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Old September 15th, 2006, 08:51 AM   #1
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Venice Biennale's 10th International Architecture Exhibition

Inside the Urban Crunch, and Its Global Implications
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
14 September 2006
The New York Times

VENICE, Sept. 9 -- Even architects like to let their hair down once in a while, and the Venice Biennale offers the ideal setting. Between leisurely drinks and gossip, architects stroll over to the Castello Gardens or the Arsenale to catch up on what their brethren are up to in other parts of the world.

The big surprise for those who made it to the weekend opening of the 10th International Architecture Exhibition was that it was so hard to find the architecture. Organized by Richard Burdett in the cavernous, decaying rooms of the Arsenale, the core of the show is a sprawling, ambitious look at the evolution of cities -- Barcelona, Mumbai, Cairo, Caracas -- in an era when the global population is pouring into urban areas at a fantastic rate. Mr. Burdett packs his exhibition with eye-popping statistics, painting a picture of emerging megacities in which poverty is as stunning a feature as density or scale.

The show has its heart in the right place. Yet its exhaustive level of analysis leads to a fairly predicable set of solutions, giving the exhibition a dry bureaucratic feel that sucks away the excitement. That sense is reinforced in the national pavilions representing the 50 participating countries, where even the liveliest work could have been designed in the 1960's or 70's. One is left with the impression that contemporary architecture is trapped in a prolonged slumber, which is pretty dumbfounding given the recent explosion of creative energy in the profession.

What the show provides, in place of inspired architecture, is a window on a dystopian future. Megacities like Cairo, Mumbai, Mexico City and Dhaka, Bangladesh, have populations in excess of 10 million each, and some are expected to reach 30 million over the next few decades. Fanning out in rings of crowded squalid slums, such cities often cannot assure their poorest inhabitants decent sanitation and drinkable water.

Mr. Burdett spent a year preparing for the show, harvesting statistics and sponsoring conferences on urban problems. Among the results are towering white models resembling stalagmites that chart the density patterns of various cities. Simple and direct, the models challenge some cherished stereotypes. Los Angeles, a city mocked for its suburban sprawl, turns out to have roughly the same density as London. Barcelona, hailed as a miracle of innovative urban planning, is nearly as dense as Shanghai, which for years was derided for its congestion.

In subsequent galleries, the show unfolds with big glossy photographs of oppressive urban scenes, from the sepulchral towers of Shanghai to the deadening uniformity of Johannesburg's gated communities.

The talk in Venice is that the Biennale constitutes the world's biggest coffee-table book, although the photos and text are hardly rhapsodic. Mumbai, formerly Bombay, built on several islands that were joined through land reclamation projects, is sliced by a north-south corridor inhabited mostly by the rich, with the poor dwelling in slums on either side. There are more prosaic lessons too. Berlin's initial burst of growth after reunification has stalled, but that makes it easier for artists to find cheap housing. Forty percent of Tokyo is built on landfill; 80 percent of its citizens use public transportation. And so on.

Bits of architecture are sprinkled among the photographs and statistics. The ''soft grid'' of Zaha Hadid's master plan for a cultural and residential district on the east bank of Istanbul, shown on a small video screen, is conceived as an organic mass whose undulating surface has been carved up to replicate the roadways and courtyards of the surrounding city. A series of sleekly modern schools designed by young architects function as havens for teenagers struggling to survive the ghettos of Sao Paolo.

But the architecture is engulfed by the statistics. There are no models of actual buildings and few technical drawings. The architectural designs, in many cases presented on small video monitors, with one image following another and no opportunity to pause and study, are treated as afterthoughts, as if architects had little to contribute to the conversation.

This might have felt right in the decades after Modernism let out its last dying wheeze and architects were timidly licking their wounds in the sanctuary of academia. Many architects avoided sweeping urban issues altogether, preferring to focus on smaller projects where they could still make a difference.

That is no longer the case. As the public takes a greater interest in architecture, the profession has regained some of its confidence. The booming growth of cities like Beijing and Dubai has given them relatively free rein to pursue the kind of crazy large-scale urban experiments that were impossible only a decade ago.

