Israel will not participate in the 2025 Venice Architecture Biennale, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, citing Israeli Culture Ministry officials. In a news story published June 4, the decision is attributed to renovation needs of the Israeli pavilion building located in the Giardini, the main grounds of Venice Biennale exhibitions, and to a lack of affordable alternative exhibition space elsewhere in the city.

The move to step away from the recognized global event was met with skepticism by some representing Israel’s cultural realm. “The Israeli pavilion in Venice, like the entire Biennale, serves as a platform for critical thought and the exchange of ideas within the global dialogue,” says Ifat Finkelman, an architect and a lecturer at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, who was a co-curator of the Israeli Pavilion (In Statu Quo: Structures of Negotiation) at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. “The state's role is simply that of a guardian, legally obligated to ensure the freedom of creation and reflective practices. Despite the planned renovations, it is the state’s duty to continue this activity. Preventing it under any pretext amounts to self-censorship.”

The 19th edition of the Architecture Biennale is curated by architect and educator Carlo Ratti, who in May announced the events title and theme, Intelligens. Natural. Artificial. Collective. The announcement also revealed that the Central Pavilion in the Giardini would be closed for renovations in 2025, meaning that planned installations related to Intelligens will spread into sites around the city.

The news that Israel declined participating in the upcoming edition of the Biennale follows the April 16 closure of Israel’s pavilion by curators and artists representing Israel in the current 2024 Venice Art Biennale. After installing the planned exhibition, the organizers locked the pavilion prior to press previews and the public opening of the Biennale on April 20. As reported in the Associated Press, the curatorial team hung a sign in the front window of the pavilion stating they would only open the space when there was a cease-fire in Gaza and when Israel and Hamas came to an agreement about the return of hostages abducted on October 7.

Referencing the April protest closure, Finkelman argues that “any form of boycott, whether external or self-imposed, indiscriminately stifles the criticism necessary for driving change. The closure of the pavilion in the current political climate is yet another step in the broader trend of cutting foreign relations and cultural resources, jeopardizing their vital role during times of crisis.”

“Having said that, in times like these, one should question the value of representing Israel on the international stage,” adds Finkelman. “It may be that creating an alternative platform, independent of state connection and support, is the best way to allow diverse ideas to resonate beyond official policy.”

The 1952 pavilion building was designed by Israeli architect Ze'ev Rechter, and its recent architectural history has included several rounds of renovation plans, all stalled because of disagreements over design solutions as well as budget issues. The International Style structure spans three levels, creating a challenging exhibition space. A 2002 plan by architect Yaakov Rechter, son of Ze'ev Rechter, proposed an expansion of the pavilion that almost doubled its size.

The pavilion’s outdoor courtyard was considered as a potential exhibition venue for the 2025 Biennale but was ruled out due to security reasons, reports Haaretz. Also on June 4, Israel’s Ministry of Culture and Sport announced a 50 percent increase in the security budget for the Israeli delegation traveling to Paris next month for the Summer Olympics.