Duality shapes Delvendahl Martin Architects’ exhibition design in Venice

Duality shapes Delvendahl Martin Architects’ exhibition design in Venice

The concept of duality is a founding principle for Delvendahl Martin Architects’ (DMA) design for the Venice Biennale’s main exhibition. It is informed by Ralph Rugoff’s curatorial vision, which embodies what he terms a ‘split personality’ by representing all 79 artists both in the relatively traditional confines of the Giardini’s Central Pavilion, and the expansive industrial setting of the Corderie in the Arsenale. Visitors have the chance to view the artists’ work in two entirely different contexts.

This isn’t the first time DMA has collaborated with Rugoff to create an exhibition experience based on dualism. Back in 2015 the practice – which featured in the Wallpaper* Architects Directory in 2015 – conceived Carsten Höller’s ‘Decision’ at the Hayward Gallery (Rugoff is director), where visitors were invited to explore a range of environments (including two huge slides) that presented a choice with two possible outcomes.

Architectural model of the Arsenale exhibition design. Photography: Delvendahl Martin Architects

The same principle is employed in the Central Pavilion via the production of two entryways, forcing visitors to make their own assessment as to how best to explore the exhibition. All other interventions are freestanding, which promotes organic routes through the show, as opposed to one didactic narrative.

While the Central Pavilion presents a conventional set-up of whitewashed walls and natural light, the distinct architectural prowess of the Corderie prompted an entirely different approach. The 317-metre-long former rope factory features enormous eaves, raw stonework and two rows of colossal brick columns, which could easily be in danger of overpowering or crowding the work on display. However, DMA was keen to celebrate the existing architecture and root the artists’ worth within it. The result is a series of constructions made from locally sourced plywood, which recall the Arsenale’s rich shipbuilding heritage.

Architectural model of the Arsenale exhibition design, detail view. Photography: Delvendahl Martin Architects

While one might assume that such a ubiquitous material would appear transient or insubstantial when pitted against such an industrial backdrop, DMA manage to anchor its presence with broad, bold shapes that form plinths, panels and false walls, all designed to work in dialogue with the size and scale of the work on show. DMA refers to this as a ‘rhythmic flow’ of spaces that once again encourages autonomous discovery, as opposed to linear wayfinding.

In most cases, the plywood is also left in its raw state, which offers a warmth that is the antithesis of a sterile white cube, and ultimately mimics elements of the stonework. It is arguably most effective in supporting Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s stunning monochromatic portraits, which pop against the wood grain, and Martine Gutierrez’s photo series Indigenous Woman, where the roughly hewn texture of the wood seems pleasingly at odds with her slick, surreal poolside imagery. §

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