There is a show to be made that raises challenging questions about the architect's role in that process. Are the new urban megaprojects, for instance, viable alternatives to standard gated communities or are they hyper-modern islands that serve the same privileged class?

But this is not that show. The exhibition dead-ends in a room wallpapered with a list of practical solutions for improving urban life. Public space is vital to societal tolerance. Efficient public transportation reduces commuter time. Green is good.

The national pavilions are not much more uplifting. Over the weekend considerable excitement was generated by the French pavilion, a throwback to the values of 1968. Behind the pavilion's stone facade, steel scaffolding tunnels up through a space where fresh-faced architects sleep in a hive of rooms and cook for visitors strolling in and out of the gardens.

''It is about the joy of occupation,'' said Patrick Bouchain, the installation's designer, as if he were channeling the uprisings in which students staged sit-ins inside administration buildings.

Similarly, Bernard Tschumi's project for the outskirts of Santo Domingo, on view at the Swiss Pavilion, conjured images of the bubble diagrams favored by American corporate firms in the 1950's. He has conceived a series of elliptical buildings scattered across a natural landscape; ''fields of intensity,'' Mr. Tschumi calls them. The structures are designed with different degrees of porosity, depending on whether they are intended for housing, shopping or offices.

He has also sought to provide a home for thousands of squatters, allowing them to occupy a corner of the landscape that creates an uneasy tension with the bubblelike areas, occupied by the project's business elite.

At least Mr. Tschumi had the courage to put his convictions out there. More typical is the United States pavilion, which this year shifted its focus from ground zero to New Orleans. The exhibition culminates in updated versions of shotgun houses, a facile reflection of historically sensitive reconstruction efforts.

By contrast the Austrian Pavilion houses a re-creation of Frederick Kiesler's sublime 1925 ''City in Space,'' a three-dimensional white grid of intersecting planes and beams that occupies an entire gallery, its intersecting lines extending toward infinity.

''What are our houses but coffins towering up from the earth into the air?'' Mr. Kiesler asked in 1925. ''Cemeteries have more air for the skeletons of their dead than our cities for the lungs of their living.''

His solution was to imagine a world of free-floating planes, where the boundaries between people dissolved into abstractions, lines drawn through the air. In essence the suffocating boxes that sheltered human beings for centuries have broken free of their moorings and splintered apart.

The work feels as exhilarating today as when he first presented it. More than anything else in the show, it's a potent commentary on the claustrophobic urban settings of today. But it also reminds us of what good architects do: optimists by trade, they give concrete form to a future of their own imagining, transporting us to an elevated plane of existence.

In Venice this goal was somehow lost.
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Old June 12th, 2007, 06:28 AM   #2
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At Venice Biennale, images of apocalyptic world
The New York Times Media Group
11 June 2007

This picture-postcard city of shimmering lagoons is plastered with red-and-green posters that read "Think with the Senses - Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense," the theme of the 52nd Venice Biennale. Over the last four days, collectors and curators, artists and dealers have flocked here to look and to judge the state of new art. But amid the glamorous parties and the people-watching, this year are chilling images of an apocalyptic world.

The works on view - at the national pavilions in the Giardini, the shaded gardens that have been home to the Biennale for more than 110 years, and at the Arsenale, the former shipyards and warehouses where Venetian fleets were once built - pose more questions than answers. The Tokyo-born artist Hiroharu Mori, for example, presented visitors with "A Camouflaged Question in the Air," a giant white balloon with a big question mark in a camouflage pattern in the center.

The marriage of politics and art is nothing new, but this year, reminders of death or war or forces beyond control were everywhere. "There is a sense of fragility, and war is only one of the destructive forces," said Robert Storr, curator of the Biennale's central exhibition. A former curator at the Museum of Modern Art who is now dean of the Yale Art School, he is the first American to organize the event.

"I wasn't trying to deliver a message, but like Bruce Nauman, I wanted to say, 'Please Pay Attention Please,' " he said, referring to the artist's writings of that title. It was hard not to pay attention. The paintings, installations and videos in the exhibition organized by Storr in the Italian Pavilion dealt variously with the sublime, the spiritual, the terrifying and the unknown.

