Biennial Interview Fairs Italy

Back to basics in Venice

First reactions to Rem Koolhaas’s Venice Architecture Biennale, and its theme “Fundamentals”

Greg Hilty’s “Genius Loci”

Greg Hilty, curatorial director of the Lisson Gallery and curator of “Genius Loci”

What are your feelings about the main exhibition at the biennale?

For me the crazy objectivity of “Elements of Architecture” won out over the experiential vagueness of “Monditalia”. Doors, floors etc are of course projections of human bodies and activities, and the recent collective memory of our species seemed embedded in these objects.

Which national pavilion were you most impressed with and why?

Avoiding the dangers of using the pavilion as a trade tent for national identity, Japan showed in compelling contemporary detail how independent researchers and architects slowed the train of industrial modernity and looked at the value of lived architecture, including relics from the past and vernacular.

Could you tell us more about the architectural studio Carmody Groarke’s contribution to your show?

The basis of “Genius Loci” is showing actual works of art that carry the fabric of the world within them and can be translated back to the public realm. Carmody Groarke helped us articulate that translation, through a clear presentation of models, films and projects. 

“Genius Loci” explores the role of public art projects and includes works by artists including Ai Weiwei. It is at Palazzo Franchetti (until 23 November).

Hiroshi Sugimoto, artist and creator of “Glass Tea House Mondrian”

What were your aims for the architectural installation at the Cini foundation?

“Glass Tea House Mondrian” is inspired by pre-modern abstraction, as perfected by Sen no Rikyū, in the Japanese tradition of the tea ceremony. Basically, I wanted to make an intimate tea house: only one tea master and one guest. Your vision is completely surrounded by wooden fencing that is inspired by the famous Ise Shinto Shrine. The greenery and the tip of the church nearby are integrated into the landscape of the tea house.

Are you mixing art with architecture here?

The tea ceremony encompasses all the individual arts of the East. In addition to painting and dance there is sculpture, in the shape of the porcelain bowl; music, in the sound of the water on the boil; and architecture, in the form of the tea ceremony arbour. These disparate elements intertwine and coalesce to form a single, perfect whole. During the Renaissance, European artists expressed ideas in painting, sculpture and architecture without dividing art and architecture; the same is true for the tea house, perfected in 16th century Japan.

Regarding the “Modern Times” show, can you tell us about your relationship with photography and architecture?

In my architecture photography series, my goal is not to document a building, but rather to visualise an idea—the concept of a building in the architect’s mind. Visiting these masterpieces of modern architecture taught me a sense of space.

“Glass Tea House Mondrian” is at the Stanze del Vetro, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore (until 3 August), and “Modern Times”, an exhibition of architectural photographs is at the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa (until 12 October)

Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director of the Serpentine Galleries and curator of the Swiss pavilion

How did you respond to the main exhibition?

Rem Koolhaas’s exhibition is fascinating and very exciting. This is the third architect in a row to curate the architecture biennale, after Kazuyo Sejima and David Chipperfield, and Koolhaas has surprised us with an unexpected approach on the fundamentals of architecture. In each of the exhibition rooms, he shows us the forgotten pioneers in various architectural fields. He obviously believes that we have more and more information in our digital age, but I think maybe amnesia is at the core of it.

Are there any pavilions whose projects have struck a chord with you as an art curator?

I very much appreciated the project by Minsuk Cho, the curator of the Korean pavilion, who himself is a great architect. He did a very exemplary project connecting North and South Korea. It is a political project but it also makes you discover amazing things about the history of North and South Korea in the 20th century. The Korean pavilion was full of surprises.

Can you tell us about the stars of your pavilion, Lucius Burckhardt and Cedric Price? Why are they important?

Lucius Burckhardt and Cedric Price are both visionaries in their own way, and developed incredible projects since the late 50s. Lucius Burckhardt was a sociologist, a landscape architect and the inventor of Strollology, the science of going on a walk. Cedric Price was an architect and an urbanist with landmark projects such as the Fun Palace, an unrealised cultural institution for the 21st century. They have both inspired many young practitioners now, so it was very important to bring their archives to Venice to show them to a wider audience. I met them both when I was a student and a young curator and I did exhibitions about them in Paris. I wanted to bring their two archives together and show them as a toolbox for the 21st century.

How does the Swiss pavilion mix architecture with art?

The question was how to make these two archives active. [The architects] Herzog & de Meuron had the wonderful idea of trolleys being wheeled out every day from the archive with different content to be presented.

I invited Tino Sehgal and Philippe Parreno, who are both very well known for their exhibition choreographies and time-based exhibitions, to pick up that idea and to develop a choreography for the presentation of the archives. It is very much a collaboration of the artist and the architect, something that Herzog & de Meuron have been doing for a very long time. It was wonderful to connect them here with Philippe Parreno, Tino Sehgal and Asad Raza, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Liam Gillick. Together they invented “A Stroll Through a Fun Palace”, based on Lucius Burckhardt’s Strollology and Cedric Price’s Fun Palace.

