Biennale 2016 Hits Home!
Will Political Art Be Next?
+The German, Venezuelan, Israeli, Danish and Russian pavilions 
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And oh, by the way, the title of this year's Biennale is....
Venice Biennale celebrates Gdansk Shakespeare Theatre as 21st Century architectural masterpiece 
ABOVE: Renato Rizzi discusses the exhibit of his work in the Main Pavilion of the Venice Biennale (7 September 2016)
BELOW: Jurek Limon (left) receives his OBE from the British Ambassador in Poland (3 February 2015)

Inside the main pavilion of this year's Venice Biennale is a whole room devoted to the work of Renato Rizzi, one of the world's great architects.

And in the center of that room is a maquet of the Gdansk Shakespeare 
Theatre, which Rizzi designed and which is now recognized in Europe as perhaps the most innovative theatre, and among the most beautiful, built on the Continent in this century, if not since the end of World War II.

I visited the Biennale last week as Renato's guest, in my capacity as president of the American Friends of the Gdansk Theatre Foundation. The new theatre was completed some 25 years after it was first conceived by another visionary, a man of great taste and culture, Prof. Jerzy Limon of the
University of Gdansk.

It was Jurek Limon whose research (when Poland was still a Soviet satellite) confirmed that in the early 17th Century, the English colony living in what was then Danzig

built a theatre on the very site where the new theatre is now located. 

Called the Fencing School, documents from the period show 
that troupes of traveling players performed Hamlet and other of
Shakespeare's plays at the Fencing School just a year or two after they were first performed in London.

It was Jurek Limon's dream to build a modern theatre on the site ---where Shakespeare's plays would once again be performed, as they were 400 years ago. And it was Renato's brilliant design that made Jurek's vision a reality when the theatre opened two years ago.

Since then, the Theatre has won several of Europe's most important architectural awards for Renato---while Jurek's immense contribution was recognized last year by Queen Elizabeth II, who made him an Honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). 

What Jurek has done for Shakespeare and Western culture in Poland is amazing, especially when you consider that 25 years ago Poland still had a communist
Government; there was no such thing as private philanthropy; and anyone who would have tried to build a private Shakepspeare theatre would have been hauled off to prison or a mental hospital.   
Yet, because he is both a serious scholar and the closest thing Poland has to an English gentleman, Jurek was ready to pursue and promote his dream even before the Iron Curtain came down.

He managed to charm everyone: Prince Charles, who became the Theatre's patron early on; Jolanta Kwasniewska, when she was first lady of Poland; Donald Tusk, when he was Poland's Prime
Minister; Poland's greatest film and theatre directors; corporate leaders; the Mayor of Gdansk; and thousands of others, including the Theatre's American Friends. For two decades, they stuck with the project---with Jurek, really---through thick and thin before construction finally began with bulldozers literally dancing with joy in the streets of Old Gdansk.

Jurek Limon and Renato Rizzi have been an inspiration.

They've built an extraordinary theatre against all odds...and given hope to countless others who now have reason to believe that sometimes,
dreams really do come true.

Political Architecture?


Unlike other art fairs, the principal exhibitors
at the Biennale di Venezia are countries,
not galleries or private dealers.

Sixty-four countries, to be exact. 

What this means is that national politics,
international rivalries, the machinations of the global
Art World---not to mention ideology, patriotism, nepotism
and, I imagine, on occasion, who's sleeping with whom---determine which artists and architects, musicians, dancers and theatrical companies are selected to represent their countries at the Biennale di Venezia every other year.

The focus of this year's Biennale is architecture, 
which allows the world's governments and, in some cases,
their leaders (or their sycophants) to revel in what they've
built...boast about what they're planning to build...
or bemoan what they could have built  
had the IMF and World Bank not stood in the way.

The exhibits in the Main Pavilion were selected (curated)
by the Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena,
winner of last year's Pritzger Prize. They undoubtedly
represents the architecture, architectural projects and trends
Aravena considers most innovative and important
without regard to national origin.