Some of the works seemed quite innocent, like a video of a giant hand arranging a doll's house by a Japanese artist known only as Tabaimo. Yet as the tiny furnishings fell into place, a giant squid bubbled out of a caldron, marring the miniature idyll.

A room of new silkscreen paintings by the American artist Jenny Holzer, best known for her neon signs of social commentary, were based on classified military documents from the Iraq war and the Guantanamo Bay prison, including a medical examiner's autopsy report for an Iraqi detainee.

He had suffered "fractures of the ribs and a contusion of the left lung," suggesting "significant blunt force injuries of the thorax," one document noted.

But at the core of the show were more enigmatic works as well by older contemporary masters like Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Ryman and Sigmar Polke. Polke's skylit room of magical paintings - dark abstract, translucent canvases - had viewers returning at different times of day to witness how they changed as the weather did, from bright sunlight to misting rain.

As is true at every Biennale, art and commerce are inextricably intertwined. Francois Pinault, the luxury-goods magnate who owns the Palazzo Grassi and has won a bid to transform the old customs house here, the Punta della Dogana, into a contemporary art space, edged out a score of museums that competed to buy the entire room of Polke's paintings. He is planning to show the seven works - a triptych and six individual paintings - in a special room in the Dogana that the Japanese architect Tadao Ando and Polke are to design together.

"The artist wanted them to remain in the city where they were conceived," said Philippe Segalot, the Manhattan dealer who brokered the transaction.

Near Polke's paintings in the Italian Pavilion is a show- stopping installation by the artist Sophie Calle, from Paris. In two stark rooms, viewers are presented with a wall text explaining that she learned that her mother had but a month to live the same day she received a call inviting Calle to the Biennale. In the next room is a video of her mother resting peacefully in her final hours with medical attendants hovering over her; her favorite music, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A Major, plays in the background as the screen eventually fades into darkness.

Calle also represented her native France in its national pavilion. She transformed the space into an autobiographical performance piece, asking 107 women to interpret a break-up letter from a man she had been involved with. An actress acted the letter, a singer sang it, a criminologist analyzed it, an editor annotated it, a photographer shot it and a crossword puzzle specialist created a puzzle of it. There was even a parrot who ate the letter.

The theme of loss was not always this personal. In the Nordic Pavilion, the Iraqi-born artist Adel Abidin, who now lives in Finland, presented his black-humored "Abidin Travels - Welcome to Baghdad." It is a spoof travel agency complete with leaflets and interactive computer screens where visitors witness the horrors of Baghdad, win "fantastic prizes," rent "cars" (tanks and Humvees) and take out insurance ($150,000 a day). His slogan: "Much more than a holiday."

In the Canadian Pavilion, David Altmejd created a surreal glass- and-mirror-lined forest filled with varied species of 300 stuffed birds , mushrooms, giant resin werewolves and male manneqins with bird's heads.

Normally the installation at the Arsenale has a hodepodge effect, but under Storr it was noticeably cleaned up. It looked like a carefully conceived museum exhibition rather than a harried assemblage of artists' works. Among the standouts were a pair of tapestry-like hangings fashioned from discarded soda cans by El Anatusi; although steeped in Ghanaian culture, their shimmering patina evoked the luster of a painting by Gustav Klimt.

For the first time the Biennale also included comics. The North Africans Eyoum Ngangu and Faustin Titi created original drawings for a comic book about displacement, depicting a young boy's failed crossing from Tangiers to Europe in search of a brighter future.

Many visitors were struck by a powerful wall of pencil portraits by the American artist Emily Prince based on photographs of American victims of the war in Iraq.

She began the project in 2004, relying on photographs posted at a military Web site by family members. Nearby is a video presented by the Italian artist Paolo Canevari that shows a teenage boy kicking around a skull as though it were a football in a bombed-out former Serbian Army headquarters in Belgrade.

