In an unsurprising turn of events, the organizers of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale announced this morning that, due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, the festival will be postponed to May 2021.
Most businesses in hard-hit Italy are slowly beginning to reopen as COVID-19 rates decline, but the global nature of the Biennale, from the visitors to mounting the international pavilions, poses a unique challenge to staging the festival. Of course, postponing the Biennale an entire year was never out of the question as the show had already been moved once from May 2020 to August. This year’s show, originally titled and themed “How will we live together?” was set to interrogate themes of inequality, social housing, and urban connectivity, pressing issues the world over regardless of wealth.
“I am deeply moved by the perseverance of all the Participants during the last three months,” said Biennale curator Hashim Sarkis. “I hope that the new opening date will allow them first to catch their breath, and then to complete their work with the time and vigor it truly deserves. We did not plan it this way. Neither the question I asked How will we live together? nor the wealth of ways in response to it, were meant to address the crisis they are living, but here we are. We are in some ways fortunate because we are well equipped to absorb the immediate and longer-term implications of the crisis into the Biennale Architettura 2021. The theme does also provide us with the possibility to respond to the pandemic in its immediacy. This is why we will return to Venice in the coming months for a series of activities devoted to the Architecture.”
One upside of the postponement is that it’s given organizers and participants more leeway to plan for staging a show in what will likely be a changed world. Visitors will also be able to enjoy the show for the full length, as it will run the standard six months, from May 22, 2021, to November 21, 2020.
“The last few days,” wrote Biennale president Roberto Cicutto in the announcement, “have clarified the real state of the situation we are all facing. With the utmost respect for the work done by all of us, the investments made by the Participants, and considering the difficulties that all countries, institutions, universities, architectural studios have met together with the uncertainty of the shipments, personal travel restraints and Covid-19 protective measures that are being and were be adopted, we have decided to listen to those, the majority, who requested that the Biennale Architettura be postponed. I have received many messages asking for a postponement to 2021.”
“We now plan to open the 17th International Architecture Exhibition in May 2021 and allow it a longer life until November, as it was before the pandemic. Nevertheless Architecture will be in Venice this Fall organizing several events keeping at the center of the stage the question, more relevant than ever, of How will we live together?.”
Cicutto’s statement refers to the fact that exhibitors were already exploring alternate avenues for showing their work to minimize potential COVID-19 exposure. Australia had previously withdrawn from putting up a pavilion (though with the announcement, they may return) and Russia had decided to install their pavilion wholly online. Because the Architecture Biennale is being moved to 2021, the 59th International Art Exhibition is being pushed back to 2022.