The Brazilian Pavilion was initially designed by architects Henrique Mindlin, Giancarlo Palanti and Walmyr Amaral in 1959, and a new proposal was presented and built in 1964 by Amerigo Marchesin, a Venetian architect who had already collaborated as a member of the first team. (from Marco Mulazzani, I Padiglioni della Biennale di Venezia: Mondadori Electa Spa, 2004).
Proposed at the end of the 1950s, when the Giardini were already practically saturated with buildings of other national representations, the Brazilian Pavilion’s plans were to situate it on the bridge that spans the Giardini River, leading from the area dominated by the Italian Pavilion to the other side with the buildings arranged in line with the Venice Pavilion.
After the rejection of this first idea, the pavilion was reproposed and accepted in 1964, when it wound up being located in nearly the same place; no longer on the bridge, but slightly displaced beyond it, within the territory dominated by the exedra of the Venice Pavilion. This displacement certainly resulted in its currently somewhat uncomfortable position in relation to the set of buildings on that bank of the river: The Brazilian pavilion ended up turning its back to them, while completely destabilizing the classical spatial arrangement they bore to each other.
On the other hand, if the initial intention was for the pavilion to be part of the bridge itself (which was to be remade together with the pavilion’s only room—a boxlike volume at a height that would offer a better view of the city), in its new definitive position it continued to evoke the bridge. Now based on two rectangular volumes intersected by a central beam that crosses the space above the walkway, the pavilion’s interior is experienced as a passageway—at the entrance door one already sees the exit, and the simplest path is to cross through the pavilion looking to either side.
In Brazil’s most typical modernist tradition—that being done at the same time as the construction of Brasília—the pavilion in fact fulfills the explicit proposal of being sober and discreet, while its clean format was admittedly radical. Its dryness was only made “friendlier” by the inclusion of a small tropical garden with a reflecting pool at the back, possibly an attempt to incorporate the building into the Italian context, evoking the old combination of terrace and garden.
After its construction came its life: The pavilion went through 20 years of a military dictatorship that began in the same year it was opened, a period when it experienced the boycotts of successive biennials by our most radical artists.
Its official life was never easy. Badly managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which cares little about this sort of showcase for displaying our art and architecture to the world, the pavilion received only scanty and last-minute budgeting to hastily apply the “makeup” we see at each edition of the Venice Biennale, trying to disguise the successive damages it has suffered over the years. The building was depredated and graffitied more than once, and the series of cheap restorations has long since done away with the “truth of the materials” so characteristic of the modernist rawness that was once its hallmark. The originally varnished wooden structures were later painted white and subsequently repainted to imitate wood, then painted white once again, and so on.
Today the pavilion looks small, bashful, and unsuitable for many manifestations of contemporary art. In the chain of restorations and alterations, some have corrected difficulties: The opaque panes of glass that now substitute for the transparent ones manage to capture the gaze that once fled to the outside, thus eliminating the often undesirable mixture of artworks and landscape. But as far as I know, no measure has successfully prevented the entrance of dust and detritus that any strong wind blowing through the Giardini wafts through the opening made by the beam above the door, gradually settling over the floor and on the artworks. If truth be known, it is often the artists, architects, and curators themselves who paint the walls, sweep the floors, and even clean the pool, as though they were at a street fair, where the stand has to be “set up” each time.
There are those who say that the pavilion’s perpetual run-down condition is not a result of the precariousness of the Brazilian administration, but more clearly of soccer fans on their way to and from a stadium that lies beyond the Giardini. It seems the fans periodically pass through the area, leaving traces of vandalism on the pavilions along the way.
But there is also the study by Chinese artist Wang Qiheng, at the 51st edition of the Venice Biennale, when he evaluated the various national pavilions from the standpoint of feng shui, a system based on the flows of energy according to the spatial orientation of the constructions and their locations. He is said to have stated that the Brazilian pavilion was very badly located and that no positive energy could ever circulate there.
IN SHORT, IS THERE NO SOLUTION?
WHAT WILL BE THE FUTURE OF THIS PAVILION IN THE GIARDINI?
And what if it were totally sealed up and its volumes only served as a support or screen for a large simulation that would mix real and fictional images of Brazilian wildlife—the more stereotyped, the better, to agree with the stereotyped expectations of our “Brazilianness”? Who knows if these animals could virtually procreate and multiply, to inhabit the Giardini, transformed into a magnificent vivarium of Brazilian wildlife? And in addition, insofar as it would be a fictitiously living covering, would it be able to reanimate our tired modernism?