Many of the national pavilions, however,
use architecture to convey political messages
that are surprisingly revealing.
And sometimes, deeply disturbing.
Mr Trump and Mrs. Clinton, take note. 

Believe it or not

The Russian Pavilion Celebrates Stalinist Architecture 
and the glory days of the

And The Donald still thinks that if he's elected,
Putin won't invade Crimea.



 The Pavilion of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela celebrates the arquitectura del pueblo a la Hugo Chavez 

Let them eat basketballs, he said.


The German Pavilion celebrates the ways
refugees are reshaping
German cities.

Mrs. Merkel must be hoping
dem deutschen Volke
will learn to love falafel before
next year's election


Meanwhile, the Danish Pavilion celebrates
the Right to Space and the End of Luxury

They would.
(ABOVE) The Danish Pavilion

And the Israeli Pavilion celebrates
the merging of biology and architecture

And finally, the U.S. Pavilion celebrates
post-middle class America.

My hometown,
Like Detroit, the U.S.Pavilion has seen better days
They're even planning new housing in the salt mines under Detroit. 

Detroit U.S. Pavilion celebrates
post-industrial / post-middle class Detroit!?

When I first realized the whole U.S. Pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale was devoted to planning for Detroit's future, I was thrilled. It was one more sign my hometown, the city where I was born, is still kicking. Otherwise, why would architects be drawing up plans for future buildings in the Corktown section, downtown? And why would the U.S. Government put its credibility on the line if it thinks Motown is a gonner? Still, the longer I looked at the exhibit, the more concerned I became about what I was seeing. So I decided to follow Amtrak/Penn Station rules, See something? Say something. What I saw were nicely-made models of buildings and landscapes, mainly in downtown Detroit or east of the Chrysler along the River. There were no people. There were no working factories, other than the post-industrial factories, like the old Packard Plant, that may one day provide work space for artisans and others engaged in post-industrial pursuits that will never, ever provide the kind of wage the industrial economy did. And that's when I saw something that really concerned me. Is the post-industrial Detroit that's being envisioned also going to be post-middle class Detroit? And by that I mean post-black middle class Detroit? Are there enough one per centers to buy the residences and fill the shops being planned for downtown along Woodward Avenue? And what's going to happen to the outlying neighborhoods when the next Great Migration, out instead of in,  takes place? What many people don't realize is that Detroit was for Afro-Americans from the South what New York was for penniless Jewish migrants from the Pale. Streets paved with gold, and all that. A line job at Ford Rouge or Chrysler Main was, by definition, blue-collar. But the pay, with overtime, was  middle class. In the 1950s, autoworkers had homes, cars and boats. Detroit was on its way to becoming a majority-black city and, although I don't have the statistics to be sure, I'd be willing to bet that, had nothing changed, a majority of the new majority in Detroit would have qualified as lower-middle or middle-middle class. This is not the place to debate the decline, near-death and resuscitation of the American automobile industry. What can be said is that its employee reduction and jobs-to-Mexico programs had a devastating effect on Detroit and the more than 800,000 blacks who lived there at the time the 1980 census was taken. Detroit became a majority black city sometime during the 1970s, just about the time jobs in the car factories began to disappear, along with the black middle class. In my opinion, planning for a post-industrial, post-middle class Detroit may seem realistic but I think it's a mistake, the equivalent of surrender. It means that income inequality will continue to rise, heightening resentment and social tensions in a country where the civilian population has an estimated 25 to 30 million semi-automatic weapons. What Detroit and Michigan should be doing is everything in their power to keep the manufacturing companies they have, provide incentives for new ones; create effective job retraining programs; and encourage artists and writers to continue to relocate there. In many ways, Detroit's problems are what the Clinton-Trump race, at its core, is all about: decent jobs, globalization, free trade and income inequality due to the evisceration of the Great American Middle Class. Bill Clinton understood that winning elections was about the real economy, stupid.  But does Hillary get it?
This is not a stage set. It's Isla di Murano, Venezia last week.

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Charles Krause Reporting, Fine Arts · 1300 13th St. NW · 105 · Washington, DC 20005 · USA

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