Venice

Billionaire Nicolas Berggruen Just Opened a New Branch of His Globe-Spanning Cultural Institute in a Historic Venice Palazzo


Los Angeles’s Berggruen Institute, founded by Paris-born billionaire art collector Nicolas Berggruen, inaugurated its new European headquarters today in Venice’s Casa dei Tre Oci, a neo-Gothic palazzo on the island of Giudecca.

As part of the festivities, it announced philosopher Peter Singer as the 2021 recipient of the annual $1 million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture.

Singer will receive his prize, which recognizes visionaries whose thinking advances human understanding, in a ceremony next spring in Los Angeles.

“I am delighted that my work has been recognized by the jury that awards the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture, and I thank Nicolas Berggruen for his commitment to honoring those who work in philosophy and the field of ideas,” Singer said in a statement, adding that he planned to donate half of the funds to The Life You Can Save, a charity he founded “to spread the idea of giving to the most effective charities benefiting the world’s poorest people.”

Berggruen Institute Chairman Nicolas Berggruen. Photo by Jason Carter Rinaldi/Getty Images for Berggruen Institute.

Berggruen Institute chairman Nicolas Berggruen. Photo by Jason Carter Rinaldi/Getty Images for Berggruen Institute.

The institute’s new building previously belonged to the Fondazione di Venezia, which hosted photography exhibitions by the likes of David LaChapelle, Helmut Newton, and Lewis Hine.

“We see Venice as a gateway for those seeking answers to the most pressing questions and challenges of our time—and Casa dei Tre Oci as the nexus of the institute’s work in developing ideas to build a better world,” Berggruen, the institute’s chairman, said in a statement.

Built as a private home and studio by by the artist Mario De Maria in 1913, Casa dei Tre Oci was recognized by the region’s cultural heritage directorate as an asset of historical and artistic interest in 2007.

The Berggruen Institute, which celebrates its 10th birthday this year, plans to use the space to host international programming in the visual arts and architecture, including summits, workshops, symposia, and exhibitions. The organization has agreed to continue the space’s photography program for the next two years.

Peter Singer. Photo by Derek Goodwin, courtesy of the Berggruen Institute.

Peter Singer. Photo by Derek Goodwin, courtesy of the Berggruen Institute.

“With Casa dei Tre Oci continuing to be the site of constructive discussion on contemporary issues, we look forward to the prospects of its future cooperation with other institutions in Venice, placing it at the center of the city’s cultural life,” Michele Bugliesi, president of the Fondazione di Venezia, said.

The institute is also in the process of building a new Los Angeles flagship, near the Getty Center in the Santa Monica Mountains, designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron.

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Chinese Artist Yu Ji Has Been on a Meteoric Rise Since the Last Venice Biennale. What Is It About Her Art That Enraptures Curators?


There is something about Yu Ji’s work—it can stop even the most seasoned, seen-it-all curator in their tracks. Now, the Shanghai-based artist is continuing her rapid ascent to art-world fame with a solo show at London’s prestigious Chisenhale Gallery, her first institutional exhibition outside of Asia.

Chisenhale is known for propelling emerging artists from Lynette Yiadom-Boakye to Hito Steyerl to international acclaim, and Yu Ji appears to be no exception. Already, her work is making its way around the globe: she is the subject of a concurrent one-person exhibition at West Bund Museum in her native Shanghai, presented in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou, and will participate in the forthcoming New Museum Triennial in New York.

For the Chisenhale exhibition, titled “Wasted Mud,” Yu Ji transformed the gallery into a kind of paradoxical urban-meets-wilderness cavern. A large black hammock stretches across the space, sagging under the weight of piles of rubble gathered from construction sites in fast-gentrifying East London. A table sourced from a market in London’s Deptford area holds a sculpture of a headless form. Electronic pumps disperse plant-infused water through tubes threaded around these displays, with some of the liquid leaking onto the floor. 

Yu Ji, <i>Wasted Mud</i> (2021). Installation view, Chisenhale Gallery, London, 2021. Commissioned and produced by Chisenhale Gallery, London. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate

Yu Ji, Wasted Mud (2021). Installation view, Chisenhale Gallery, London, 2021. Commissioned and produced by Chisenhale Gallery, London. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate

This collection of works—inspired, and in some cases drawn directly, from the show’s surroundings—is classic Yu Ji. Back in 2019, she spent three months in London as a resident of the Delfina Foundation and set aside hours to walk the streets, taking inspiration from the Thames, the city’s canals, and local flea markets.

“It was a time to really stay in the city and be with the city and not do anything for production,” Yu Ji told Midnight Publishing Group News. That experience formed the basis for her current show. 

