After six months of the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale directed by Rem Koolhaas, the doors closed on 23 November. The closure of a Biennale is normally overlooked but it is only by starting from the end and working backwards, like a salmon swimming against the current, that we can see more exhaustively how things went.
When the Biennale opens, the spotlight is on the exhibition’s official winners – a whole parade of Golden and Silver Lions and special mentions awarded by the jury to pavilions and research projects. This top-down premium remains an untouchable reference for many.
However, only after an event ends does it become possible to “take stock”, perhaps via the production of “spontaneous” bottom-up placings based on comments by those who have seen the exhibition over the months, that is the opinions of its visitors. Many of those who actually visited the Venice Biennale later shared their experiences, preferences and even, why not? disappointments on their favourite social media: from Twitter to Facebook and Instagram, passing via Google+ and YouTube. Others relied more prosaically on Internet reviews to form an opinion, especially those living on the other side of the world. All in all, the figures are anything but small.
Between 5 June and 23 November, in the English language alone, there were approximately 60,000 posts and articles, based on data from VOICES from the Blogs, a spin-off and start-up of Milan University that analyzes the virtual world day by day.
The first fact emerging from this analysis of social preferences is that it was the national participations (47%) that won visitors’ hearts this year, whereas 26.7% of posts focus expressly on the spaces curated by the director Rem Koolhaas: the Central Pavilion with “Elements of Architecture” and “Monditalia”. The remaining 26.3% speak of the event in general terms.
We know for a fact that people liked this year’s Biennale although there were some disappointments. Those expressing their views on the Venice Biennale 2014 via the Internet particularly liked its multidisciplinary nature (18.5%) which generated a debate that crossed the boundaries of architecture to draw in culture, politics and history. Many appreciated the Collateral Events (13.5%) in the broadest sense, i.e. Biennale activities outside the Giardini and Arsenale. The positive views were influenced, among other things, by the unique “location” of Venice. The logo was also popular (6.5%) as were the Biennale’s graphic design, books and catalogues in general.
Certain expectations do, however, appear to have been partially disappointed. The provocative comment “Rem is dead?” (59.7%) appeared in more than half the negative comments. To a lesser degree, dissatisfaction small and great was expressed with regard to the national pavilions (29.4%) and “Monditalia” (10.8%).
Of the Biennale’s two largest spaces, the Giardini attracted more attention (and more comments) (58.4%) than the Arsenale this year. In the case of the Giardini, the clear leader in the debate was the Central Pavilion and its “Elements of Architecture”, the exhibition curated by Koolhaas (15.5%). Next comes the Japan Pavilion (6.6%) which – albeit by little – beat the winner of the Golden Lion (the Korea Pavilion). Then come France (6%), Australia (5.8%) and Germany (5%). Despite their special mentions, the Canadian (4.3%) and Russian (3.5%) participations fall at the bottom of the group.
In the case of the Arsenale, on the other hand, the “social map” places the Chile Pavilion (31.3%), winner of the Silver Lion, at the top preceding China (19.2%). The large “Monditalia” space (19%) with its multiple research projects only comes third, with an only slightly higher total number of mentions than the German Pavilion.
What were people saying more specifically about the spaces curated by Rem Koolhaas? As already mentioned, these earned just over a quarter of all mentions on the Biennale. Whether this percentage should be considered too small or, on the contrary, a success would be a lengthy debate. The indisputable fact is that an imbalance emerges in this batch of posts: the Central Pavilion is discussed far more and garners 83.2% of the positive comments (net of those expressing a neutral opinion), a figure that falls by more than 8 points yet again in the case of “Monditalia”. Although all or virtually all the “elements” were mentioned on social media (as demonstrated by the overall ranking, with just a few points’ difference between “door” (11%), “window” (10.9%) and “ceiling” (9.6%), the online debate on “Monditalia” seems to have been reduced principally to only the Luminaire gate (40.7%), an installation of undeniable impact created in collaboration with Swarovski. The real “Monditalia” projects are, instead, very rarely mentioned, with few exceptions such as the Radical Pedagogies: Action-Reaction-Interaction (9.6%) (which also received a Special Mention) and Sales Oddity. Milano 2 and the Politics of Direct-to-home TV Urbanism (8.5%) (Silver Lion).
This is the social ranking of the 2014 Biennale, based on personal and sometimes idiosyncratic opinions, naturally. As a whole, however, it speaks of a successful Biennale, with a great deal of light and the odd small shadow.
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