Venice has 'captured' the heart, mind and imagination of so many writers, poets, artists and historians. Venice is one of my favourite subjects in art, literature and history, and I am always eager to learn more and look more at this unique and special place. This Venice blog is my way of collecting the wealth of images, poems, prose and impressions of Venice.

Monday 6 January 2014

Saying farewell to the Australian pavilion at the Venice Biennale

One of my main motivations for travelling to Venice in October 2013 was to say farewell to the Australian Pavilion at the Giardini della Biennale.

Ever since I first visited Venice in the late 1990s, the Australian Pavilion has felt like a familiar piece of home.  And by golly we’re lucky to have it – Australia is one of only 29 countries to own a national pavilion in the Giardini, and we were the last country to be awarded one of these coveted positions. 
Our site was secured in 1988 (also the year of Australia’s bicentenary) when a temporary structure by renowned Australian architect Philip Cox was built.  That year, Arthur Boyd was our featured artist. 
Philip Cox’s light, bright structure has always seemed to me like the quintessential Australian beach or bush shack nestled under the trees alongside the Viale Giardini Pubblici canal. 
The pavilion is air-conditioned, and it was always a welcome relief to leave behind the heat and humidity of the Venetian summer by stepping inside our cool, white little building.  I feel an enormous sense of affection for Cox’s temporary pavilion.
Here’s a photo of the entry to the Australian Pavilion taken in 2007 when Australia presented three artists at the Venice Biennale: Daniel von Sturmer at the Australian Pavilion, Susan Norrie at Palazzo Giustinian Lolin on the Grand Canal and Callum Morton at Palazzo Zenobio behind the Carmini.

Entry to the Australian Pavilion, Giardini della Biennale June 2007 
I was privileged to work on Venice Biennale team for the Australia Council for the Arts on three editions of the Venice Biennale from 2005-2009. 

As much as I’ve always been fond of Cox’s pavilion, I also became familiar with the frustrations of the many artists, curators and exhibition managers who had to deal with the high levels of heat and light caused by the pavilion’s airy, open design. 
In 2011, the Australia Council announced its intention to build a permanent pavilion: the 2013 Venice Biennale would be the current pavilion’s swansong, with the new pavilion to be inaugurated at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
Our artist for 2013 edition of Venice Biennale, Simryn Gill with curator Catherine de Zegher, presented Here art grows on trees, a multi-media work including collaged drawings, photographs, everyday objects and a large sculptural bowl made from plastic created from petrochemicals and metal from iron ore.  They elected to remove half of the roof from the soon-to-be dismantled pavilion, so that the artworks were literally displayed within the trees and the exhibition would be exposed to the elements - sun, heat and rain. 

Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2013
Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2013
I saw the exhibition in October, around four months after it had opened, and the pavilion certainly did feel like it was decomposing…leaves had fallen into the building and into the sculpted bowl, hazard cones had been set up to guide visitors around puddles…
Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2013
For me, it was poignant moment to look up through the roof structure to see blue sky, and say farewell to this little building that had been such an integral part of my working life.




  1. I liked the old Australian pavilion, but how exciting to think that there will be an entirely new one to check out in 2015! It should be interesting.

  2. Thank you for stopping by! Yes, it is a very exciting development and an enormously ambitious undertaking: for our government to invest this in showcasing Australian contemporary art & architecture is incredible. My next post will be about our new Pavillion!