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Why aren’t our politicians interested in the British Pavilion?

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No Government ministers will visit the Venice Biennale this year, writes Rory Olcayto

The British Pavilion at this years Venice Biennale promises to fuse the best of Ellis Woodman’s 2008 show, a dry-as-dust overview of contemporary British housing design, with the best of MUF’s ‘Villa Frankenstein in 2010’ and its (rather pretentious) notion of teaching us how to look more closely at the world around us.

You can read all about ‘A Clockwork Jerusalem’ in our Biennale special, which includes a specially commissioned ‘What Next’ feature in which the pavilion’s curators, FAT’s Sam Jacob and Crimson’s Wouter Vanstiphout, outline how the profession can build on the points they make about a uniquely British approach to planning a sustainable built environment.

Still, it’s hard not to think that the Venice Biennale and the effort that goes into making the British Pavilion are, well, all a bit pointless. Unless of course, it can find favour in the corridors of power. And that is easier said than done. Reputedly new housing minister Kris Hopkins was all set to go to Venice this year, but pulled out at the last minute because of a three-line whip on a Commons vote he was expected to attend. And heritage minister Ed Vaizey is rumoured to have pulled out of attending because it clashed with his birthday. Hmm.
(Note to Mr Vaizey: the Biennale lasts six months.)

The press, of course, has a role to play. Rather than just make witty comments or write cultured reviews about this or that aspect of A Clockwork Jerusalem, we should do our utmost to lobby government. So we’ll be sending this week’s print edition of the AJ - our Venice Biennale special - direct, by recorded delivery, to Hopkins and Vaizey, with a note saying: ‘Sorry you couldn’t make it, here’s what you need to know. What are you going to do about it?’

The British Council and its architecture, design and fashion director, Vicky Richardson, should be speaking to all the main parties, too - and pronto, while they are writing their manifestos ahead of next year’s election. That would surely have a bigger impact than the current plans to take the show on a UK tour.

More Prix than kicks

It’s easy to criticise the Biennale. It is, in fact, what you’re meant to do. Former AJ editor Kieran Long did it in 2008, when he wrote a very funny, cruel takedown in these pages on the ‘parametric mafia and the elite of the avant-garde’ that he thought had hi-jacked the Arsenale Cordiere. (Although, given it was curated by that parametric cheerleader, Aaron Betsky, what else was he expecting?) He did it again in 2010, when Sanaa’s Kazuyo Sejima came under fire for curating a show for ‘visitors who didn’t have to think too much’. Ouch.

Then, in 2012, Long himself came under fire - indirectly at least - when Wolf Prix said the show Long helped to curate, David Chipperfield’s ‘Common Ground’, was ‘hollow, arduous, exhausting, bleak and boring’. Funny thing was, Prix hadn’t even been to see it. Who knows what our critic-at-large, Ellis Woodman, will think of ‘Fundamentals’, this year’s effort from Rem Koolhaas, which, from its title alone, sounds a little like a comeback album by a former rock legend. See what I mean? I’ve not even been there yet and I’m slagging it off. What a Prix, eh? You can read Woodman’s review next week.

Why so frugal, Royal Academy?

The architectural profession is riding high. Pickings are the richest they’ve been in years - not quite pre-2008 crash, but not far off. So why, as we report this week, is there no cash prize for the best in show at this year’s Royal Academy summer show? Don’t blame Lend Lease - in recent times it spent upwards of £100,000 a year to sponsor the annual event. Surely another sponsor could have stepped in. Coupled with the Stirling Prize’s failure to secure a cash sponsor, it’s surely proof that the trickle-down effect is just nonsense.

rory.olcayto@emap.com Twitter: @roryolcayto

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