As new coronavirus variants emerge and mass-vaccination efforts roll out more slowly than anticipated, the organizers of design and architecture festivals and product trade shows have engaged in a new round of event postponements that feel like 2020 all over again. After canceling the Salone del Mobile last year, Milan’s famous furniture fair announced last November that it would shift its 2021 edition from April to early September. In January, Art Basel pushed back its Swiss flagship event from its traditional June slot to September, citing the “many uncertainties” of planning during the pandemic; the brand’s Swiss and Miami Beach art fairs were also canceled entirely in 2020.
Bucking the trend, the Venice Biennale has stuck to its springtime schedule, with the architecture edition of the international exhibition set to open for in-person attendance on May 22, 2021 after postponing last May to September and then cancelling altogether. “La Biennale di Venezia recently confirmed that the 17th International Exhibition of Architecture will open this May, as scheduled,” U.S. Pavilion co-curators Paul Andersen and Paul Preissner corroborated in a statement. “We continue to work with our team at [University of Illinois at Chicago] and La Biennale di Venezia to ensure that our exhibition for the U.S. Pavilion will be ready to safely open this May.”
AMERICAN FRAMING, the exhibition overseen by Andersen and Preissner, will incorporate numerous safety precautions, as will the rest of La Biennale. Before visitors even arrive at the Castello Gardens in Venice, they will have purchased show tickets (with tracing access) via an online portal. They will undergo temperature checks at the entrance to the U.S. Pavilion, and follow a one-way path through the Palladian-style building that will also include social-distancing cues and hand-sanitization stations. Mask wearing will be mandatory both indoors and out, while specific limitations for building capacity have not yet been set.
Even without those limitations in place, warm-weather attendance may be sparse. As of mid-February, only 2 percent of Italian citizens were fully vaccinated, and active statements from both the U.S. Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control were advising tourists to avoid or defer travel to Italy. Planning of AMERICAN FRAMING has taken virtual audiences into consideration. “Documentation of the U.S. Pavilion will be available through its forthcoming catalog, as well as on its website and Instagram,” a spokesperson told RECORD via email, expanding its access for those who cannot attend in person.
Compared to the Biennale, organizers of other upcoming architecture events are treating public-health conditions more delicately. The AIA Conference on Architecture, which was originally scheduled to take place in Philadelphia in June, has since transitioned to an all-digital format. For its Design Days taking place in mid-May, NYCxDESIGN is focusing primarily on virtual gatherings.