Venice Biennale looks back on 125 years of exhibitions

Venice Biennale looks back on 125 years of exhibitions

Formafantasma designs ‘The Disquieted Muses, When La Biennale di Venezia Meets History’, a show that displays works from all six artistic disciplines, looking back to 125 years of Biennale exhibitions and events

In a year of significant cultural calendar shifts, the Venice Biennale presents The Disquieted Muses: When La Biennale di Venezia Meets History – a peculiar exhibition chronicling its history through visual archive materials from different disciplines. Designed by Formafantasma, the exhibition takes over the Central Pavilion of the Giardini, and is curated by the six artistic directors of the different disciplines in collaboration with contemporary art researcher and curator Cecilia Alemani.

125 year of Venice Biennale

‘We decided to create a show—the first in Biennale history, for the 125th anniversary of its foundation—based on audiovisual materials, photographs, installations and documents: marking our return to activity, it forges a dialogue between the six arts of La Biennale,’ said Roberto Cicutto, President of La Biennale di Venezia.

Formafantasma exhibition design for Venice Biennale
An example of Formafantasma’s exhibition design, featuring images from Hans Haacke’s Germania from the German Pavilion in 1993

The curators have delved into the archives of La Biennale as well as several Italian and international archives to document how the Venetian biennials have overlapped with the history of the 20th century. The exhibition features rare footage, interviews, and artworks from the fields of art, architecture, music, dance, cinema and theatre.

Exhibition design by Formafantasma 

The Amsterdam-based studio’s exhibition design is based on the possibility of demounting, repairing and eventually recomposing the structures in different arrangements for future archival exhibitions. It is not the first time the Italian designers have looked at ways to reuse and repurpose exhibition displays, as the studio’s current focus explores new ways of approaching this ephemeral branch of design in ways that are both sustainable and innovative. 
 
The displays are based on a modular system of raw plywood frames and tables that allows for multiple compositions. The displays are punctuated with textiles in a chromatic palette including yellow, red and mint green, and oversized black and white photographs the pair have selected from the archives. 

A view of the exhibition design, which featured modular structures dividing the space

The different rooms of the exhibition reference key moments in history, from the Fascist era to radical protests of 1968. The spaces also touch upon Postmodernism and the first Architecture Biennale (with works by Paolo Portoghesi and Aldo Rossi) and the 1990s, highlighting contemporary artists such as Marina Abramovic, Richard Hamilton and Kabakov.
 
Formafantasma’s display system offers a three-dimensional feel to the flat nature of the archival materials, with modules and large-scale photographs becoming mini-architectural devises that divide the space. The designers also left their mark on the exhibition entrance, with an opening intervention featuring six historical photos (from 1897 to this day), documenting how the pavilion’s façade has been modified over the years to be based on the styles and politics of the different eras.
 
History meets creative disciplines in this momentous exhibition, which Ciccuto says ‘bolsters La Biennale’s role as a hub of research in the contemporary arts, a fundamental driving force for investigating the present and future, and a strategic tool for development, even in terms of economic growth.’ §

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