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Fair Enough: The Russian Pavilion

A room of salespeople peddling the architectural ideas of Russia’s history from banal cubicles makes for a subversive pavilion poking fun at trade shows and the Biennale itself

It turns out that the fundamentals of architecture, as pulled apart for us in the Central Pavilion, are really a bit boring. No doubt we will all now argue for a generation about whether it was not-boring for Koolhaas to have demonstrated this to us quite so cleverly. In defence of the theme, one could also add that Fundamentals of Architecture − so allusive for professionals, so temptingly elusive for the tourists − may have done a little to head off the default-jingoism of the national pavilions. Russia’s show, Fair Enough, dances stylishly in the narrow space between these conflicting imperatives.

Fast-talking participants at a two-bit trade show promote superannuated ideas about Russian architecture or urban life, each repackaged as new products for the market. As we wander uneasily between booths that sell us El Lissitzky, Narkomfin, the Dacha Co-Op, Personal Hygiene is a Public Affair, or the Russian Council for Retroactive Development, we remain unsure whether we are actually expected to fall for something, or are ourselves part of the performance. A kind of immersive theatre that tells a short, brutal, history of immense dreams − each one brought back to life as the whole answer to our present problems.

For the doubtful visitor, the nationalism on show elsewhere in the Giardini has been smoothly subverted from within. We can even imagine that Gazprombank, the pavilion sponsor, is happy with this performance of cheerful Russian pluralism. And, meanwhile, it does suddenly seem that all the Central Pavilion might need to carry its point is the same team of actor-salesmen, touting the facade panels and double-glazing units that make up Koolhaas’s fundamentals.

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