PRINT September 2014


THE FOURTEENTH ITERATION of the Venice Architecture Biennale is an exhibition of superlatives. Having opened this past June and remaining on view through November, it will be the longest-running and most expansive, diverse, and interdisciplinary of any Architecture Biennale to date, with the involvement of a host of major curators and practitioners from the art world. Perhaps most significantly, its director, the provocateur Rem Koolhaas, has organized an exhibition of unprecedented ambition and focus—one that seeks not only to take stock of contemporary architecture but to shape the future of the field. Artforum invited scholar and critic SYLVIA LAVIN to reflect on the implications of this super-Biennale, which may resonate far beyond the boundaries of architecture.

View of “Elements of Architecture,” 2014. Central Pavilion, Venice. Ceiling display. Photo: Francesco Galli.

A DECADE AGO, reflecting back on Harald Szeemann’s Documenta 5 of 1972, Daniel Buren worried that this groundbreaking exhibition might have paved the way for the role of the curator to eclipse, even obviate, that of the artist: “Today it is possible to imagine that we are not far off from having a large-scale international exhibition directed by a great organizer-author who proposes the first exhibition without any artists at all!” Indeed, Szeemann had achieved an uncanny degree of authorial control over the show despite its unprecedented size and almost infinite variety of contributors. Rather than selecting a cross section of existing works, Szeemann commissioned many of the pieces on view to respond to his own chosen theme: “the relationship between images and reality,” as he put it. And to make that relation concrete, he juxtaposed these works with things not generally considered

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