Among the countries represented for the first time, the ones grouped in the African Pavilion at the far end of the Arsenale were among the most talked about. The sprawling exhibition "Check List- Luanda Pop" was filled with everything from paintings by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Marlene Dumas to works by little- known African artists. The aim seemed to be exploring what it means to be African.

The works are all from the collection of Sindika Dokolo, a Congolese businessman. The exhibition was chosen by a jury from among several alternatives, and some who were not selected objected that one person's collection could hardly be representative of African culture. They also contended that it was selected partly because Dokolo was able to pay for the exhibition, which is estimated to have cost over $100,000.

Fernando Alvim, one of the curators, called the accusations "cynical," adding that "it is difficult to represent an entire continent."

In each Biennale, more and more art can be found in unexpected places. Nestled in a 14th-century palazzo is a Zen-like installation by the Korean-born artist Lee Ufan, founder of the Mono Ha, a movement that emerged in Tokyo in the late 1960s and is literally translated as "School of Things."

He has created a sequence of pristine rooms with natural rocks juxtaposed with rectangular or steel plates, some of them gracefully bent. There are also rooms of white canvases and screens decorated with single gray single brush strokes in varying gradations.

It is the first time the 71-year-old artist has exhibited in Venice. Asked the inevitable question of how his work relates to American Minimalism, Lee said his installation was rooted in the art of yohaku, or the resonance of emptiness.

"American minimalism is just 'It is,' " he said, "but mine is 'It is not.' "
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Old May 8th, 2008, 02:27 PM   #3
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Venice architecture Biennale to go 'Beyond Building': organisers
5 May 2008
AFP

This year's architecture exhibition in Venice promises to explore human discourse about building, organisers said Monday of the show titled "Out There: Architecture Beyond Building."

The biennial exhibition, to be held from September 14 to November 23, "will point the way towards an architecture liberated from buildings to engage the central issues of our society," said Biennale Architecture director Aaron Betsky of the United States in a statement.

"Instead of the tombs of architecture, which is to say buildings, it will present site-specific installations, visions and experiments that help us figure out, make sense of and feel at home in our modern world," he said.

This year's challenge is "to collect and encourage experimentation in architecture," Betsky said.

The last architecture biennale in the northeastern Italian lagoon city focused on the human experience in 16 megacities.
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Old July 26th, 2008, 06:59 AM   #4
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Venice architecture show to host Baltic gas pipeline exhibit
24 July 2008
Agence France Presse

An Estonian architectural group Thursday said it would use a showcase architectural exhibition to spotlight a controversial pipeline that a Russian-German consortium plans to build under the Baltic Sea.

The "Salto" collective announced it had received a green light to build a 63-metre (207-foot) model of the Nord Stream pipeline through the air between the Russian and German exhibition pavilions at the event in Venice, Italy.

"Our aim is to bring some intrigue and sharpness," project coordinator Ingrid Ruudi told reporters.

While the full Venice Biennale is held in odd years, the model will go on display at its 11th International Architecture Exhibition, entitled "Out There: Architecture Beyond Building" and held under its auspices. The exhibition runs from September 14 to November 23.

"Unlike the normal projects generally shown at such exhibitions, we want to stress that our surrounding environment is strongly influenced not only by architects but by many other factors such as economic interests, or political decisions," Ruudi said.

The Estonians' 15-tonne installation initially got the thumbs down from the Biennale's Italian organisers. Convincing the Russian and German exhibitors was also a problem, but they were talked round with the help of the event's Dutch curator Aaron Betsky, said Ruudi.

The real Nord Stream pipeline is the brainchild of Russian giant Gazprom and Germany's EON and BASF.

They plan by 2011 to pipe natural gas 1,200 kilometres (740 miles) under the Baltic Sea from Vyborg in Russia to Greifswald in Germany, to supply energy-hungry western Europe.

But the project has faced stiff opposition in Estonia, a Baltic Sea nation which was ruled by the Soviet Union until 1991, as well as in several neighbouring ex-communist states.

They worry that the pipeline will simply boost the already hefty energy market clout of Gazprom and, by definition, facilitate political muscle-flexing by their Soviet-era master Moscow.

