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Venice Architecture Biennale 2010

September 5, 2010

From shimmering water sprays to a walk in the clouds, this year’s biennale is a delight, thanks to the inspired curatorship of Kazuyo Sejima


Your Split Second House, by Olafur Eliasson at the Arsenale’s Corderie in Venice, an installation of water sprays momentarily arrested by flickering lights. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

The Venice Architecture Biennale is the world’s greatest festival of the art, a grand global expo of beauty, pretension and silliness. Its three-day vernissage is a mighty schmoozefest of architectural clans, eased by a diet of bellinis and dinners on rooftop terraces. The vernissage, in truth, usually seems the point of the thing, rather than the three succeeding months when the humble paying punters can see the exhibition for themselves.

Architects, you might think, should know something about making pleasurable spaces. It’s their job. Yet the paradox of the biennale is that, bellinis apart, it is usually a physically awful experience. You are battered with strident images and turgid texts, and your vital forces drain into countless flickering screens. The Corderie dell’Arsenale, the 300m-long former ropeworks where a large chunk of the biennale is shown, becomes an exhausting slog through mounds of ego and assertion.

One of the good things about this year’s biennale, the 12th, is that it is delightful. It alerts the senses and the mind. It has life. The content of the Corderie has presence, but is not too densely packed, and skilfully mixes up heavy and light, light and dark, cool and warm, image and object. You come early to giant beams installed by the Spanish architect Antón García-Abril, precariously balanced. Later a light metal bridge takes you on a looping journey up into an artificial cloud. An Olafur Eliasson installation of water sprays, momentarily arrested by flickering lights, is relief from the sweltering summer heat. There is another installation of delicate steel threads, so delicate indeed that an unfortunate accident with a spectator left it in need of restoration. Then there is a room with photographs of the Iranian city of Isfahan, simply presented, and another with finely crafted drawings of some fairly humble buildings. There is another room packed with talking heads, examples of the 2,000 hours of interviews that the art curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist has carried out in his life. Here you can get your ordeal-by-screen over with, once and for all.

Read more at: Brilliant biennale

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