by Léa-Catherine Szacka. Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2019. 176 p. ill. ISBN 978-1-941332-55-9 (pbk), $18.00.
Reviewed May 2020
Diane Dias De Fazio, Independent Curator of Rare Books & Book Arts, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Biennials/Triennials: Conversations on the Geography of Itinerant Display, Léa-Catherine Szacka posits that architecture exhibition curation has changed, which in turn, has altered architectural practice. Before the next wave of exhibitions rolls in, Dr. Szacka joins her voice with international curators, to assess recent global displays and outline the future of perennial exhibitions. This moment intertwines the author's established scholarship and associations. Szacka is an historian of the Venice Architecture Biennial, and co-curated the roundtable series 2016-Ennials: a Geography of Temporary Territories; it is from 2016-Ennials, co-moderated with fellow Venice Biennial scholar Rute Figueiredo, that Szacka was inspired to compile Biennials/Triennials.
Following the preface by Martino Stierli, Philip Johnson Chief Curator at the Museum of Modern Art, Szacka summarizes "origins of architecture biennials and triennials"; establishes her thesis that perennial exhibition is ubiquitous, and wrestles with social relevance; examines the role of the city-as-venue; and offers a timeline. Significantly, readers are also introduced to the author's secondary refrain, which parses "curator" across architectural and exhibition parlance.
Biennials/Triennials' conversations with André Tavares; Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli; Lluís Alexandre Casanovas Blanco, Ignacio G. Galán, Carlos Minguez Carrasco, Alejandra Navarrete Llopis, and Marina Otero Verzier (After Belonging Agency); Beatriz Colomina; Mark Wigley; Adrian Lahoud; and Sarah Herda, all of whom participated in 2016-Ennials, are accessible, yet presume that readers are versant in twenty-first century cyclical architecture showcases and their featured contributors. The book otherwise includes few footnotes, reading as tête-à-têtes between smart architecture-minded folks before an audience of superfans.
There is substance, if not passing controversy, and topics promise future scholarship. Dialogue with Lahoud touches on exhibitions outside of Western context. Herda and Laparelli address the politics of exhibition in the Global South, post-colonial repercussions, gentrification, and "biennial fatigue". One hopes more analysis of racial complexities surrounding We Know How to Order, the South Shore Drill Team's performance at the Chicago Biennial, will be forthcoming.
Designer João Doria crafted a highly designed paperback. With a faux dust jacket and hollow back spine, blind-stamped covers, and a text block kettle-stitched with eye-catching black thread, this could easily fall into the pantheon of snazzy architecture books in a McLuhanesque vein. Conversations appear as indented blocks of ten-point type, and content is visually differentiated via font sizes and high-contrast white-on-black sections. It seems appropriate that this book concludes, as so many exhibitions in this era of influencers do, with an Instagram gallery: thirty-two full-color posts, on glossy paper, out of chronological order, with untranslated original captions, typos, and designer tagging intact.
Biennials/Triennials captures the zeitgeist, and has a place in architecture school libraries and theory courses as a reference point in scholarship on art and architecture exhibitions and multinational contributions.