A research initiative and publication series exploring the history of the Venice Biennale of Architecture and the relationship between architecture and display


On the Difficulty of Showing Architecture

Aaron Betsky in conversation about the complex relationship between architecture, nation-state representation and cultural tourism

Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Curatorial practice
  • Design

Organizing Institutions


Contributing Institutions

Van Alen Institute


Aaron Levy and William Menking


Opens to public



Van Alen Institute
30 W. 22nd Street
6th Floor
New York, NY 10010


50% Formal - 50% Informal

Slought and the Van Alen Institute in New York are pleased to announce a public conversation featuring Aaron Betsky, director of the 2008 Venice Biennale of Architecture, in conversation with William Menking and Aaron Levy, on Monday, April 12, 2010 at 6:30pm in the Van Alen Institute gallery. The event is the first public presentation of Architecture on Display, an unprecedented series of interviews that Aaron Levy and William Menking are currently conducting with each of the living directors of the Venice Biennale for Architecture, including Vittorio Gregotti, Paolo Portoghesi, Francesco Dal Co, Kurt Foster, and Kazuyo Sejima, among others.

The origins of the Venice Biennale for Architecture are generally traced to the 1970s, when it emerged from under the umbrella of the larger Venice Biennale, which was itself established in 1895. Since then, it has become one of the most prestigious forums for architectural discourse today, and has served as a model for a range of international exhibitions. Yet, even today, the details surrounding its informal origins remain relatively unexplored and no English-language publications exist on this rich history. This forgotten history of the Biennale itself also offers an incipient understanding of the complex relationship between architectures of use and architectures of display. The exhibitions staged there navigate tensions between nation-state representation, economic tourism, and the complex site of Venice itself. Moreover, the public expectation for spectacular graphic and visual display competes at the Biennale with curatorial ambitions to represent the image architecture has of itself, but also the very meaning of architecture in the world in which we live. These conflicts and tensions serve as the framework for this public event with Aaron Betsky, as well as the larger series of conversations that comprise Architecture on Display.

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Aaron Betsky was the Director of the 11th International Architecture Biennale Venice, "Out There: Architecture Beyond Buildings." Trained as an architect at Yale University, Mr. Betsky worked for Frank O. Gehry and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates before setting up his own office in Southern California. In 1995, he became Curator of Architecture and Design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and in 2001 Director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam. He is currently the Director of the Cincinnati Art Museum. Mr. Betsky is the author of a dozen books on architecture. He is currently writing a book on modernism and is assembling his essays for publication. He blogs regularly for and

The Van Alen Institute promotes innovative thinking about the role of architecture and design in civic life. Among our activities are design competitions, lectures and symposia, exhibitions, publications, research and advocacy. Our programs engage a broad constituency of people in New York City, the nation, and around the world who participate in shaping the designed environment, from architecture students to emerging and established professionals to the interested public.

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Related publications

Editors Aaron Levy and William Menking explore the social and political history of the Venice Architecture Biennale and its responsiveness to the 1960s through unprecedented interviews with Paolo Portoghesi, Vittorio Gregotti and other founding directors.

Editors Aaron Levy and William Menking explore the relationship between architecture and display through four conversations in four cities with forty leading designers, theorists, editors, curators and funders.

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