For Yu Ji’s fans, her work offers a lesson in how to look at what’s around us. “Her work is appealing because it asks us to consider our relationship to ourselves, to each other, and to our external environment,” Aaron Cezar, the director of the Delfina Foundation, told Midnight Publishing Group News. “Rather than focusing on the tensions that often lie underneath these relationships, Yu Ji offers the possibility to explore how these connections can also be transformative. Coming out of the pandemic, I think this resonates with audiences.”

Yu Ji was born in 1985 in Shanghai, where she also received her MFA in sculpture from Fine Art College of Shanghai University in 2011. Though she was nominated for the Hugo Boss Art Prize for Emerging Asian Artists in 2017, it was her inclusion in Ralph Rugoff’s Venice Biennale in 2019 that launched her onto the global curatorial radar. Displayed across the central pavilion were sculptures from her signature “Flesh in Stone” series, in addition to a site-specific installation of resin-coated iron chains suspended from the ceiling, seemingly frozen in time and space.

Installation view, Yu Ji, Flesh in Stone–Component #3 (2017) at La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 2019. Credit: © Yu Ji, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: 李欣怡 Li Xinyi.

Installation view, Yu Ji, Flesh in Stone–Component #3 (2017) at La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 2019. Credit: © Yu Ji, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: 李欣怡 Li Xinyi.

On the heels of the biennale, during her London residency, “there was a huge interest in her work,” Cezar said. “Almost every major gallery requested studio visits!” 

Indeed, both Sadie Coles—the tastemaking London gallerist who snapped Yu Ji up after Venice, and now represents her—and Margot Norton, curator of the forthcoming New Museum Triennial, cited Venice as a critical moment. “It convinced me that we wanted to commit to representing her,” Coles said. “Great work always finds a market.”

“The work really did stick out,” Norton said. “I do think the ideas she’s exploring resonate, and the techniques she’s using are original. The work in Venice was doing something new and something I hadn’t seen before.”

Top curators and critics familiar with Yu Ji emphasize the novel nature of her use of materials and the underlying themes of connection with others. Plus, in a moment when the art market favors bright, figurative painting, Yu Ji’s work is the opposite. It’s not trying to be decorative, or clean. Instead, it seeks to directly confront tension: between the natural and urban worlds, between varying media and matter, and between the physical and the ethereal.

Yu Ji, "Inside China : L’Intérieur du géant" at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2015 © Yu Ji. Courtesy Palais de Tokyo. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Yu Ji, “Inside China : L’Intérieur du géant” at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2015 © Yu Ji. Courtesy Palais de Tokyo. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

“After a year of being wed to our screens through necessity, I think Yu Ji’s commission gives us a welcome break from a digital interface and allows us to get lost in physical material,” Chisenhale curator Ellen Greig told Midnight Publishing Group News. “Her work also explores the human body and shared space, and in that way, her work comments on how we are all connected and dependent on one another in some way; something I think is important not to forget.”

Jo-ey Tang, an artist and former curator at Paris’s Palais de Tokyo, recounted an unrealized performance idea that was vetoed by the Parisian art center upon the artist’s 2014 inclusion in a group show. The proposal would have seen Yu Ji shatter a bag of cement, with the resulting dust particles continuing to linger mid-air long afterward, levitating in the space due to emissions from low-frequency speakers positioned skyward.

The concept was rejected due to safety concerns, but Tang remembers Yu Ji’s vision to “take the unconscious of the room… challenged curatorial and institutional authority.”

Yu Ji, "Inside China : L’Intérieur du géant" at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2015 © Yu Ji. Courtesy Palais de Tokyo. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Yu Ji, “Inside China : L’Intérieur du géant” at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2015 © Yu Ji. Courtesy Palais de Tokyo. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

This sentiment of pushing boundaries has long been reflected in Yu Ji’s work. Testing limits is what Yu Ji does in her art practice: the limits of the body, the limits of memory, the limits of materials, and further, the limits of what constitutes a series of works that spans years and multiple mediums and forms,” Tang said. “Ultimately, Yu Ji is asking: how does art work, how does art live in real time?” 

 

“Yu Ji: Wasted Mud” is on view through July 18 at Chisenhale Gallery in London. 

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17 Marvelous Highlights From the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale, Where Hope and Optimism Abound


After a year’s delay, the 17th Venice Biennale of Architecture opened last week with a sprawling series of exhibits, including a central exhibition, 61 national pavilions, and more than a dozen collateral events.

And despite the difficulties of the past 18 months, the show (titled “How Will We Live Together?” and curated by Hashim Sarkis, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) remains upbeat.

