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02.06.2008
Betsky to Lead Biennale
Cincinnati director will bring other disciplines into 2008 architecture fair
Courtesy Cincinnati Art Museum

Aaron Betsky, director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, has been appointed director of the 11th International Architecture Exhibition at the 2008 Venice Biennale. Before his appointment in Cincinnati in August 2006, Betsky led the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam starting in 2001.

According to Betsky, this year’s exhibition, Out There. Architecture Beyond Building., begins with the premise that architecture today cannot be practiced in isolation; that art, literature, film, landscape architecture, and design have a vital role in the way we think about and live in buildings. “These are ideas I have been thinking about for almost 20 years, starting with my book Violated Perfection,” he said. “I think that some interior designers are producing extraordinary and immediate effects, for example, and that true landscape architecture is not just about designing with plants but about revealing what already exists.” 

In a comment suggesting that this will be an architecture biennale to regard other design disciplines on equal footing with Vitruvius’ mother of the arts, Betsky added that buildings are just the “tombs” of the architectural impulse that also courses through making landscapes, films, theatrical sets, and graphics. It sounds like he already has some of the categories worked out for the biennale. And he had better! He has to fill some 150,000 square feet in the Arsenale alone, which is just one (if the largest) of the venues for exhibits. He has no time to lose, either. In years past, the director was appointed in August not December, whereas Betsky has just nine months to put on the show that attracts some 130,000 visitors and is open for more than two months. 

Talking from Cincinnati, Betsky said he got the call over the holidays when he was on his way to Amalfi, Italy, for a brief vacation, and he made a quick detour to Venice. He said that he would be working with architects, artists, and designers from many fields. “That said, one must continually ask, ‘What is architecture? Where is the line?’” 

When Betsky was appointed to the directorship at the Cincinnati Museum, he was asked to guide the institution through the process of selecting an architect for a major building expansion, which will cost approximately $100 million. The following summer, the Rotterdam-based firm Neutelings Riedijk was selected for the project. According to Betsky, he will direct the biennale with the blessing of his trustees: “They are comfortable about it, knowing that I’ll also keep my eye on the prize, which is this art museum.” He added that there were also plans in the works to develop programming that both institutions will share.

The Venice Biennale alternates between a focus on art and one on architecture, film, theater, and dance, and will open to the public from September 14 through November 23, 2008. 

Anne Guiney and Julie V. Iovine