Visiting “Fair Enough,” the satirical exhibition in the Russian Pavilion, I was reminded of The Boutique at the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion, an installation by the Canadian artist collective General Idea in Toronto in 1980. Both achieve their effect by displaying “art” and “architecture” in the form of crass commercial enterprises – a museum gift shop shaped like a dollar sign in the case of General Idea and a trade fair in the Russian Pavilion. In both instances, the privileged status of the exhibition gallery is exploited in order to transgress an established societal belief: that art and architecture are held above everyday commercialism.
The US Pavilion also offers a détournement of the gallery space. In this case, however, the exhibition, titled “OfficeUS,” transforms the space into a working office, with eight “partners” busily conducting research in an onsite archive of articles related to a century of US architectural work abroad. Hundreds of binders containing reams of paper line the pavilion’s walls. Here I was reminded of conceptual art’s appropriation of the dry aesthetics of bureaucracy and paperwork.
Back at the Russian Pavilion, there’s a booth for a “business” named Archipelago Tours, a travel agency specializing in tours of Russian-designed architecture around the world. It is appropriately decorated with a handful of travel posters enticing us to visit places such as Afghanistan, Vietnam, and even Great Britain.
Both the Russian and US pavilions present a history of modernist architectural exports, each by transforming a gallery space into a more everyday working and networking environment. Yet, the difference in attitude with which each addresses a subject that is not without problematic aspects could not be greater. “OfficeUS” comes across as self-serious and celebratory of American commercial and managerial acumen, while “Fair Enough” is self-mocking in a way that seems to throw architecture and all its associated ideologies into question.
[Originally published in Log Journal #32]