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INTERVIEWLong-awaited extension of Korean Pavilion at Venice Biennale to be pushed forward

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The facade of the Korean Pavilion at the Giardini, one of the principal sites of the Venice Biennale in Italy / Courtesy of ARKO
The facade of the Korean Pavilion at the Giardini, one of the principal sites of the Venice Biennale in Italy / Courtesy of ARKO

By Park Han-sol

Choung Byoung-gug, chairperson of the Arts Council Korea / Courtesy of ARKO
Choung Byoung-gug, chairperson of the Arts Council Korea / Courtesy of ARKO
VENICE, Italy ― The Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, one of the world's longest-running international cultural festivals, may finally be granted a long-awaited chance to extend its small, nearly 30-year-old building, according to Choung Byoung-gug, the chairperson of the pavilion's commissioner, Arts Council Korea (ARKO).

The Venice Biennale, which alternates between art and architecture, is a twofold event, composed of its flagship International Exhibition and a varying number of national pavilion shows organized by the respective home countries for each iteration.

While 29 countries own permanent pavilion buildings in the Giardini, the sprawling parkland at the Italian town's southeastern tip, the rest are either located inside the former shipyard known as the Arsenale or scattered elsewhere across the lagoon city.

Korean Pavilion was the last lucky one to enter the Giardini, when its building, designed by architects Kim Seok-chul and Franco Mancuso, was erected at the hillside edge of the park in 1995.

But the subject of renovating and extending its cylindrical steel structure has been revisited over the years within domestic art circles ― due to its small size, especially when compared to other neighboring pavilions, as well as its windowed walls and lack of partitions that have always made it tricky for curators when arranging art for their shows.

Although ARKO submitted the proposal for the building's extension to the Venice City Council in 2019, no progress has yet been made.

Since the Venice Lagoon is itself a UNESCO World Heritage site, constructing and renovating structures is highly regulated and only approved when it is deemed compatible with the preservation of the land's cultural and environmental values. For the proposal to be stuck in years of administrative limbo then often becomes inevitable.

However, ARKO will push ahead "with its efforts to win the Venetian council's approval in the near future, with the key support of Sebastiano Costalonga, the councilor for commerce in Venice," in time for the 140th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and Italy in 2024 and the 30th anniversary of the Korean Pavilion in 2025, Choung told The Korea Times. Costalonga was present at the opening ceremony of the pavilion's "2086: Together How?" exhibition, May 18, hosted as part of the ongoing 18th edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale.

To commemorate the occasion, the chairperson also revealed ARKO's ambition to organize a special large-scale exhibition on Korean modern and contemporary art during next year's Venice Art Biennale ― separate from the pavilion's own show ― as well as an evening party with a guest list of collectors and curators from all corners of the globe.

"We are currently looking into several possible venues throughout the city center," he said.

"The 'dansaekhwa' (monochrome painting) exhibition, hosted by Kukje Gallery in 2015 as a collateral event at the Venice Art Biennale, brought renewed global attention to Korea's modern art movement. This time, our organization is trying to achieve the mission (of promoting the country's art) at a governmental level."

"2086: Together How?" along with the Biennale's central International Exhibition, curated by Ghanaian-Scottish architect Lesley Lokko under the theme "The Laboratory of the Future," runs through Nov. 26.

Park Han-sol


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