Stereotyped Phrases & Barely Spoken Words on Biennials

Jung-im Seo, senior editor monthly visual art magazine Kyunghyang Article

Today, huge art events like biennials seem to suffer from an obsession that they always have to produce discourses and issues or have to ask di- rections about the future for contemporary art.
However, these goals and missions of biennials are gradually losing their meaning and showing their limitations.
Although there are many existing biennials, new biennials are being created for a variety of reasons, for instance, as a strategy for urbanization of a city or a nation, to promote local artists, to invite famous artists, as a tool for cultural administration of a city or a nation based on global cap- italism, or to pursue globalization of contemporary art.
In other words, biennials now function easily as a type of ‘cultural globalization’ in the frame of capital and power based on the illusion that they are in the front line of contemporary art or are the top institution.

Q1.Based on this critical point of view, do you think art biennials need to be maintained? I’d like to know the necessities for keeping them.
Q2.Considering the present situations and problems of biennials, what do you think about their role? Q3.What could be the solutions and alternatives to the problems of biennials?

“Based on this critical point of view, do you think art biennials need to be maintained?”
“I’d like to know the necessities for keeping them”
Mario A. Caro
Art critic, curator, president of Res Artis
At some point, biennials will stop being relevant. At this moment, however, they have become a requirement for participating in the in- ternational contemporary art scene. The idea is that, while contempo- rary art tends to follow globalization in flattening the world, biennials can still keep things interesting, mainly through their focus on site specificity. Unfortunately, even their varied sites are becoming gener- ic—one biennial starts to look much like any other.
And then there is always a nationalist bias. What of nations without states? How do we locate their biennials?
Mariano G. Montelibano III (Manny Montelibano)
Artist, director of 2014 VIVA EXCON in the Philippines

The need to maintain a biennial is always determined by its goals. Why was it developed in the first place? Does it still reflect the soul of where it was founded? There is a need to realize that such biennials exist be- cause of art, exhibiting the soul of humanity in its present state. Its maintenance requires social, economic, and political factors that may result in a watering down of its intentions. However, as long as art re- mains its foundation, there is a need to maintain a biennial.
Antoni Muntadas
Media artist
The Biennale of Venice and the Bienal of Sao Paulo are the two bienni- als first to appear based on the specific needs in two different geopo- litical places at the end of the 19thC (Venice) and the middle of the 20C (Sao Paulo).
Since then, we have seen biennials proliferate, not always for cultural reasons, but more and more by politics and economics.
Cities trying to upgrade at the level of other cities build museums and stadiums for high and popular culture to match the generic standards for cultural tourist interests.
I think a bi(enal) or tri(enal), or even the 5 year rotation for a Docu- menta, are more of a reflection of an artificial time cycle link for city programming than for genuine cultural reasons
Can we redefine ways of when a cultural event is needed and how?…When is it necessary in/for a context?…when is an interesting production of a work sufficient to be exhibited>…when the financial resources are available…
Briefly, an organic cycle of 3-5 or 8-11 years…may make more sense for producing this kind of cultural event, including the when and where.
Hans D. Christ
director of the Wurttembergische Kunstverein Stuttgart
The age of Biennials is over!
Of course, where there is no infrastructure for art, it is better to have a Biennial!
Of course, the city marketing will go on!
Of course, as a battleground of class, the rich (artists, curators, col- lectors, politicians, chaebols…) will continue to use it for their self- representation!
Of course, it will continue, because it will simply merge from a Biennial
into an Art Fair!
But the political agenda is dead! Manifesta in Putin Country, Gwang-ju Censorship, Sydney Sponsors against Human Rights, Berlin back to l’art pour l’art……
Instead, to create a Biennial, we should have fought for independent and continuous working institutions. We lost a lot of money and sus- tainability in this flash-in-the-pan Biennial.
James Elkins (Jim Elkins)
art historian, art critic
Most art isn’t activist. Most art is for pleasure. Most art does not sell. Most art doesn’t reach a large public. Biennales and art fairs have a consistently liberal, leftist message, in comparison to the overwhelm- ing majority of art that is produced around the world. Biennales are not effective, in the end, because their liberal politics are only seen by people who are already left-leaning, already liberal. A truly radical bi- ennial would have landscape paintings and portraits in it.
Raul Zamudio
independent curator, art critic, art historian
Biennials are a panacea to art’s commodification. With the prolifera- tion of art fairs and attendant commercialization, biennials are a re- prieve to the monetary spectacle and its sacrifice of ideas and en- gagement with the larger social world. It is important, however, that biennials maintain their integrity; keeping close connection to the local community in which the event will take place can insure this. And what is meant here is not only the support of local artists to be included in biennials, but also the larger socio-cultural sectors. It was once pro- posed that DOCUMENTA should be curated by an artist. I propose that Busan Biennial be organized across each of the city’s districts, and aid schoolchildren in curatorial selections.
“When considering the phenomenon of biennales today, what is their role?”
Huang Du
Independent curator, art critic
A Biennial is an academic platform to demonstrate the primary trend of contemporary art.
A Biennial should provide an opportunity for artists to set forth their imagination and creativity.
A Biennial in a sense is a power game of cultural production.
A Biennial reflects the symptoms of nomadic global culture.
A Biennial encourages dialogues and negotiations in a context of the emphasis on cultural differences.
A Biennial may be considered as a text and record of visual culture. A Biennial undertakes the task of reflecting social reality, technology progress, and the human spirit.
A Biennial tries to set up a window through which local audiences can get a glimpse of how art works are made in a specific context.
A Biennial can be taken as a tool of cultural strategy used by a state, region, or city.
A Biennial encourages and promotes artist’s independent thinking and practice.
A Biennial pays close attention to artist’s cultural attitude and any of his or her work with philosophical meanings.
Nicolas Bourriaud
director of the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, 2014 Taipei Biennale

