Sunday, 14 September 2014

Italy: Visiting the Biennale di Venezia

La Biennale di Venezia:  An inspiring visit to the 14th International Architecture Exhibition

by Kon Hans

Canal in Venice (photo by Kon Hans)

The famous vaporetto boats traverse the Venetian canals, while the serene waters reflect the flashes and the smiles of the tourists in a sunny, summer day.  As always, every summer gives to the Serenissima a unique cosmopolitan shine, as the greatest cultural event in the world opens its doors to the lovers of art from every corner of the earth:  The Biennale di Venezia, with the 14th International Architecture Exhibition, welcomes you.

Rem Koolhaas is the maestro of this architectural "symphony", its central theme being the Modernism in Architecture in a conceivable period from 1914 until 2014.   The sixty-five countries participating with their National Pavilions, are invited to show their architectural wealth and its advance under the dipole of Historicism and Modernism.  An interesting theme indeed, as it escapes from the all-too familiar mould of contemporary Architecture and is, instead, focused in its historical character.  Moreover, as Koolhaas himself explains: "I wanted it (the Exhibition) to be more of a vehicle of research then one more exhibition".

Greek Pavilion (photo by Kon Hans)


Separated as always in two parts, Giardini being the main venue and the traditional core of the Biennale, the second and more modern one is Arsenale, a historical industrial cluster, renovated to serve as an impressive architectural project on its own.  The countries that have recently acquired permanent National Pavilions in the Biennale, -between them the National Pavilion of the UAE, - are found in the developing Arsenale, while the older ones are situated in the green gardens of the Giardini area.  Among them the Greek Pavilion, built in 1934, is one of the oldest and is also the place which Peggy Guggenheim, the eccentric niece of the famous Solomon Guggenheim, has selected in order to present the first public exhibition of her amazing collection before it was permanently installed in her Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, now known as the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. 

The International Architecture Exhibition, considerably newer than its "twin sister" the International Art Exhibition with which alternates every year, began as a part of the Biennale in 1968, but it was not until 1980 that it started a new important and renown course as a separate Exhibition. Nowadays, new countries have made a dynamic entrance to the international cultural scene, -a sign of the new changing times-, such as the United Arab Emirates, Hong-Kong or Bahrain, and promise a renewed perspective, being modern centres of intense experimental architectural planning.

Passing through the gates of the Giardini venue you will find the always promising (especially in the Architecture Exhibitions) North European participations of Sweden, Norway and Finland, their Pavilions being themselves examples of harmonized architecture with the natural environment by retaining the trunks of trees that grow inside of them as an "exhibit" and coherent content of the Pavilion. You will also be able to visit other Pavilions with important exhibitions, such as Canada's with its "arctic" reference, Russia's with its glorious past and the always restless France.


Bahrain Pavilion (photo by Kon Hans)
In the Arsenale area, things are even more interesting: in addition to the two awarded countries, Korea and Chile, you can visit the impressive "Monditalia", where major incisions in the architectural history of the country are exposed in a unique manner. At the same time, the Chilean Pavilion will welcome you in a humble home of Santiago de Chile, which has been transported piece by piece and then assembled and installed inside the Pavilion with all the local magic of the Chilean colors! Further down you will come upon the Bahrain Pavilion which hosts an inspiring exhibition about the whole Arab world in relation with the European colonialism and with a distinct installation where the catalogues of the Pavilion act as an integral and interactive architectural element.  The National Pavilion of the UAE, on the other hand, presents a perfectly curated interactive exhibition where you can witness all the major phases of the architectural history of the region through a multimedia archive in the form of video installations and of sets of drawers containing fragments of memories of the residents of the region; among the interesting exhibits one can even find a vial containing a sample of the first oil that has been drilled from the land! It is also worth mentioning that the National Pavilion of the UAE is offering an important internship program that gives a unique chance to young students and graduates to man the Pavilion acting as cultural ambassadors of the UAE in the Biennale of Venice.
Art Cafe in Arsenale (photo by Kon Hans)

In both Arsenale and Giardini areas there are many lovely cafés to be found, like "Art Cafe" in the Arsenale, an ideal spot to take a break.  The nearby Via Garibaldi is, especially in the afternoon, swarming with tourists, students and art lovers as they enjoy conversations about art and architecture, drinking a nice refreshment or indulging in the Venetian "gelatto", the renowned Italian ice-cream.  Possibly the best time to visit the Biennale is the month of September, when alongside the international architecture exhibition, the Venice International Film Festival opens its doors to the public: a yearly appointment with the global jet-set upon the red carpet.  The Festival runs from August 27 to September 6 and is a unique opportunity to combine the Biennale Exhibitions with exquisite artistic events and some of the best international film productions.

(Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on September 6, 2014 (transl. & edited from Greek, original here)

National Pavilion of the UAE (photo copyright
Piazza San Marco from the Canal Grande (photo by Kon Hans)

Hong Kong Pavilion (photo by Kon Hans)

Hanging clothes (photo by Kon Hans)