In the recently published book On Seen, Zoe Ryan presents the eleven most influential design and architecture exhibitions in the last 50 years. From This is Tomorrow to Massive Change: The Future of Global Design she identifies the key drivers such as expressive antidotes, new materials and conceptual work that made these exhibitions so important. Coming from a curatorial background she builds the case and sets the stage that historically:
Exhibitions have long played a vital role in making and remaking architecture and design history. They bring together key figures and bodies of work, position ideas and present arguments, shed light on current concerns, suggest future directions and draw connection with larger theoretical, political, and cultural conversation…Where within the fields of architecture and design, exhibitions have been critical to advancing ideas (13).
Within this context of making and remaking design history through exhibitions, the most famous and prestigious stage for the fields of architecture and design is the Venice Architecture Biennale which is considered “the Olympics for architecture, bringing together a global perspective” (Feuerman, The Conversation) around contemporary design. This is where the world gathers every two years to see what significant breakthroughs and innovations are propelling the industry forward.
Set in a “semi-abandoned shipyard and its adjoining garden…the Venice Architecture Biennale is a colossal exhibition comprised of one major installation by a significant architect, as well as a multitude of smaller shows put on by individual countries (known as the national pavilions)” (Jack Self, CNN).
Yet, in recent years there has been a dilemma with the Venice Architecture Biennale and the content being presented. President Paolo Baratta of La Biennale di Venezia (Venice Biennale) articulates this problem clearly in the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale program book Reporting from the Front:
What is an architecture exhibition? And what should a Biennale Architecttura be? In La Biennale Arte, to which La Biennale Architettura is offspring, the works are right there on display before the visitors; with an architecture exhibition, the works are elsewhere. What should be represented here? This is indeed an ongoing quest (16).