1. The role of a biennial is the role that any other collective exhibition has to play: gather artists around an idea that makes today’s art readable; present artworks in a way that generates new ideas or oblique sensations, providing critical tools and pointing at new life forms.
2. A biennial also has promotional, strategical, and economical stakes that differ from one place to another.
3. A biennial is mainly constituted by the type of energy delivered every two years. It can be flattened. Only the site remains.
“What do you think are some alternatives for the problems
of the current biennales mentioned above?”
Hyun Seewon
independent curator

Can the problems of Biennales be resolved? In a situation in which there are few who carefully look at all works in the exhibition hall of a Biennale, it would take a few days to find solutions for their problems, which is ex- hausting. Thus, no one will take pains to think about such problems, and will not look at them within narrow and broad perspectives at the same time. A Biennale does not belong to a city, or its resident or local artists. It is not the possession of anyone. When it creates strange problems that cannot be resolved, it may mean that it opens new or old works of artists and connects them with the viewers. The idea that, from the beginning, there is no alternative, would be a start to seek an alternative.
Shin Hyunjin
art critic, curator

It’s been a long time since Biennale director Kim Seong-youn, who was selected through a democratic election, was fired, and a work of Hong Seong-dam (홍성담) was removed because it was a satire on the current regime. However, we failed to return Kim Seong-yeon to his position, and Hong Seong-dam’s work back into the exhibition. These issues are ‘our problems’ regarding whether we should live in such a society. Meanwhile, the core of the discussions on these issues turns to the contribution of a Biennale. Here, we need to think of whether we aren’t now exchanging social justice with our own interest. If local artists have been less consid- ered thus far, the Biennale needs to develop alternative programs to reform current approaches that had not been effective in local artists en- tering the international stage, and a budget should then be set aside for it. Instead, isn’t there another reason that we should turn back to the start- ing point of these issues?
Jonathan Watkins
director of the Ikon Gallery
Biennials should aspire to the conditions of music, not social work, public relations or prophesy.