“At this moment, we are tired of dystopias,” Sarkis told Architectural Record. “We were looking for signs of hope and optimism, and we found a lot of it.”

Here is a round up of some of the biennale’s highlights.

 

Exhibits From the International Exhibition

Studio Other Spaces, “Future Assembly”

Studio Other Spaces, "Future Assembly" at Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Andrea Avezzù, courtesy of Atudio Other Spaces.

Studio Other Spaces, “Future Assembly” at Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Andrea Avezzù, courtesy of Atudio Other Spaces.

Studio Other Spaces, founded by artist Olafur Eliasson and architect Sebastian Behmann, has put together an installation with work from 50 participants in the central pavilion in the Giardini. The presentation sits atop a massive carpet woven from recycled ocean plastic, and imagines a “Future World Assembly” where legislation protects the rights of entities beyond human beings, such as trees, fungi, and even rocks.

 

Aerocene Foundation, “Museo Aero Solar for an Aerocene Era”

Aerocene Foundation, "Museo Aero Solar for an Aerocene Era" in the international exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images.

Aerocene Foundation, “Museo Aero Solar for an Aerocene Era” in the international exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images.

The Aerocene Foundation is a nonprofit founded by Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno. Its team of 200 spent the past two years stitching together the Museo Aero Solar, an inflatable floating sculpture that can fly without fossil fuels. It’s made from used plastic bags, thousands of which were collected from 30 countries around the world. The project’s hope is to usher in a new epoch free of fossil fuels to follow on the heels of the Anthropocene.

 

Superflux, “Refuge for Resurgence”

Superflux, "Refuge for Resurgence" at the Sylva Foundation in Didcot, Oxford, ahead of the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Mark Cocksedge.

Superflux, “Refuge for Resurgence” at the Sylva Foundation in Didcot, Oxford, ahead of the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Mark Cocksedge.

Superflex welcomes visitors to a post-Anthropocene banquet where plants and animals have a seat at the table (made a massive slab of oak), with chairs made to seat 12 different species, including humans, reptiles, farm animals, birds, insects, and even rats and wasps. It’s part of an imagined future where wildlife has reclaimed our cities.

 

Tomas Libertiny, “Beehive Architecture”

A visitor views "Beehive Architecture" by Tomas Libertiny at Slovakia's pavilion, on a press day at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale in Venice on May 20, 2021. Photo by Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images.

A visitor views “Beehive Architecture” by Tomas Libertiny at Slovakia’s pavilion, on a press day at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale in Venice on May 20, 2021. Photo by Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images.

“Beehive Architecture” is an exhibition of honeycomb sculptures created by swarms of more than 60,000 honeybees that take the shape of iconic forms, like Nefertiti’s bust, as well as more abstract figures. Tomas Libertiny provided the bees with 3-D printed armatures and let the bees go to town. He calls the process “slow manufacturing,” allowing for minimal intervention to the natural process. Debuting just after World Bee Day on May 20, the works are meant to raise awareness to the threats to the species, an essential pollinator.

 

National Pavilions

Dutch Pavilion, “Why Is We?”

A visitor views "Why is We" by Afaina de Jong and Debra Solomon at the Dutch pavilion of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale in Venice on May 19, 2021. Photo by Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images.

A visitor views “Why is We” by Afaina de Jong and Debra Solomon at the Dutch pavilion of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale in Venice on May 19, 2021. Photo by Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images.

In response to the question posed by this year’s biennale exhibition, “How Will We Live Together?” architect Afaina de Jong and artist Debra Solomon want to know “Who Is We?” The Dutch pavilion, from the Het Nieuwe Instituut, offers a critique of architecture that is created with only a small group of mind, calling for design that is more inclusive of diverse identities.

 

Swiss Pavilion “oræ – Experiences on the Border”

Swiss Pavilion “oræ – Experiences on the Border” at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Keystone, Gaetan Baly.

Swiss Pavilion “oræ – Experiences on the Border” at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Keystone, Gaetan Bally.

One of the most prescient international issues addressed at the biennale is that of borders: how they are drawn, who they keep in, and who they are meant to keep out. (The title, oræ, is Latin for borders.) In completing the project, the curators of this pavilion traveled to visit those living on the Swiss border, and invited them to construct an imagined or real place. A raft of border restrictions triggered by the global health crisis prompted the organizers to revisit original interview subjects to see how their perceptions had changed.

 

Spanish Pavilion, “Uncertainty”

Installation view of the Spanish Pavilion's presentation titled "uncertainty.' Courtesy of the Spanish Pavilion.

Installation view of the Spanish Pavilion’s presentation titled “uncertainty.’ Courtesy of the Spanish Pavilion.