Countries on or near the planned route have also expressed concerns about potential environmental hazards arising from the pipeline.

Last September, Estonia refused to give the Nord Steam consortium permission to carry out surveys in its waters.

Nord Stream's supporters say the criticism is completely misplaced, and charge that pressure from ex-communist countries like Poland and Ukraine to switch to a land route is self-interested because they already host Europe's main east-west gas pipelines and want to protect their transit fees.
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Old September 16th, 2008, 03:15 PM   #5
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11th architecture Biennale opens in Venice
14 September 2008
Agence France Presse

Canadian-American star architect Frank Gehry may hold top billing at the 11th Venice Biennale of architecture when he receives the Golden Lion award for his career later this week.

But the man behind the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is unlikely to eclipse new presentations offered up by the exhibition which opened Sunday morning in Italy.

Under this year's theme of "Out There: Architecture Beyond Building," around 20 teams of architects from around the world are displaying designs aimed at changing perceptions of their industry.

The exhibition's organisers deliberately chose an ambiguous title to encourage people to look differently at a building's purpose.

"Architecture is not about the building per se," said the event's director Aaron Betsky. Instead it is concerned with "the way we think or talk about it," he stated.

Gehry, 79, who won plaudits for creating the curvy, titanium-clad Guggenheim , which is considered a prime example of deconstructionism, will receive the Golden Lion Saturday.

But the exhibition's focus will rest on the hundreds of architects from 56 different countries, whose designs are intended to provoke and inspire.

Among those showcasing their work are English-Iraqi Zaha Hadid, who has designed a structure that is both a home and a piece of furniture.

Under their plan to "release the plumbing," Croatian designers Penezic and Rogina present a kitchen and bathroom that are separated only by visible pipes.

Meanwhile, Russian Totan Kuzemdaev is unveiling a grassland yurt (a tent-like dwelling of the Mongol and Turkic peoples of central Asia). Made with traditional materials, its adds a garage and car parked inside.

Different countries have also been tasked with "questioning reality," with the United States concentrating on urban scenery, France examining public space and Germany and Denmark promoting ecology.

For Danish architect Kolja Nielsen, promoting the environment is the key task facing his profession.

Even though people may think about switching off a light when they leave a room, he believes "we have to translate words into actions. Enduring development is a necessary step."

At first glance the Danish pavilion may look austere, but its press-room design with Internet posts and photos of landscape images dotted about is intended to tap into everyday issues such as transport, farming and culture.

"Architecture is surrounded by many subjects. We need all this information when we construct something," Nielsen said.

Visitors can connect to Internet sites, whose addresses are written on the walls along with posters detailing information on various projects, such as the planting of orchards in Tanzania's capital Dar es Salaam.

Similarly, a young Chinese team has chosen to highlight human fraility in light of the May 12, 8.0-magnitude earthquake in Sichuan, which left over 87,000 people dead or missing.

Its "Paper-Brick House," designed by architects and students, offers a building in which to live, meet up and read in.

Built with especially large cardboard boxes and waterproof bricks, the house has two floors and a small staircase. It is then placed on dozens of gravel-filled bags to absorb any shocks from a possible earthquake.

The Venice Biennale exhibition is being held from September 14 to November 23 and comprises 12 contemporary art events as well conferences, work studios, book signings and art exhibitions.
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Old October 19th, 2008, 05:04 PM   #6
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A Visit to the Venice Biennale of Architecture
24 September 2008
The New York Sun

VENICE - Henry James, in "The Wings of the Dove," called Venice's Piazza San Marco "the drawing-room of Europe." But currently, the attention is less at James's "splendid square" than at the mouth of the lagoon. The 11th Venice Biennale of Architecture is currently underway in the Arsenale, a former maritime structure, and the nearby Giardini, a large waterfront park.

