Back in 2007, art historian and curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev qualified “biennale syndrome” as the multiplication of biennales in the world of art. Ever since, the same process has widely touched the architectural field, as well.
While visiting the Versailles Architecture and Landscape Biennale, on show until mid-July and promoted by the Île-de-France region and the city of Versailles, alongside the local château and the Louvre museum, one cannot but recall this much appropriate definition and raise some questions about the phenomenon that it designates.
Two exhibitions form the spine of the freshest French biennale, whose general director is François de Mazières, the major of Versailles: Djamel Klouche is the curator of Augures, laboratoire des nouvelles pratiques architecturales, inside the monumental Petite Écurie (the former royal mews), and Alexandre Chemetoff sets up Le goût du paysage, at the Pavillon des Suisses of the immense Potager du Roi (the ancient king’s orchard).
The former is a collective show featuring installations, often quite remarkable ones, by some twenty authors – amongst them Fosbury Architecture, Matteo Ghidoni with Jean-Benoît Vétillard, GRAU, Kuehn Malvezzi with Plan Común, NP2F, Raumplan with Delfino Sisto Legnani and Andrea Belosi. Whether it is for the presence of many “usual suspects” of the biennale circuit, or rather for the exhibition and graphic design that, in spite of their qualities, seamlessly fit into the aesthetic paradigms of the young architecture biennales, the ultimate overall effect is of a reassuring dejà-vu.
For its part, Chemetoff’s project deals with the highly topical issue of the relationship between the city and the countryside which is supposed to “feed” it, but both the scientific value and the mise en scène of its contents fail to stand out. Rather, the mundane juxtaposition of farmers’ portraits, pictured on their workplace, aerial views of the Île-de-France agricultural landscapes, a few maps and some bunches of farm-to-table products results in a narrative that gets dangerously close to a picturesque, anecdotal vision of an healthy and industrious rural life.
Four more exhibitions – such as the photographic show Échappées belles, by Nicolas Gilsoul, and Horizon 2030, about the infrastructural project of the Grand Paris Express – the usual accompanying conferences and round tables, as well as a few collateral events – for instance the inauguration of three brand new buildings in town – integrate the cultural offer of the biennale, which certainly manages to reunite in a single network all of the most spectacular locations in Versailles.
Was all this really needed? The question is non-rhetorical, and the answer shouldn’t be taken for granted. Unlike other stouter biennales, this one is unlikely to be remembered as an place of actual theoretical investigation on architecture. Rather, the involvement of plentiful representatives of public institutions seems to suggest a mainly political function for it. This biennale aims to become the occasion to relaunch the debate on the Grand Paris, the future of the Parisian region as the hearth of France and Europe. It is no coincidence that the opening’s guest of honor was former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who organised the well-known 2007 international competition about these topics, and which remains today a benchmark for the quality of its outcomes.
- Versailles Architecture and Landscape Biennale
- Opening dates:
- 4 May - 13 July 2019
- Djamel Klouche, Alexandre Chemetoff