The Venice biennale does not open officially to the press until Thursday, August 26, and just about all of the national pavilions in the giardini are madly rushing to finish before that date. All the pavilions that is, except sadly the crumbling Venezuelan pavilion, which will not have an exhibition in it this year.
The small, rough concrete structure was designed by Carlo Scarpa in 1954, and is being kept alive, I have been told, by a single guardian angel who maintains it free of charge. Where are the petro dollars? Or is the Chavez government thinking this exhibition is irrelevant to its more pressing economic problems? Making it even sadder, right next door the Russian pavilion has been lovingly restored on the exterior, with a new skylight and pre-Soviet iron pinnacle.
So far, a first impression of this year’s biennale, under curator Kazuyo Sejima’s theme “People Meet in Architecture,” is that there is remarkably little architecture here. The majority of national buildings feature installations that are more like art than architecture. For example, the exhibition at the Polish pavilion, Emergency Exit, curated by Londoner Elias Redstone, is composed of reclaimed birdcages stacked to the roof. It asks viewers to surmount the structure, hold their breath, and then dive into a void. I trust Elias, so will give it a jump tomorrow and report back—assuming I make it out alive.
The project at the adjacent Egyptian pavilion looks as if it were meant to be made on a CNC milling machine, but is being entirely cut and framed by hand—with very sharp edges all along. In the garden, Raum Berlin have a crew of workers making funky wooden chair/stairs, and I may try to bring one home!
The Italian pavilion, by the way, has a great-looking Op Art cafe created for the last art biennale, inserted in a corner with a nice outdoor seating area on a canal. The Canadian pavilion, which did not open on time in 2008, is filled with an amazing installation by Philip Beesley called Hylozoic Ground, with a publication edited by ex-Storefront staffer Pernilla Ohrstedt and Hayley Isaacs. Check out a few more first glimpses from the giardini below, and stay tuned!