V&A at La Biennale di Venezia

The V&A collaborated with La Biennale di Venezia on two projects at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition, the world's largest and most important architectural forum.

Special Project Applied Arts Pavilion: A World of Fragile Parts

Special Project Applied Arts Pavilion: A World of Fragile Parts

La Biennale di Venezia 28 May – 27 November 2016

A World of Fragile Parts was the 2016 special project for the Applied Arts Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia. Curated by the V&A in collaboration with La Biennale di Venezia, the exhibition explored the threats facing the preservation of global heritage sites and how the production of copies can aid in the preservation of cultural artefacts.

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Photograph © Andrea Avezzù, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

Ecological uncertainty, violent attacks, and the increasing demands of tourism are just a few of the factors putting global heritage sites and cultural artefacts at risk of destruction and loss. Copies and scans have emerged as a way of mitigating risk by providing valuable records of culture, and offering alternatives for a demanding public who want to experience historical sites and objects first-hand.

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V&A Cast Courts, late 19th century © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Museums have a long history of producing copies. In the 19th century, the V&A led an effort to produce and display plaster casts of significant works of art for the benefit of art students and local audiences who could not travel to important sites across Europe. The Museum's purpose built Cast Courts still remain open today. Cast collections proliferated throughout Europe and America as an educational tool. However, in the early 20th century, attitudes towards the value of copies shifted, and many of these collections were discarded.

For the cast collections that survived, a new value emerged: preservation. Through decades of careful conservation, museum casts have outlasted many of their originals, which have either been destroyed by war, or degraded through circumstance. These casts are now the prime transmitters of precious knowledge and culture.

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Photograph © Andrea Avezzù, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

With the development of new scanning and fabrication technologies, there is a renewed effort to preserve through copies. With that comes a host of difficult questions: What do we copy and how? What distinguishes a bad copy from one with lasting value? What is the relationship between the copy and the original in a society that privileges authenticity? And how can such an effort be properly coordinated at a truly global and inclusive scale?

See more from A World of Fragile Parts on our YouTube channel


This exhibition was supported by Volkswagen Group as part of its partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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La Biennale Summer School 1/2016

La Biennale Summer School 1/2016

Cognitive Adventures in the Digital Age: The Future of Creation and Preservation, 9-17 July, Arsenale, Venice, Italy

This year saw the first ever La Biennale Summer School, a joint venture between La Biennale di Venezia, the V&A and the University of Applied Arts Vienna. The inaugural programme, Cognitive Adventures in the Digital Age: The Future of Creation and Preservation invited participants to investigate the role of robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and quantum mechanics in the perception of art, design and architecture. Participants were guided by artists and theorists from various fields in a week-long programme of workshops, tours and presentations, investigating new opportunities for the preservation of cultural heritage using emerging technologies. See the programme outline for more details.