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A Confab To Sort Out The World Of Biennials

My favorite biennial is the Biennial at the End of the World (also here, in Spanish with pictures) That’s physical, not time-based. Not that I’ve been yet — it began in 2007 — but I love the billing. It takes place in  Ushuaia, the capital of Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego Province and of the Southern Atlantic Islands, and on its first go-round it

artistically joined both ends of the Earth in real time, by means of an electronic station located in Ushuaia and others in the North of Canada and Finnish Lapland. In key points of the participating cities, screens were installed for the passers-by to watch and witness the development of the video-artists’ work, to communicate, and also to participate in this multimedia performance.

Did you know that there are now more than 150 biennials “for art and related disciplines”? That number doesn’t include, obviously, art fairs or annuals or triennials. (No wonder curators are tired.)

But now comes a group called the Biennial Foundation with plans to bring together organizers, curators and supporters of biennials to discuss their challenges. From October 27th through the 31st, it’s hosting the first World Biennial Forum in Gwangju, South Korea coinciding with the 9th Gwangju Biennale  (7 September–11 November). And just in case that’s not enough, you can also attend the nearby Busan Biennale 2012 (22 September–24 November) and the 7th Mediacity Seoul (11 September–4 November). That shows a bit of the problem right there: when does synergy turn into subtracting rather than adding to the combined whole?

While the Forum says it aims to “diffuse knowledge and to promote public awareness of contemporary art biennials,” I think it should also provide an eye-opening look at the big picture here. Can all of these biennials be supported? For how long? That, I hope. will be part of the “critical reflection” on the total number the Forum promises.

The Forum has Co-Directors — Ute Meta Bauerand Hou Hanru — who will develop the structure and content for this “first get-together of biennale professionals.”

Bauer is “Dean of Fine Art at the Royal College of Art…served as the Director of the Visual Arts Program and as Founding Director of the Program in Art, Culture and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology…was co-curator of documenta 11, artistic director of the 3rd Berlin Biennale (2004) and was the Founding Director of the Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA).”

Hou is “an art critic and curator…[who] worked at San Francisco Art Institute as Director of Exhibitions and Public Program and Chair of Exhibition and Museum Studies (2006-2012)….has curated numerous exhibitions including the Biennials of Johannesburg, Shanghai, Gwangju, Guangzhou (Triennial), Tirana, Venice (French Pavilion, 1999, Chinese Pavilion, 2007), Istanbul, and Lyon….[and] is currently curating the 5th Auckland Triennial.

They’ve not released a program yet, but I hope it’s a realistic one. What we probably do not need is more biennials.

The Gwangju Biennial was, according to Culture360, “the first international art biennale in Asia to be introduced as such to the international community and has established itself as Asia’s oldest and most prestigious Biennales of contemporary art. It is amongst the world’s “most visited” Biennales and attracts a huge international audience every year – alternating between art and design.”

Photo Credits: The Gwangju Biennial 2010/Culture360 Magazine



  1. My personal favorite is the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris. The next one begins on 14 September and promises to be spectacular. There will be nearly double the number of exhibitors as in 2010, and the creative director for this year’s edition is Karl Lagerfeld.

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