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Jul 08 2011

Australia Mulls a New Venice Pavilion

by Michael Young

Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Sydney/Melbourne. Photo by Ella Condon.

Australia’s rapidly aging pavilion in the Giardini of the Venice Biennale is to be replaced after years of attracting criticism from artists, architects and members of the public.

Speaking in early June, at the opening of this year’s Australian representative artist Hany Armanious, Kathy Keele, CEO of the nonprofit government agency Australia Council for the Arts, announced that the pavilion would be replaced.

The current pavilion was designed and built in 1988 by distinguished Sydney architect Philip Cox, and then gifted to the nation. In recent years the two-level pavilion has garnered a reputation for being a problematic exhibition venue built at a time when artists were more concerned with two-dimensional paintings rather than installation and conceptual works, as they are now.

Shaun Gladwell, who exhibited in the Pavilion in the Venice Biennale in 2009, told ArtAsiaPacific that the current small and intimate pavilion “did present a series of challenges. It feels more like a domestic space rather than an exhibition space. During the install, it was hard not to feel slightly disadvantaged when looking at the neighbours’ more open pavilions.”

Cox has previously argued that the pavilion was intended as a temporary structure that was rushed onto the Giardini site when the last available slot for a country pavilion became available.

The Australia Council will oversee the fundraising process and subsequent rebuilding of the pavilion. None of the AUD 4-6 million estimated budget for the new pavilion will come from federal government money. Instead, all redevelopment costs will be met through private philanthropic contributions.

Simon Mordant, the businessman, art philanthropist and Australia’s Venice commissioner for 2013, has agreed to lead the fundraising efforts. Mordant is also the chair of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney (MCA), and has made a personal contribution of $15 million to the capital campaign for the MCA’s new extension. Mordant and his wife Catriona are taking on the Australian Pavilion initiative and tipped $1 million of their own money into the fund.

“The current pavilion is a beautiful building, but is now incurring a large maintenance cost and doesn’t make the best use of the space available and doesn’t have the flexibility for the contemporary art of today,” Mordant told AAP.

Mordant said the new pavilion is expected to be in place by 2015, although the selection process to find an architect has not yet started.
“It is intended to invite a small number of appropriately qualified Australian architects to make submissions against a detailed brief in due course,” he said.

Doug Hall, Australian Commissioner for the last two Biennales told AAP, “Of the 89 countries exhibiting in Venice this year only 30 have pavilions. To be able to build a new and permanent pavilion is both an honor and strategically important for Australia.”

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