PRINT Summer 1988



THE BIENNALE IS REOPENING its pavilions, and in Venice they are once again speaking the Esperanto of art. But the general hubbub masks the more important, problematic, and urgent discourse that addresses the city of Venice itself, the grand, distinguished site for this old, extremely old, too old exhibition. It is as if everyone were talking about a suit, abstractly saying that it is beautiful or ugly, without noticing the person wearing it. The Biennale is the suit, and Venice is the person. But is it a living or dead person? A city or an “ex-city”? What is Venice today? What other characterization can one add to the thousands that have already been offered? The anthology of definitions of Venice has always existed and will continue ad infinitum. Let’s try. For example: Venice is a souvenir shop magnified to urban dimensions. Or: Venice is the place where the rhetoric of all city planners collides. Or: Venice is the cynosure of the world’s lust. Or: Venice is the notion of the historical city. Or: Venice is the container of today’s most obsolete art show. Or. . . . But also. . . Venice is the symbol of the passage of the centuries. There it is! Venice truly represents Time; Venice “is” Time! That is, Venice is that mental construct within which every person must live, that certain genre of time that once was but no longer is, that time/space matrix internalized to the point of becoming a dimension truly adapted for thinking, communicating, relaxing, eating, making love as “dignified” human beings.

Now, with the death of Venice, with the birth of the modern city, we have passed from the concept of Time to the concept of Nontime. Nontime is characterized by two qualities: excess of communication and excess of work. In our everyday lives, certain “lateral” and nonfundamental concerns have bit by bit gained the upper hand, finally taking the place of our existential perception of the whole. Today, two objects define the typical metropolitan person—the appointment book and the watch. I myself am consulting both: checking my wristwatch while I turn to today’s date in my appointment book to find that I absolutely must send this text to Artforum. And so, for me, Venice today is reduced to a play of minutes; it no longer represents that grandiose, latent intellectual space in the subconscious of every man, woman, architect, or artist. My work commitments oblige me to have certain information and to express my thoughts and feelings about Venice and about the Biennale. Okay: TIME + VENICE + BIENNALE = DEATH. And that great sense of death triggers a violently contrasting positive notion—the “Idea of Death”—and this is one that the modern world unjustly rejects. Venice is a great urban corpse that hasn’t been buried, its lagoon and canals mortuaries for corpses of cities. A substratum of ideas of death emerges from the Biennale. This is the “Time of the Artists,” the narcissistic, completely self-contemplative, and therefore metaphysical time of death. So let’s bring along our wristwatches and our appointment books and see if this year too Venice and its Biennale are erecting new monuments to themselves.

Alessandro Mendini is an architect and designer who lives in Milan. A former director of Domus magazine, he has published widely on design. He contributes this column regularly to Artforum.