The Spanish Pavilion is a rumination on ideas of doubt. “Uncertainty is a cabinet of curiosities; a wide range of unorthodox objects not found in traditional conceptions of architecture that will lead us to explore new territories,” the curators said in a statement. The physical realization is a floating chamber of thousands of pieces of paper, suspended in the air in an immersive installation. The papers are answers to the question of the biennale, and are the proposals for living together chosen from an open call to architects around the country.

 

United States Pavilion, “American Framing”

A frame-only wooden structure has been built in front of the U.S. pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo courtesy of Paul Andersen and Paul Preissner.

A frame-only wooden structure has been built in front of the U.S. pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo courtesy of Paul Andersen and Paul Preissner.

Commissioned by the University of Illinois at Chicago, “American Framing” takes as its starting point the wood framed construction process that became popular in the country in the 19th century and still is used in 90 percent of new homes today. Curators Paul Preissner and Paul Andersen have installed a four-story, wood-framed installation in front of the pavilion, which features models of historical buildings and newly commissioned photographs and furniture based on this overlooked form of construction.

 

British Pavilion, “The Garden of Privatized Delights”

The British Pavilion, "The Garden of Privatised Delights," at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Cristiano Corte, courtesy of British Council.

The British Pavilion, “The Garden of Privatised Delights,” at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Cristiano Corte, courtesy of British Council.

Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler, founders of Unscene Architecture, have put together a pavilion with six immersive environments recreating privatized public spaces. The exhibition serves as a critique of the ways in which these spaces exacerbate societal divides, and calls for the implementation of new models of public space.

 

Japanese Pavilion, “Co-ownership of Action: Trajectories of Elements”

Japanese Pavilion, "Co-ownership of Action: Trajectories of Elements" at the Venice Biennale. Photo courtesy of the Japan Foundation.

Japanese Pavilion, “Co-ownership of Action: Trajectories of Elements” at the Venice Biennale. Photo courtesy of the Japan Foundation.

A traditional wooden Post-war Japanese house has been disassembled and shipped halfway around the world to be displayed in pieces at the biennale, alongside photographs of the home from various points in its history. Architect Jo Nagasaka will return the building to Tokyo and put it back together after the exhibition’s run.

 

Irish Pavilion, “Entanglement”

Irish Pavilion, "Entanglement" at the Venice Biennale. Photo courtesy of Culture Ireland.

Irish Pavilion, “Entanglement” at the Venice Biennale. Photo courtesy of Culture Ireland.

The global data network is represented by a charred steel structure full of screens and cables, meant to illustrate the human, environmental, and cultural impacts of information and communication technologies. The pavilion questions the cost of Ireland’s increasing economic reliance on data centers when servers in Dublin can emit heat if someone thousands of miles away likes a Facebook post.

 

South Korean Pavilion, “Future School”

Korean Pavilion, "Future School" at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Ugo Carmeni.

Korean Pavilion, “Future School” at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Ugo Carmeni.

The South Korean pavilion tackles major issues including migration and climate change with a futuristic school based on traditional Korean home. Visitors can drink water and tea in the kitchen, or gather in a central assembly space with dried reed carpet. “A house, a well and a garden—a shared space for gathering, learning, rest and contemplation. This was the fundamental concept behind Future School’s occupation of the Korean Pavilion,” curator Hae-Won Shin explained in a statement.

 

Danish Pavilion, “Con-nect-ed-ness”

Lundgaard and Tranberg Architects, "Con-nect-ed-ness" at the Venice Biennale. Photo by Hampus Berndtson.

Lundgaard and Tranberg Architects, “Con-nect-ed-ness” at the Venice Biennale. Photo by Hampus Berndtson.

Lundgaard and Tranberg Architects are collecting rainwater and recirculating it throughout the Danish pavilion in this presentation commissioned by the Kent Martinussen Danish Architecture Center and curated by Marianne Krogh. Water drips from leaky pipes, creating a stream one must cross by footbridge, leading to a flooded hall. The water is also being used to cultivate an herb garden, with servers offering visitors a cup of tea brewed from the plants grown on site, illustrating water’s life-giving nature.

 

Uzbekistan Pavilion, “Mahalla: Rural Urban Living”

The Uzbekistan Pavilion, "Mahalla: Rural Urban Living" at the Venice Biennale. Photo by Giorgio De Vecchi and Giulia Di Lenarda.

The Uzbekistan Pavilion, “Mahalla: Rural Urban Living” at the Venice Biennale. Photo by Giorgio De Vecchi and Giulia Di Lenarda.