When you come in the morning the pavilion is empty, but when the first visitors arrive the trolleys start to shoot out and 60 students of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology enter into a conversation with the visitors. It will be an individualised experience for thousands of visitors as every single one of them will enter into a conversation and experience something different.

Heinz Mack, artist and creator of “Sky Over Nine Columns”

Tell us about your project for the Cini foundation and your ideas behind it

The project “Sky Over Nine Columns” is based on my “Sahara-Project”, which I formulated in 1958. After several excursions in the desert, I conducted experiments with my sculptures and other reflecting objects in order to harness the special light present there. Furthermore, I was interested in creating a spatial experience: my sculptures need space in which to emanate their own dynamism and energy as much as possible, until their appearance becomes almost immaterial.

The column is a fundamental architectural element that you have often worked with. Did you connect “Sky Over Nine Columns” in any way with the Venice Architecture Biennale?

My work is completely independent from the architecture biennale, but there is a certain context in regard to its tectonic quality, which belongs to architecture as well as to sculpture. The column, however, is also a sculptural element that has been prehistorically used as an idol, as an emblem of space, as a memorial and as a location marker. The abstract column is also an expression of the human being, standing upright or vertical, against gravity.

Heinz Mack’s installation “Sky Over Nine Columns”, presented in collaboration with the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, is on view on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore (until 23 November)

Jacques Herzog, partner, Herzog & de Meuron architects

What are your feelings about the main exhibition?

It is good to use the biennale to go new ways. This year’s demonstrates that architecture exists also without its most eminent contemporary authors—it highlights its political and psychological impact on cities and entire regions. Films remain a very powerful tool to convey such information over time.

As architects, what has been your experience of working with so many artists in the Swiss pavilion?

It was very productive—collaborations between artists and architects rarely work so well. Mostly it is just a joke, but here everybody gave real input, and in the final product every intervention looked well integrated and natural.

Philippe Parreno, artist participating in the Swiss pavilion

As an artist rather than architect, what are your feelings about the main exhibition?

I was suprised by Rem Koolhaas’s choice. Last year the art biennale also focused on history. Is it a tendency towards revival? In the international exhibition I saw some of these historical “fundamentals”, mainly windows and stairs. The Modernist tradition has imposed this idea that there is nothing else apart from the physicality of the Euclidian space, but for me architecture deals with complexity. And the fundamentals also include sounds, air pollution, pheromones and phenomenological perceptions.  

Do you think it speaks to a non-architectural audience?

I don’t know. I don’t know what an audience wants—maybe people like technical stuff.

Are there any pavilions that have struck a chord with you as artist?

I saw some interesting things but I spent most of my time in the Swiss pavilion listening to the marathon that Hans Ulrich Obrist curated. But then again, I am not an expert.

Can you tell us about your contribution to the Swiss pavilion?

As a group we wanted to invent some ways to present objects or knowledge in an exhibition space. We met a couple of times with Hans Ulrich Obrist, the curator, and Tino Sehgal, Asad Raza, Liam Gillick and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, but also with Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. Tino, Liam and I have been working on a show in Arles with the Fondation Luma, presenting models of Frank Gehry’s work using a form of dramaturgy. This show in Arles follows on from one that I curated with Liam Gillick the year before called “To The Moon Via The Beach”. This time we had the difficult task of presenting ideas, since none of us had physically built anything (apart from Cedric Price) to do this. The scenario was the following: to have a space where the archives will be kept, for students, but also for Venetian-based architects or designers to place drawings or texts from the archives on a series of rolling carts and present them to the visitors. We also needed to present some video films and slides, so I came up with the idea of motorised blinds to darken the space. It’s a tool I have used many times to punctuate an exhibition space, to project films and to guide attention of the viewers. 

You’re an artist working on a cross-disciplinary project at an architecture biennale. Is this a new experience for you?

Modern architecture derives from “the exhibition”. Major modern buildings were once shown as objects in exhibition spaces. This is where my interest lies. This is what I question: object display. When I do solo shows it’s all about developing a type of grammar, one that redefines the rituals of exhibition. 

More from The Art Newspaper


17 Jun 14
17:49 CET


Yes - we need to question the objects out there...far too many of them. Less actual objet d'art, I say. What do they think they are anyway - exhibitionists? I mean, it stands to reason that the world can't keep filling museums and galleries...and we're running out of resources. We could put them underground like Wei Wei, but far better to just imagine them there, or outer space. Best kept to inner space, then we can view them whenever we want and talk about them at our leisure. More talking about virtual objects, I say.

Submit a comment

All comments are moderated. If you would like your comment to be approved, please use your real name, not a pseudonym. We ask for your email address in case we wish to contact you - it will not be made public and we do not use it for any other purpose.


Want to write a longer comment to this article? Email


Share this