Venice Biennale Postpones Next Two Editions


Italy’s museums and galleries have started to reopen as the country — one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic — begins a long recovery. But the disruptions to art programming keep rippling through the country’s cultural institutions. On Monday, the Venice Biennale announced that it was postponing two of its signature international exhibitions: The architecture biennale will now open in May 2021 instead of this month; the next biennale of contemporary art has been pushed to April 2022 from May 2021.

The opening of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale, titled “How Will We Live Together?” and organized by the Lebanese architect Hashim Sarkis, had been pushed back until later this year from this month — for a planned abbreviated run. It will now enjoy a full six-month duration, from May 22 to Nov. 21, 2021.

The delay became inevitable, biennale organizers said, as the pandemic shuttered architecture studios and universities, and as participants came to terms with health regulations and travel restrictions. A majority of architects participating in the show had asked for a postponement. “I hope that the new opening date will allow them first to catch their breath, and then to complete their work with the time and vigor it truly deserves,” Mr. Sarkis said. “We did not plan it this way.”

Since the architecture biennale will take place in the season meant for the 59th Venice Art Biennale, overseen by the New York-based Italian curator Cecilia Alemani, that show will now open for seven months starting on April 23, 2022. The change means that Ms. Alemani’s biennale will coincide with the next edition of Documenta, Europe’s other leading exhibition of contemporary art, which is still on the books for June 2022 in Kassel, Germany.

Ms. Alemani said she intends to use the extra year to “develop ambitious new projects,” and added that “holding the architecture biennale this year would have dramatically compromised the event.” She observed that, by pushing the art biennale to April 2022, her show will open just before Liberation Day, when Italy celebrates the end of the Fascist regime and the Nazi occupation. “I hope that the occasion will mark a new celebration of togetherness,” said Ms. Alemani, “a new sense of participation and communion.”

The Swedish curator Daniel Birnbaum, who organized the Venice art biennale in 2009, said, “It just shows the magnitude of the crisis.”

“For Cecilia, it’s probably good news for her to have more time,” he observed. But the architecture biennale, much of which was already planned, will have to rethink its focus to account for “this crisis that has changed everyday life on the planet,” he said. “So what are they going to do? They need to make it relevant for May 2021. That’s the challenge, but maybe it’s an interesting one.”

Both the art biennale, first mounted in 1895, and the architecture biennale, which became a stand-alone event in 1980, comprise a central international presentation organized by a single curator, ringed by dozens of smaller exhibitions in national pavilions, mostly in a public garden in Venice’s east. The U.S. pavilion at the next architecture show, called “American Framing,” planned to examine wood-framed construction in American buildings.

Venice joins a growing number of large-scale exhibitions that have been forced to push back their openings as the pandemic wears on. This summer’s editions of the Berlin Biennale and of Manifesta, in Marseille, France, have been postponed indefinitely. The Gwangju Biennale, Asia’s most important international art biennale, has delayed its next edition from this September to February 2021. The Biennale de Lyon, in France, has also pushed its next edition from 2021 to 2022.

“Venice will always survive,” said Mr. Birnbaum, even if, as he predicts, the models of the global art world change after the pandemic. “It’s only two and a half decades, really since the mid-90s, that we started to get used to all these global fairs and biennales.”

And if bienniales like Venice and fairs like Art Basel regroup, a question mark hovers over “the smaller and midsize biennale, so closely linked to city branding and mass tourism,” Mr. Birnbaum said.


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