Architecture Inhabits Art at Venice Biennale

Event: La Biennale di Venezia — Art Section: Think with the Senses — Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense.
Location: Venice, Italy, 06.10-11.21.07
Curator: Robert Storr — Biennale Art Director

Monika Sosnowska

Monika Sosnowska’s installation in the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

Johannes Knoops

While the terms “art” and “architecture” are by no means synonymous, and while each camp benefits from tracking the other, I become itchy over such slurs as “Frank Gehry… the sculptor,” and “Frank Stella… the architect.” But I can point to several architectural strategies evident in this year’s 52nd International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, Think with the Senses — Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense.

Monika Sosnowska tests the volumetric limits of the container with a structure that appears to be crunched and crammed to fit within the Polish Pavilion. The jagged linear result fills the space with visions of structural failure.

In the fantasy world of Canadian artist David Altmejd, his psychological pathos incorporates the contextual botanical reality beyond the gallery’s windows. By visually uniting the trees of the Giardini Biennale (the grounds on which many of the national pavilions are sited) with his constructed dream world of man-eagles and lurking squirrels in strategically placed mirrors, the walls of the gallery infuse his world with ours.

Surfaces altering between transparency and reflection test your sense of safe passage through the Belgian Pavilion. Despite the conscious “nerdiness” of artist Eric Duyckaerts’ pseudo lectures that confront you along your journey, the craft and refinement of the physical labyrinth lend the installation a Miesian visual elegance.

Black boxes that are sliced in two are posited about the Hungarian Pavilion in Andreas Fogarasi’s tectonic installation. Spread apart, the two pieces of each black box form a theater: one end shades a video screen from the sun-drenched gallery, while the other forms a seat for viewing that video. Depending on their positions in the space, each pair is kept either at an intimate distance or spread apart to permit passage by others while maintaining their axial relationship.

Yves Netzhammer and Christine Streuli diagonally slice the Swiss Pavilion with a single plane that reorders both its exterior and interior spaces in section. From the path outside, an elaborately painted plane calls out to the passing public like a Soviet Constructivist marquee graphically wearing its message. Upon entering the pavilion one is sheltered below this same plane while videos weave and co-exist with the contents of its painting. Matched in inclination, two stairs elevate you to a new internal space within the existing pavilion. This theater employs an existing wall as its screen while viewers recline on the plane’s slope.

Many moments exist beyond the architecture at this year’s Art Biennale, but these five installations operate in a realm of current architectural discourse, questioning boundary, plane, and perception.