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Venice Biennale Returns in 2021

Ca Giustinian, the main office for La Biennale. Photo by Paul Clemence.

By Paul Clemence

As Italy opens up, easing on Pandemic restrictions, visitors are slowly coming back to Venice, and just in time for the Serenissima’s most important events, the Venice Biennale. Started in 1895, La Biennale is one of the oldest and most prestigious cultural events in Europe. Alternating each year between the Art edition and the Architecture one, the Biennales (along with the famed film festival, which is also organized by the Biennale) give the island a cultural cache that draws top professionals in the field and aficionados alike from all over the world.


“Sixth Street Viaduct by Michael Maltzan Architecture – one of the projects being shown at the Biennale-rendering courtesy of the architect”


From the Giardinni national pavilions and scattered throughout the city in satellites venues, one can see cutting edge, thought-provoking installations, in a more think tank mode rather than the commercial approach of fairs like Art Basel. After being postponed last year due to the pandemic, this year exhibit will be the 17th International Architecture Exhibition. Curated by architect, Hashim Sarkis, Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the exhibit’s theme, selected back in 2019, “How Will We Live Together”, could not be more appropriate and timelier after this long, never ending period of lockdowns and imposed isolation.


“Snow Warehouse”,  designed by University of Illinois students, in view at  the United States Pavilion. Photo by Pavilion co-curators Paul Andersen and Paul Preissner.

In the Giardinni, one of the highlights will be the US Pavilion, with the exhibit “American Framing” highlighting the all-American wood framing construction system. Co-curated by architects and professors Paul Andersen and Paul Preissner, the exhibit will feature a large-scale wood installation creating an engaging portal to the historic pavilion.


The Arsenale, part of the official Biennale exhibit program Photo by Andrea Avezzù-Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia. Photo courtesy of Andrea Avezzù, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia.


Cloud Installation at Spanish Pavilion exhibit Uncertainty- image by Imagen-Subliminal. Courtesy Spanish Pavilion.


Elsewhere in the city, the exhibit Time Space Existence, organized by the European Cultural Center, takes over the Palazzo Bembo, Palazzo Mora and Marinaressa Gardens to showcase architects, educational institutions and national organizations, expanding the reach of the Biennale to include other representations beyond the official Biennale selections. Among the international rooster of exhibitors presentating this year are the Lebanese American University, ARCHcoop architectural studio, École Nationale supérieure d’Architecture et de Paysage de Lille, Zurich University of the Arts and Mário Martins Atelier.


The Majlis pavilion, at San Giorgio Maggiore Island. Photo Simone Padovani, courtesy of Caravane Foundation.


The Majlis pavilion, at San Giorgio Maggiore Island. Photo Simone Padovani/ Getty Images, courtesy of Caravane Foundation.


“TIME SPACE EXISTENCE at Palazzo Mora, featuring the work of Soria Moria Sauna on the left and photographs by Dag Jenssen – Curved Shadow- on the right- installation photo by Federico Vespignani courtesy of ECC.

Crossing the canal, opposite the Palazzo Ducale, at the San Giorgio Maggiore island architects Simón Vélez and Stafana Simic are installing “Majlis”, a bamboo pavilion inspired by nomadic architecture. An initiative of the Caravane Earth Foundation, the project is built in the grounds of the Abbazia of San Giorgio Maggiore and within a wildflower garden, the structure will be covered with handwoven textiles made by a women’s collective, Ain Leuh, and the Boujad Tribe (both from Marrocos). The garden design is by renown landscape architect Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, featuring plants from different origins, and will be a permanent gift to the Abbazia after the Biennale ends.


Sesc Pompeia in Sao Paulo by Lina Bo Bardi the recepint of the Special Golden Lion posthumous award-photo by Paul Clemence

The Biennale’s coveted Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement award will be given this year to Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, who is already a Pritzker Prize the RIBA Royal Gold Medal laureate. But reflecting the growing awareness of gender equality in Architecture practice, a special in memoriam Golden Lion will also be given to the late Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi. “If there is one architect who embodies most fittingly the theme of the Biennale Architettura 2021, it is Lina Bo Bardi. Her career as a designer, editor, curator, and activist reminds us of the role of the architect as convener and importantly, as the builder of collective visions”, commented on the homage the Biennale’s curator  Hashim Sarkis.

The Venice Biennale opens May 22nd and goes through November 21st. If you find yourself in Italy, this is a must.


Paul Clemence is an award-winning photographer and writer exploring the cross-section of design, art and architecture. A published author, his volume Mies van der Rohe’s FARNSWORTH HOUSE remains to this day the most complete photo documentation of that iconic modern residential design, and a selection of these photos is part of the Mies van der Rohe Archives housed by MoMa, New York. He is widely published in arts, architecture and lifestyle magazines like Metropolis, ArchDaily, Architizer, Modern, Casa Vogue Brasil and others. Archi-Photo, aka Architecture Photography, his Facebook photo blog quickly became a photography and architecture community, with over 970,000 followers worldwide. An architect by training, Clemence is originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

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