With its history of international trade and shipbuilding, Venice proves a munificent host to this gathering of architects from 56 countries. Participants and guests fall under the spell of the narrow pedestrian alleys, arched bridges, and vast campos anchored by churches that serve as city squares. Adding to this architectural feast - which includes robust additions and renovations by the city's own 20th-century modernist, Carlo Scarpa - Venice has just opened (without fanfare) its new bridge by Santiago Calatrava. The fourth over the Grand Canal, it joins the Santa Lucia train station with the Piazzale Roma bus station. Like Mr. Scarpa, Mr. Calatrava has gone for context rather than exhibitionist architecture by designing a sleek marble arc of a bridge with translucent glass treads. It is supported by a dramatic Venetian-red truss one local friend aptly described as a giant fish bone.

In selecting the Biennale's theme, "Out There: Architecture Beyond Building," director Aaron Betsky - who heads the Cincinnati Art Museum - encouraged an exploration of "pure experiments in form, structure, and space ... in temporary or enigmatic structures [or] through actions that make space our own." The result was an eclectic quality of experimentation, often bordering on utopian visions enhanced by computerized information.

As an inspired addition, Mr. Betsky invited landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson to create the Biennale's first garden design. On the grounds of a former 13th-century Benedictine convent, lately covered in a thick bramble of a forest, Ms. Gustafson's team hacked away to create "Towards Paradise," a tripartite garden installation that guided visitors through three stages of self-knowledge. "Memory" was symbolized by a warehouse where Latin names of extinct or endangered flora and fauna were listed on the walls. After walking through, the visitor emerges into a sumptuous kitchen garden for "Nourishment," with rows of vegetables and flowers and a pergola draped in grapevines. Finally, for "Enlightenment," Ms. Gustafson created fluid grass-covered landforms with an immense cloud-like spinnaker held aloft by white helium balloons.

In the Giardini, the national exhibitions were housed in permanent pavilions, mostly gems designed by major 20th-century architects such as Alvar Aalto (Finland) and Josef Hoffman (Austria) for previous biennales. The American pavilion, designed in 1930 by Delano & Aldrich in a Jeffersonian neoclassical mode, featured 16 new practitioners seeking "new forms of sociability and activism."

Outstanding among these was the Panhandle Bandshell, designed by San Francisco firm Rebar out of recycled materials. The traditional form was fabricated from 65 automobile hoods over recycled structural steel capped by hundreds of computer circuit boards. The luminous back wall consisted of 3,000 16-ounce plastic water bottles, with and without tops, stuck together with silicon. Performances were scheduled for the temporary structure via a Web site. The band shell is now up for sale or lease.

At the Japanese pavilion, the theme was plants and architecture in equal parts based on the architect Junya Ishigami's idea of making nature indistinguishable from physical structure. The entire interior walls were covered with his delicate and fanciful drawings of trees and plants as architecture while outside he constructed four vertical greenhouses planted according to ikebana principles from top to bottom with flowering vines climbing a series of poles.

Two different exhibitions featured walls of refrigerators as stand-ins for enclosed spaces. In the Czech and Slovak pavilion, the refrigerators exhibited food contents according to the relationship between "social, economic, and urban context" and the favorite foods and culinary recipes of friends and strangers studied by the organizers. In the experimental architecture section, the Berlin firm Topotek 1 treated refrigerators like individual gardens, or "a glimpse into an enchanting world." Many of these displayed faceted jewels set in coordinated color fields.

A video display at the entrance of the Arsenale showed 100 film clips of iconic architecture. These suggested the visionary aspects of cinema, such as the emerald chamber of "The Wizard of Oz." Inside the Arsenale's cavernous galleries, works by the heavy hitters in architecture were displayed. Frank Gehry was represented by the scaffold of a wooden tower rendered with cracked clay by local craftsmen. Zaha Hadid's "Lotus" room was a streamlined though amorphous structure that is both architecture and furniture for specific uses.

To celebrate the 500th anniversary of Andrea Palladio's birth, Ms. Hadid and Patrik Schumacher created a dialogue between their architecture and Palladio's Euclidean symmetry at the Villa Foscari ("La Malcontenta") which is 20 minutes from Venice by car. Their installation of swirling open fiberglass and polyurethane sculptures of perfect proportions leaves an indelible image.

