Australia’s pavilion in Venice, a $7.5 million project in cultural diplomacy
Australia’s pavilion in Venice, a $7.5 million project in cultural diplomacy

Australia's pavilion in Venice, a $7.5 million project in cultural diplomacy

The Venice Biennale is one of most prestigious art exhibitions in the world. Every two years 34 countries exhibit there, and tens of thousands of people flock to see the art on show. Since 1988 Australian artists have exhibited in a space designed by Phillip Cox but the Australia pavilion is getting a $7.5 million makeover. Australia is the first nation to be granted permission to create anew among the Biennale's heritage listed buildings.

When the crowds roll in to Venice in 2015, Cox's "dunny" will be gone, replaced by a modern space designed by Melbourne-based architects Denton Corker Marshall.

Architect John Denton says the Venice Biennale is a platform for countries to project to the world their vision of national identity.

"We wanted an identity that was confident, was assertive and all those things but at the same time a bit different," says Denton.

So how have we as a nation gone from a bathroom renovation to a modern world class exhibition space? What does this privilege and new design mean for our cultural industries and the increasing role arts is playing in Australia's efforts with soft diplomacy?

Tony Gryboswki, CEO of the Australia Council says in the opening week of the Biennale tens of thousands of curators, exhibitors, buyers and investors in contemporary art from all around the world visit the exhibitions. "That's an incredible platform to showcase the confidence and artistic expression of Australia," he says.

The Federal Government has committed one million dollars to the rebuild project with the remaining $6.5 million coming from the private sector, including significant contributions from Simon Mordant, the Nelson Meers Foundation, the Myers family and others.

Patricia Piccinini, who exhibited at the Australian pavilion in 2003, says the Biennale is a chance to access an international audience. "I could trace most of my connections in Europe to that show, because before that I was completely absent from the international art world," she says.

Like it or not, the new pavilion marks a new chapter in how we present ourselves to the world. Fiona Hall will be the first artist to exhibit here at the Venice Biennale of 2015, only then will we really know if this ambitious architectural project is a bathroom renovation of the old dunny or a triumph of contemporary design.

Article by Carlo Zeccola 
19 September, 2014
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