How do you determine the success of an exhibition — by the number of visitors, the tenor of their reactions, or some other gauge? That’s the question Maria Novozhilova tackles in her assessment of the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale, which ended late last month. Writing in the Italian design and architecture magazine Domus, Novozhilova bases her answer to the question on the online chatter surrounding this year’s Rem Koolhaas–directed show.
Using data from VOICES from the Blogs, Novozhilova analyzed the 60,000 English-language online posts about the biennale that appeared on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, and various websites between June 5 and November 23. “This is the social ranking of the 2014 Biennale, based on personal and sometimes idiosyncratic opinions, naturally,” she wrote of her report. “As a whole, however, it speaks of a successful Biennale, with a great deal of light and the odd small shadow.”
Of those who took to the web to share their thoughts, 34.9% had something nice to say about the show — though, crucially, Novozhila never exactly explains what constitutes a positive or negative post. Among these, 18.5% praised the Biennale’s multidisciplinary nature, which engendered debate beyond architecture in the realms of culture, politics, and history. Another 13.5% focused on collateral events happening outside the largest exhibition spaces, the Giardini and Arsenale. People were particularly happy about the Biennale’s location in Venice itself. And 8.7% affirmed Koolhaas’s involvement.
While 58.8% of posts were neutral, 6.2% weren’t so pleasant. More than half the negative sentiment was geared towards Koolhaas himself (59.7%), with the question “rem is dead?” appearing in the majority of the comments. Another 29.4% of negative commentators were dissatisfied with aspects of the pavilions, and 10.8% weren’t thrilled with the Monditalia exhibition in the Arsenale.
In general, the posts focused on three topics: the country pavilions (47%), the broader exhibition (26.7%), and the two shows curated by Koolhaas (26.3%), Elements of Architecture and Monditalia. In the latter discussion, Elements far outshone Monditalia in the public eye, winning 83.2% of its positive comments.
Of the Giardini gardens and the Arsenale, the former enjoyed a lot more attention. There, the Central Pavilion and its Koolhaas-curated Elements of Architecture led the conversation, followed by the Japan Pavilion (6.6%), which was actually more talked about than the Golden Lion–winning Korea Pavilion. The pavilions of France (6%), Australia (5.8%), and Germany (5%) were also popular; Canada (4.3%) and Russia (3.5%) not as much. In the Arsenale, the Silver Lion–winning Chile Pavilion (31.3%) and China Pavilion (19.2%) were the most popular. Monditalia followed closely (19%), getting just a few more mentions than the German Pavilion.
Novozhila’s report reflects a growing awareness that all those tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram pics really do matter — and suggests that institutions need to catch up. On our own website, Zachary McCune has used social media engagement to find that Damien Hirst beats Cindy Sherman when it comes to provoking online conversation and that the 9/11 National Memorial is now twice as popular as Lady Liberty — at least according to check-ins on Foursquare. Obviously, the internet alone can’t determine the success of a show, but it also can’t be dismissed as an unimportant factor. As McCune wrote in 2012:
The audiences who could be pressed to answer those questions are not necessarily speaking about art in social media. But many are. And for those populations who trace their thoughts and interactions with art in social media, we have a rich trove of data to examine.
What we do with such data will be fascinating to see as it plays out.