Published  16/10/2006

Venice Architecture Biennale

Who next to put his, or her hat, into the ring? This year, Ricky Burdett became the second British Director of the Biennale in four years, following Deyan Sudjic. That was a hard act to follow, and secured high ratings as something of an extravaganza (Sudjic is now taking over as Director of London's Design Museum). Venice, invariably, whether running an Arts Biennale, or a movie Festival, achieves a high count on the celebrants' Richter Richter scale, for topicality and for amusement. The crowds keep coming back, the vaporetti are thronged, and, invariably, notable incidents occur which become enshrined in the collective memory. But this year, it's deadly serious. Is this the exhibition of the book? In the Corderie of the Arsenale, setting for amazing tours-de-force in previous years, it is very underwhelming. Which has sent fans running or floating back to the Giardini, to the pavilions of all the nations. At the Giardini you cannot miss Rem Koolhaas, who is never in the way of being overlooked: you cannot miss Nigel Coates and his Royal College of Arts students, where urban wit revives. After the mortifying gravitas of the 16 city case studies at the Corderie, any sort of lift, and a drink, are doubly welcome. And if it be a search for a topic of exceptional concern, the frank and open confessional, and the new hope offered by the American pavilion for solutions and recovery at post-Katrina New Orleans, stands apart. Finally, in an old dock building behind the Arsenale is a strange exhibition, such as Italo Calvino would have poised but momentarily to note, entitled 'City of Stone'. City of Stone, assembled by the professor of architectural planning at Bari, is intended to celebrate fascist architecture in Italy in the period 1920-50. This deadbeat, heavy stone monumentalism defeats revivalism. Calvino's hero from Invisible Cities would have turned on his heels. Let us hope for better things next time round. Could not the curator in 2008 be a female, of wit, commitment, and dare one say it, aesthetic appeal?

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