It was founded in 1895 to celebrate new developments in international art.
National pavilions were built in the Giardini - or public gardens - to house exhibitions from each participating country's chosen artists.
But as more and more countries wish to take part, the Biennale has spread across the Italian city.
All are hoping to win the top prize - the Golden Lion.
The Venice Biennale is not here to be loved, it's here to be discussed
Swedish curator Daniel Birnbaum
The United Arab Emirates is one of several nations taking part in the Biennale for the first time with an exhibition curated by Tirdad Zolghadr.
"I think it's important for artists, critics, curators, to be able to point to a pavilion and to say, look, this has accomplished something at a place like the Venice Biennale, let's take this seriously here in the country too," Mr Zolghadr says.
Just a boat ride away are hundreds more exhibitions, spread all over Venice.
There is also a larger, more far-reaching, international show that has been organised this year by Swedish curator Daniel Birnbaum.
"With all the big museums and all the art fairs and festivals and triennales, still the Biennale has this attraction. It has magnetism," Mr Birnbaum says.
"The Venice Biennale is not here to be loved, it's here to be discussed. And if people keep coming back to discuss it, that's the best result that we can have," he says.
There are plenty of familiar sights and sounds in Venice too, like the cafe orchestras in Piazza San Marco.
Whatever else, the Biennale offers an unprecedented opportunity to see vast amounts of modern art in one of the world's most historic cities.