For its first-ever contribution to the biennale, Uzbekistan offers a celebration of mahallas, an endangered form of communal living featuring densely built rural houses with courtyards. Curators Christoph Gantenbein and Emmanuel Christ believe that mahallas, which can house between 150 and 6,000 inhabitants, can offer a sustainable model for urban development. A team from ETH Zurich worked with local students and researchers from the lab at the Center for Contemporary Art in Tashkent to build an abstract full-scale model of a mahalla house using yellow steel tubes.

 

Lebanese Pavilion, “A Roof for Silence”

Lebanese Pavilion, Hala Wardé, "A Roof for Silence" at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Alain Fleischer, courtesy of HW architecture.

Lebanese Pavilion, Hala Wardé, “A Roof for Silence” at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Alain Fleischer, courtesy of HW architecture.

Curator Hala Wardé offers an interdisciplinary installation blending architecture, painting, music, poetry, video, and photography on the theme of silence, inspired by a grove of 16 thousand-year-old olive trees in Lebanon. There is a triptych video projection of the trees by Alain Fleischer paired with a soundtrack by Soundwalk Collective, while glassblower Jeremy Maxwell Wintrebert has transformed broken glass from last year’s Beirut bombing into a trail of molten-looking sculptures on the ground.

 

French Pavilion, “Les Communautés a l’Oeuvre (Communities at Work)”

A visitor views "Les Communautes a l'Oeuvre" by curator Christophe Hutin in France's pavilion at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale in Venice during a press day on May 19, 2021. A visitor views "Les Communautes a l'Oeuvre" by curator Christophe Hutin in France's pavilion at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale in Venice during a press day on May 19, 2021. Photo by Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images.

A visitor views “Les Communautés a l’Oeuvre” by curator Christophe Hutin in France’s pavilion at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale in Venice during a press day on May 19, 2021. Photo by Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images.

Curated by Christophe Hutin, the French pavilion takes an international perspective this year, looking to local residents around the world to see how they have shaped their living spaces to fit their needs and to respond to the challenges specifically facing their communities. The cities of Hanoi, Vietnam; Soweto, South Africa; Bordeaux, France; Detroit; and Johannesburg serve as case studies.

Venice Biennale of Architecture is on view at Calle del Carso, 8, 30122 Venice, Italy, May 22–November 21, 2021

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The Migrant Ship That Christoph Büchel Displayed at the Venice Biennale Has Gone to Sicily, Where It Will Become a Memorial


The sunken fishing ship upon which more than 1,000 African migrants died in 2015, and which was later controversially displayed at the Venice Biennale, will now be converted into a permanent memorial in Italy.

The ship had been languishing in Venice since 2019, when Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel turned it into an incendiary monument to the Mediterranean migration crisis as part of the Venice Biennale. Presented without context or labels, Barca Nostra—as Büchel’s installation was called—promptly fomented harsh condemnations. (Two of Midnight Publishing Group News’s own writers ranked it among the worst artworks of the year.)

The piece further fueled ire last year, when it was revealed that the artist had not returned the vessel to Augusta, the Sicilian city legally responsible for it, despite a contract requiring him to do so after the exhibition’s close. 

According to reports at the time, the ship’s cradle was damaged during transport—a defect that was not covered by the biennale’s insurance, since Büchel had agreed to foot the shipping costs himself. Both the team behind the biennale and the Augusta town council called on the artist to give the object back.

The shipwreck being moved from a port near Augusta, Sicily, to Venice for the biennale. The project is being presented by artist Christoph Büchel. © Barca Nostra.

The shipwreck being moved from a port near Augusta, Sicily, to Venice for the biennale. The project is being presented by artist Christoph Büchel. © Barca Nostra.

Now, after two years, that has finally happened. Traveling atop a barge, the ship made its return to Augusta this week, according to the New York Times

Representatives from Hauser and Wirth, Büchel’s gallery, did not respond to a request for comment on the ship’s return. 

With the Büchel saga in the past, Augusta will now look to the future of the vessel, including plans to turn it into a “Garden of Memory.” Details about the memorial haven’t yet been revealed, but Giuseppe Di Mare, the mayor of the Sicilian municipality, told the Times that it “will have to be in the open, because that boat gives a sense of the sea, the air, the skies. To enclose it in a building would clash with its story.”

“Certainly, the ship has attained an international dimension and we want this garden to become a place of reflection for the world, so that all people can ponder,” Di Mare added.

Over 1,000 people from Mali, Mauritius, and other African countries died when the ship collided with a Portuguese freighter off the coast of Libya in 2015. Pulled from the depths of the Mediterranean Sea in 2016, the ship has since become a symbol of Europe’s failed policies for accommodating arriving migrants.  

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