Venice has become the model for a new breed of show in which architecture steals the glamour from artby Deyan Sudjic / September 26, 2004 / Leave a comment
For the last 20 years, everybody and his dog has been trying to stage an art biennale in the hope of acquiring reflected glamour from the high-profile openings, parties and feuds that go with such events. But Venice, which invented the idea of a once-every-two-years art beano in the first place, has managed to keep architecture all to itself. The city came up with the idea of an international architectural event at the start of the 1980s in an attempt to fill up its municipal gardens, which were full of crumbling national pavilions in the off years between art biennales. The architecture biennale hit its stride when Charles Jencks (in 1980) and Paolo Portoghesi (in 1982) used it as the launch platform for postmodernism. Suddenly broken pediments and nursery colours were everywhere.
Italy being Italy, there has been some difficulty finding the money for architecture every two years, and in any case, even in the febrile world of design, it is not always easy coming up with a convincing new movement to order with such regularity. Some biennales have declined into incomprehensible walls of drawings or installations masquerading as art.
The September opening of the ninth Venice architecture biennale promises to be reflective rather than predictive. The director is the Swiss Kurt W Forster, late of the Getty Centre, offering scholarship rather than showmanship. The last director, to declare an interest, was me. Before that, it was the overexcitable Italian architect, Massimiliano Fuksas, who came up with the barely pronounceable theme of “less aesthetics, more ethics” and filled the magnificent Venice Arsenale with video screens 280 metres long showing flickering images of rubbish tips in São Paolo that rendered every other exhibit invisible. Now, Forster’s show is dedicated to the somewhat nebulous theme of “metamorph,” an indigestible mix of archive and reportage. There are projects from the late James Stirling and Aldo Rossi, along with more recent projects that supposedly reflect the same themes that the work of these two pioneers pointed to. But whatever the exhibits on show, the opening weekend will see Harry’s Bar and the terrace at the Gritti Palace crowded with architects from around the world dressed from head to foot in black, and looking anxiously over each other’s shoulders in the search for a potential client.
As the rhetoric accompanying the biennale gets increasingly overheated, so its fringes keep swelling. Even as architects delight…