Session 6: The Rise and Rise of the Biennial

Speaker: Marcus Verhagen, art historian and critic



Over the last 20 years a number of new biennials have been established and the older biennials have, by all accounts, played an increasingly important role in sanctioning tendencies, entrenching reputations and directing debate in the art world. This trend has not always been well received. Some criticise the biennials on curatorial grounds, maintaining that they are too large and multivalent to offer a coherent experience, while others argue that they are a force for homogenisation – that they pay lip-service to site-specificity and inclusiveness while showing broadly the same band of well-travelled artists. In his presentation, Verhagen suggests that the biennial is now crucial to the functioning of various other art world institutions, such as the museum and art fair, and that the diversity of its exhibits is a reflection not of a willed and consistent embrace of different practices but of the diversity of demand in a market system.

Further Reading

Okwui Enwezor, ‘Mega-Exhibitions and the Antinomies of a Transnational Global Form’, MJ - Manifesta Journal, no.2, Winter 2003/Spring 2004, pp.6-31

Carlos Basualdo, ‘The Unstable Institution’, MJ - Manifesta Journal, no.2, Winter 2003/Spring 2004, pp.50-61

James Meyer et al, ‘Global Tendencies; Globalism and the Large Scale Exhibition’, Artforum, Nov. 2003, pp.152-63, 206, 212

Pamela M. Lee, ‘Boundary Issues; The Art World Under the Sign of Globalism’, Artforum, Nov. 2003, pp.164-67

Claire Doherty, ‘Location, Location’, Art Monthly, no.281, Nov. 2004, pp.7-10

Niru Ratnam, ‘Art and Globalisation’, in Gill Perry and Paul Wood eds., Themes in Contemporary Art, New Haven and London, 2004, pp.276-313

Joost Smiers, Arts Under Pressure; Promoting Cultural Diversity in the Age of Globalisation, London and New York, 2003.