Venice and Italy itself were prominent subjects of the exhibition this year. Diller Scofidio + Renfro spoofed cultural tourism by showing simultaneous films of alternate Venices - canals, gondolas, and arches at perpetual sunset in Las Vegas and Macau. And in a more serious vein, the Milanese firm, Studio Albori, demonstrated plans to build a housing development within the incomplete structure of a train station in Milan originally designed by Aldo Rossi and Gianni Braghieri.

Coming up the Grand Canal on a vaporetto at night is like attending a continual party in a magical setting, with rose-tinted lantern lights posted along the canal and outside the palazzo waterside entrances. Palatial interiors illuminated above give the regal fašades a depth lacking during the day. After disembarking at the top of the canal, I crossed the Calatrava bridge in a windy drizzle. Fiber-optic lights concealed in the bronze handrail, and lights from below, gave the glass balustrade a soft gleam. Covered with raindrops, it glistened as well. In 2002 the bridge was only a model displayed at the eighth Biennale, but now, when the other exhibits go, this one is here to stay as part of classic Venice.

Until November 23. For information, visit labiennale.org.
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Old October 20th, 2008, 06:26 AM   #7
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I actually went to this and it was pretty neat when I was in venice. I have some pictures i'll post soon.
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Old June 6th, 2009, 06:31 PM   #8
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53rd Venice Biennale opens
5 June 2009

VENICE, Italy (AP) - No comment on the crash of the contemporary art market was more cutting than the joint exhibit of the Nordic and Danish pavilions at the 53rd Venice Biennale: a mock-up of adjacent homes of wealthy collectors, now up for sale.

The crash of a decadent era has taken its toll: a body floats face down in a pool outside as real estate agents (docents) lead potential buyers (art aficionados) on a tour of the two properties, the creation of 24 international artists curated by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset .

Still, there was debate about the extent to which the world financial crisis has or has not permeated this edition of the Venice Biennale, the oldest and arguably most influential of the world's contemporary art fairs, which opens to the public on Sunday and closes Nov. 22. Many had the impression there were fewer critics and fewer dealers coming to scope out new talent.

"There seems to be less of the irrationally exuberant parties that there were year ago. And the art seems to be more earnest and harsh," said David Resnicow, a New York-based art consultant. "I think it is a different mood."

Aaron Betsky, director of the Cincinnati Museum of art who was also curator of the Biennale's architecture show last year, said he didn't see the crisis reflected in the art itself "other than a reference here or there."

"There is definitely less glitz than in previous years," he said.

But no artist backed out because of money, said Daniel Birnbaum, the rotating director of this year's Biennale under the title "Making Worlds," an invitation to artists to represent a vision of the world -- and not see art as objects, a commodity.

"It permeates your vision," Birnbaum said of the crisis. "The selection was already done and I would not have selected any differently because I don't think it is about whether there is an art market or isn't an art market. Many of the projects have very little to do with the art market in the end, because they emphasize works that are not about sellable, buyable, collectible, erratic origins."

The Biennale itself is operating with euro1 million ($1.41 million) less than the 2007 edition, said Biennale President Paolo Baratta, who raised the entrance price from euro15 to euro18 and asked Birnbaum to economize by having some artists find funding for the transport and insurance on their work.

The budget of the contemporary art section of the Biennale is somewhere around euro9 million, including not only the transport but permanent Biennale staff and infrastructure, which also support the Biennale events from dance to film to architecture.

The 77 nations with their own pavilions in the central Giardini venue or spaces in the adjacent Arsenal and throughout the city fund their own exhibitions, with a mix of private and public funding reflecting their national proclivities and arts politics.

Of the euro700,000 it cost to assemble the Russian Pavilion, Moscow contributed just 10 percent, said Olga Sviblova, director of Moscow's Multimedia Art Museum and curator of the Russian Pavilion. The rest of the money came from private donors -- including Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov and the private gas company Novatech.

Because the Biennale cycle begins more than a year before the show opens, Sviblova was deep into the planning when the worst of the crisis hit last fall.

