Is a Global History of Architecture Displayable? A Historiographical Perspective on the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale and Louvre Abu Dhabi

This article comparatively discusses the 14th International Architecture Biennale of Venice, directed by Rem Koolhaas, and the pilot exhibit and architectural design of Louvre Abu Dhabi undertaken by Jean Nouvel, in the context of recent big art events and world museums. Curatorial, historiographical, and installation strategies in these venues are differentiated in order to think through the question of displaying a global history of architecture. I make a distinction between the curatorial practices carried out in the Fundamentals and Absorbing Modernity sections of Venice’s Central and National Pavilions as curator-as-author and curators-as-chorus, which I map onto recent historiographical and museum design practices, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi, to discuss the geopolitical implications of its installation strategies. I also argue that six methodological perspectives for displaying architectural history emerge from the curator-chorus of Absorbing Modernity, which can be identified as survey, nationalist history, case study, thematic history, archive metaphor, and deferment, all of which contribute to and raise questions about the ongoing project towards a global architectural history. After suggesting a difference between “world” and “global” history of architecture, I call for a more geopolitically conscious and cosmopolitan global history of architecture, by exposing the intactive bonds between the history of modernism and of colonization, as well as the continuing legacy of geopolitical and economic inequalities that operate in such venues.

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