Beyond Buildings


First Thoughts from Venice

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This year's Venice Architecture Biennale is a reduction. There are fewer pieces, the objects and images are more minimal, and the ambitions are less overarching.  What is also remarkable is who is missing: Other than Rem Koolhaas and Toyo Ito, none of the much-derided "starchitects" are here—Frank Gehry is only in the Biennale headquarters offices, there is no Zaha Hadid, Herzog & de Meuron, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Thom Mayne, Daniel Libeskind, or any of the English high-tech lords. A new generation, less interested in large gestures and changing the world, dominates.  

The tone is set at the entrance to the Arsenale with the magical rock by Chilean architect Smiljan Radic: A wooden tube pierces the monolith, opening up a seemingly natural artifact to allow for at least conceptual occupation. Whether it is really real or an sign of reality matters less than the existence of that sign itself, nor does it matter whether that inhabitation is really possible. It is the representation of a recaptured, manufactured and stated nature that is at the core of curator Kazuyo Sejima's biennale. Olafur Eliasson's dancing spouts of water are the summation of this particular koan, rather than concern.

The installations are large, but simple in form. They are more building blocks than buildings. There are no slogans (almost no graphics, in fact). The smell of wood is everywhere—no white plastic here, but only the appearance of nature turned into artifacts. There are no cities in the official part of the biennale, only visions of its—almost exclusively residential—components. A new domestic landscape for urban nomads unfold before you as you march through the Arsenale and the Exhibition Pavilion in the Giardini. Architecture disappears into floating signs. Artist Tom Sachs has even turned the Villa Savoye into a hand-crafted paper model of exquisite crudeness. Modernism is remade as craft.

There is much more, but Venice has a way of dragging you along to its many events and exhibitions.  I will reflect and report back more anon.



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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.