"I was very worried. Everyone lost money. But this didn't change the support," she said.

The Russian Pavilion featured seven artists exploring the utopian concept of victory, six newcomers alongside Andre Moldkin, whose installation featured two small figures of the "Winged Victory," one that fills with oil, the other with blood donated by a Russian soldier in Chechnya in a statement on the ambiguity of victory.

In the next room are paintings of Chechen artist Alexei Kallima of a stadium full of figures glowing under fluorescent light, the room deafened with their cheers, until the lights studiedly are switched on and the room goes silent.

"They are all young and as artists they are free, free from ideology pressing on them," Sviblova said. "Today we need energy, because the crisis is depressing for everyone. We're afraid of the future."

The U.S. Pavilion featured works by Bruce Nauman, whose media spans sculpture, neon, performance, video and photography. He has been invited several times to represent the United States at Venice but had until now declined.

Many of Nauman's works are pieces created over his four-decade long career, some adapted for the Venice space, including his famous outdoor neon sign titled "Vices and Virtues," which is installed around the colonial facade of the U.S. Pavilion: overlapping pairs of neon words that flash alternately: justice/avarice; hope/envy; faith/lust; faith/chairty.

Nauman also created some new pieces, including an Italian version of a sound installation and the recreation of a performance piece done just once before in 1970, both of which will be seen outside of the pavilion at two venues in Venice.

"I think Bruce has an amazing reputation, but the work is not that well known. It's an opportunity to get the work better known," said curator Carlos Basualdo.
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Old October 20th, 2010, 11:42 AM   #9
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Walking in a cloud at Venice architecture show

VENICE, Sept 1 (Reuters) - If you thought that the world's biggest architecture show would be about buildings, this year's Venice Architecture Biennale has a few surprises in store.

Highlights include a steel ramp sneaking into a cloud, a pitch-black room where water falls from a swirling hose and a tower of metal cages from which one can jump into the void -- setting the tone for a show that, in a break with the past, this time focuses on people and space.

Set in the 16th century rope-making factory of the Venice navy, the Biennale mixes design with art installation and has pavilions from 53 countries, plus around 50 works from some of the world's top names in the business.

This edition is directed for the first time by a woman, Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima. The winner of this year's prestigious Pritzker Prize, Sejima and her Sanaa studio are best known for designing the New Museum in New York and the undulating Rolex Learning Center of Lausanne.

The initial reaction by critics to her Biennale has been generally positive, with many praising the show as entertaining and atmospheric and welcoming the break with previous text-heavy, worthy exhibitions. One of the most popular works is "Cloudscapes", by Japanese architect Tetsuo Kondo and engineers Transsolar, where visitors climb through layers of vapour on a 70-metre long ramp, and feel changes in temperature and humidity as they go.

"This is a place to experience a real cloud from below, within and above," say the authors.

"SORRY, IT'S BROKEN"

Denmark's Olafur Eliasson has streams of water cascading in a dark room to be captured by strobe lights, Chile's Smiljan Radic and Marcela Correa have dug a shelter in a huge rock, while the Polish pavilion hosts a tower of metal cages from where people can leap, landing on a foam mattress.

Another installation that has generated a lot of buzz is a structure of barely visible thread-like wires by Junya Ishigami, who won the Biennale's Golden Lion award for best project.

Unfortunately, it has already collapsed twice -- once after a cat started having fun with it -- and some visitors complained that they found a message saying "Sorry, It's broken."

Those wanting more concrete examples of how futuristic design and architecture can make the world a better place should look at the "Seaswarm" technology that inventors say could clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in less than a month.

Developed by M.I.T's Senseable City Lab, the Seaswarm is a fleet of small robots fitted with a conveyor belt made of a thin "nanowire mesh" that soaks up oil.

The special fabric can absorb up to 20 times its own weight in oil while repelling water and the robots have sensors to detect the presence of pollutants.

Once absorbed by the conveyor belt, the oil can be removed and the fabric re-used, making it more efficient and less expensive than current skimming methods, its creators say.

The Architecture Biennale runs until Nov. 21.
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