Observations on Attitude

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The booth of the ‘Archipelago Tours’ travel agency at the ‘Fair Enough’ exhibition in the Russian Pavilion of the Venice Biennale, June 2014.

"The Boutique at the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion". Image courtesy General Idea.

“The Boutique at the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion”. Image courtesy General Idea.

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]

About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona and teach at CIEE, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.

One comment

  1. Pingback: ‘Observations on Attitude’ | Rafael Gómez-Moriana

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