Beyond Buildings


Golden Lion Winners

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The winners of the Golden Lions in Venice on Saturday provoked the usual reaction: “You’re kidding.” Nobody, including this blogger and former Biennale curator, had expected them.

The one for lifetime achievement was already known—Rem Koolhaas—and it is difficult to argue with that. The Golden Lion for an individual artist, though, went to Junya Ishigami, for a project that only the jury saw: a construction of monofilament meant to describe at full scale a roughly 12-foot cube building to be constructed “somewhere in Europe” out of material so thin that it's almost invisible—would have been difficult to find if one of the Biennale’s resident cats had not crept into the Arsenale the night before the preview and destroyed most of it. Cats are harsh architecture critics, as is widely known, but this seemed like a particularly ham-pawed reaction. Nonetheless, I certainly did not see what the jury saw, either literally or figuratively. 

The Golden Lion for national participation went to first-time entry Bahrain for a triad of fishermen’s carts it pulled into the Arsenale, connected with ramps, outfitted with a few cushions, and populated with charming Bahrainis. Jury chair Beatriz Colomina assured me that the Bahrainis would not only have poured me tea, but also engaged me in a wonderful discussion about the pros and especially cons of their country’s pell-mell development, if only I had taken the time. But who has time in the rush of the biennale, though perhaps that was the jury’s point: Architecture that makes you take the time should be awarded. I would rather have architecture that makes time for me.

The honorable mentions were equally mysterious, with one of them going to a weak version of one of Mario Merz’s domes designed by Wang Shu of Amateur Architecture Studio. Perhaps the jury was awarding not this collection of sticks but his brilliant buildings, such as the China Art Academy in Hangzhou, about which I have written with great enthusiasm previously.

Another went to the combination of Kersten Geers van Severen and Bas Princen, a project we missed the first time through the exhibitions. It occupied a line of former store rooms all the way at the end of the Arsenale area, next to the Garden of the Virgins I “unlocked,” as the Italians say, when I commissioned Kathryn Gustafson to design a garden there when I was Curator in 2008 (Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf replanted part of it with seasonal flowers, and won another honorable mention for being a good gardener). Each of the storerooms contained perspectives of architecture projects printed directly on aluminum plates. They faced Princen’s photographs, mainly of found spaces under highways, between new housing projects, or in parks in Third World countries. Bleakness, emptiness, and scalelessness were the subject of both the designs and the photographs, turning them into a kind of perverse beauty—I guess.

Don’t get me wrong, there is much of great beauty to see at this biennale, and I will continue to report on it in my next blogs. I remember, however, when the jury I had handpicked in 2008 reported their decision. The President of the Biennale was standing next to me and started laughing. “That is the expression every curator or director, whether for art, architecture, or film, has when they hear this,” he said. “They never understand the decision.”   I learned to love “my” jury’s awards, and perhaps soon I will see the wisdom of this year’s wise men and women as well.


Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: jakobknulp | Time: 6:25 AM Friday, September 17, 2010

    Aaron Betsky, regarding the incredible support given to Ishigami-san in terms of awards and possibilities what is your feeling about it? Surely Ishigami is a uniquely talented mind but I feel sometimes there is too much "push"from the establishment. Regards, Jakob Knulp

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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.