Biennials and other recurrent exhibitions

There are currently more than a hundred biennial and triennial exhibitions of contemporary art. The oldest, Venice Biennale, was established in 1895; a second one (São Paulo) followed in 1951, and a handful more during the next three decades, the majority in Europe (Documenta in 1955, Paris in 1959, etc.), taking the total number to around a dozen by the late 1980s. This changed dramatically during the 1990s when, in a context of globalization and new curatorial practices, the biennial became central to the development of contemporary art, and an unprecedented proliferation took place, with scores of new ones created in cities in every corner of the world, a process which became known as ‘biennalization’. In recent years, the role and format of the biennial is being questioned, with some being discontinued (Johannesburg, Melbourne, Valencia). It has also received fresh competition from new ‘curated’ art fairs (Art Basel, Frieze, etc.). However, around 50 recurrent exhibitions in Europe, 25 in the Asia/Pacific region, 20 in America, and 5 in Africa are proof of the continued significance of this phenomenon.


The documentation of these important exhibitions is not always made available, and is often difficult to acquire for the art librarian. This scarcity of printed primary sources gives added importance to online resources, and with biennalization being contemporary with the popularisation of the Internet, virtually every biennial has an online presence, often with dedicated websites for each edition.


Biennial Foundation, an organization created in 2008 to collect information and knowledge about the biennial industry, offers news and extensive listings of biennials, including excellent maps.


Universes in Universe, a website focusing on contemporary art from Africa, Latin America, and Asia, edited by Gerhard Haupt and Pat Binder, includes a section with large amounts of information on biennials, and its calendar is particularly useful. It gives details for two current exhibitions (APT 6: Asia-Pacific Triennial, Brisbane, 5 Dec. 2009- 5 April, and 4th Auckland Triennial,12 March- 20 June), and forthcoming ones (17 for 2010). It is, however, not comprehensive (it does not include, for instance, the also current Whitney Biennial, New York, 25 Feb.- 30 May). Kunstaspekte also provides a calendar of biennials and other recurrent exhibitions.


The European Biennial Network, a collaborative structure supported by the EU, is a source of professional news and hosts the Biennial Exchange and Residency Programme. Its calendar offers the dates of forthcoming biennials in Europe: 6th Berlin Biennial, Manifesta 8, 6th Liverpool Biennial, and Periferic 9 will all be held during 2010.


A new series (MJ#7-12) of Manifesta Journal was launched last December, with Manifesta Journal 7: The Grammar of the Exhibition. This important magazine focusing on contemporary curating is only available in print, but the Manifesta Foundation website contains news and information on biennials and curatorial practice, including the Manifesta Research Programme and Manifesta Coffee Breaks (a series of international encounters, the latest of which was held in Murcia, Spain, 12-13 Dec. 2009; video available at: A large amount of material from the Manifesta Archive (including Manifesta Journal 1) has been digitised and is freely available online on the basis wien database.


In the context of the current international discussion and evaluation of the biennial format, the City of Bergen’s Departments of Cultural Affairs, Business Development and Sports decided to postpone the planned launch of a Bergen biennial from 2009 to 2011, and asked Bergen Kunsthall to host an international art symposium focusing on biennials. The Bergen Biennial Conference was held from 17-20 September 2009, and was streamed live online. These videos are now available on its website. The Biennial Reader, an anthology edited by Elena Filipovic, Marieke van Hal and Solveig Øvstebø, is due to appear in early 2010.


[Grandal Montero, G. (2010) Resources online: Biennials and other recurrent exhibitions. ARLIS News-sheet, no. 204, March-April, p. 4.]


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