On September 18, Ana Miljački was joined by Hyungmin Pai for a lecture titled “Curatorial Confessions”. They discussed the curatorial process for the American and Korean Pavilions at the 14th Architecture Venice Biennale.
Miljački was the co-curator for the American Pavilion, “OfficeUS,” along with Eva Franch i Gilabert and Ashley Schafer. OfficeUS looked at the last 100 years of American architecture through the lens of export projects and the creation of the architectural office as we know it today. Pai earned his PhD from the History, Theory and Criticism program at MIT and was also the co-curator of the Korean Pavilion in 2008. This year, the Korean Pavilion, “Crow’s Eye View,” won the Golden Lion. The original idea of the Korean Pavilion was to have, for the first time, a joint exhibition with North Korea that would show the architectural history of the entire peninsula in a unified fashion. In the end, there was no co-operation from North Korea, so the curators adapted and attempted to design for a pavilion and a history they knew little to nothing about.
There were striking differences between the two curatorial experiences that came to light through their individual presentations of their respective pavilions as well as by their discussion in the end. While both projects responded to the theme “Absorbing Modernity,” they ran into very different obstacles in the process of their research.
It’s hard to summarize such in-depth presentations so I encourage you to look through their slides, provided on the MIT Lecture site. I will, however, highlight three themes I found interesting in their discussions:
- Research available
The most surprising “confession” of the night may have been Pai’s final comment that, through the whole process of researching and putting together the Korean Pavilion, he actually didn’t learn much about North Korean architecture. The material was simply not there – no literature, few first-hand accounts, fewer academic publications. This was an absolute 180-degree difference from OfficeUS which was overwhelmed with resources from architectural journals, office archives, photography archives and more. While one project seemed to be about finding as much as possible, the other was focused on a different type of curatorial project – culling.
- Effect of the exhibition buildings
Both curators discussed how the exhibition space itself was an obstacle, or opportunity, for the exhibition. The Korean Pavilion was the last country pavilion added to the Giardini area and is a modern building that acts more like a house than a museum or exhibition space. The Korean Pavilion responded to the architectural style of their pavilion by creating an exhibition with a warm, living-room type feeling. Pai said that the organization of the catalog helped inform the layout of the exhibition’s physical space. The American Pavilion, on the other hand, posed a different type of obstacle – it’s a classical building, symmetrical with a pediment and columns on the exterior. The designers (Leong Leong) and curators went to great lengths to change the feeling of the exhibition space and activate the users’ experience in a certain, calibrated way. Both approaches to the exhibition spaces bring up the question of how the physical space of an exhibition or museum can influence (augment or detract from) the vistor’s experience.
- Exhibition as experimental space
Both Miljački and Pai talked about how the exhibition format allowed them to pursue a research project that was more experimental, a project that didn’t necessarily have a thesis or a conclusion in the same way a research paper or book might have. This allowed both of them to approach the project in a different way, without knowing how the research would turn out, of if the exhibition would come to fruition in the same way they imagined it at the outset. While both curators had many obstacles (in terms of research, coordination, and execution of the pavilion) it was refreshing to hear that both felt the rewards of undertaking an immense project with unknown outcomes.
Some photos of the pavilions taken by yours truly: