
The Archive now consisted of the Library, the Magazine collection, the Photo Library, the Film Library, the Video Library, the Historic Fund, Documentary material and the Artistic Fund.
It was clear that the situation of this huge and unique wealth of material was seriously insufficient in terms of security and utilisation at Ca’ Giustinian and in the various warehouses and buildings around the city which housed it until 1975. It was therefore essential that a unified and definitive site could be found, and Ca’ Corner della Regina was the choice.
Ca' Corner della Regina, a compact eighteenth century structure, underwent reconstruction work on the previous Gothic structure under the guidance of Domenico Rossi. It is situated in the San Cassiano area, overlooking the Grand Canal and near the site of the present International Gallery of Contemporary Art at Ca’ Pesaro.
On 1 September 1975, the offices, personnel and assets of ASAC were transferred, while the construction work was still in progress. The site was officially inaugurated in July 1976.
In the decade between 1983 and 1992, the ASAC was managed by various General Secretaries; in the two years of 1986-87, the conservator Luigi Scarpa held the post, and from 1988 to 1991 Angelo Bagnato held the position.
In 1993 ASAC has been run by Gabriella Cecchini. Under the new law, 29 January 1998, n. 19, the figure of Sector Director was instituted, a position held by Gianfranco Pontel.
The archive and collections have registered a remarkable increase, partly due to the extension of the various support typologies.
In the 1990s the computerised cataloguing of the Library (books and magazines) and the Media Library (CDs) was begun, on the basis of standards established by the National Library Service (SBN), referring to the Central Institute for the Single Catalogue (ICCU) in Rome, together with Venice’s National Marciana Library.
The ASAC was directed by Giorgio Busetto in the period September 2004 through 2007, and is now hosted at the VEGA - Venice Gateway for Science and Technology at Porto Marghera, Venice. On the occasion of the 52nd International Art Exhibition in 2007, the ASAC also inaugurated the ASAC dati space, a new location specially devoted to research, within the Venice Arsenale.
Since 2009 the new person in charge of the Historical Archives of Contemporary Arts has been lawyer Debora Rossi, who is continuing with the activities of implementation and enhancement of archival materials.