Time Space Existence, one of the officially-sponsored collateral events of the Venice Architecture Biennale, is a sprawling exhibition presenting projects and installations by more than 100 architects from around the world. It winds through the salons and backrooms of two grand Venetian palaces on the Grand Canal, the Palazzo Bembo and the Mora.
Photo courtesy GlobalArtAffairs Foundation
The architects chosen are a curious mix of the wildly experimental, or those who would be, and commercial firms—residential restorations in Vienna, beach houses in Ibiza, and the like make an appearance. They are joined by student research projects from several universities, as well as a work by a handful of recognizable names—Norman Foster, Eduardo Souto de Moura, and Ricardo Bofill, among them.
This potpourri is explained by the non-architectural background of its organizers, a private Dutch nonprofit known as the Global Art Affairs Foundation, started by the artist Rene Rietmeyer. The Foundation began mounting shows for the Venice Art Biennale and, as Karlyn De Jongh writes in the catalogue, "we have very little knowledge about architecture".
But what the organizers lack in background, they make up for in enthusiasm, energy, and good intentions, marshalling the resources to rent and restore the two venues and organize the show with funds from Rietmeyer's art projects and private sponsors, according to their website.
De Jongh writes, "By highlighting the concepts of time, space, and existence, we can have a positive influence on other people, making them more aware of their existence as human beings within time and space." The vagueness of these intentions leaves the exhibition open to just about anything that happened to catch the organizers eye, particularly through their contacts in the art world.
The best approach to the show is thus simply to wander through and try to make something of the energy on display. If in its more experimental ventures, the exhibition offers any measure of the current state of the contemporary architectural psyche, we seem to be back in a phase of ill-defined, organic, free-form mega-structural speculations, generally with a focus more on form than social organization. A few examples, taken almost at random, include: the angled high-rise structures of the Indonesian architect Budi Pradono; the splintered, reflective, colored constructions of moving elements by the Baltimore-based Manifold Design; or the large structures infused with three-dimensional mixes of color using shikiri, the Japanese color method, by the Tokyo-based French architect Emmanuelle Moureau. Interesting too was a look back at Bofill's home and studio of the 1970s, the Taller de Arquitectura outside of Barcelona, and Souto de Moura's installation of rough-textured concrete blocks, set under a magnificent pair of Venetian chandeliers in a foyer of the Mora Palace.
Are there any advantages to leaving a major show of this kind in untrained hands? It certainly opens the door to the unexpected, and it would be wonderful if it gives unknown creative talents the break they need. For the visitor, the experience is something like a visit to a flea market, looking for hidden treasures amid the random offerings on display.