ANNE MURRAY on October 3, 2017 at 8:52 AM
With today’s mixture of established and unconventional biennials, it is necessary to think again about the purpose and drive behind the biennial itself and to wonder where we are going globally in terms of art, its movements, and its connections to globalization.
This year’s Venice Biennale brought about many questions concerning the political responsibilities of the biennial and its contexts. Viva Arte Viva seemed a bit superficial as an overarching theme, although, yes, we all hope for Art to keep living and to remain significant and expansive around the world. While this title played it safe for art’s political engagements in a time of heightened crises, subterfuge allowed some of the individual pavilions to complicate the idea of national participation and citizenship by giving out unique passports and visas such as the Tunisian Freesa and the NSK pavilion passport. Although these ideas are not new – Jorge and Lucy Orta gave out Antarctica World Passports at the 9th Shanghai Biennale back in 2012 – they are an indication that just beneath the surface of the biennial or at least the superficial title, artists are still challenging the world of politics.
Recently, experimental approaches to the biennial format such as the Museum of Non-Visible Art Biennial (MONA Biennial), the upcoming Wrong Biennial, which combines digital pavilions with physical exhibitions around the world, and the Worldwide Apartment and Studio Biennial, have created a different context altogether for the purpose and venue of the biennial in contemporary times.
Beyond the format of the biennial itself, museums have increasingly attempted to stake out a global vision. The United States, for example, has seen a rise in interest in Islamic art with the displays at the Museum of Modern Art being changed over to represent Islamic art in the collection as a protest to travel bans, as well as the active collecting happening with the important Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative, which has expanded the collection to include more artists from South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa. In Spain, the recent exhibit, Making Africa at the Center of Contemporary Art of Barcelona represented artists and designers from all over Africa and was a more than subtle hint at the necessity of constructing a vision of Africa of the future through art. Still in Venice, we had a limited amount of representation from Africa and the diaspora with the Diaspora Pavilion, including some key emerging artists and mentor artists of influence from multiple diaspora, and the Nigerian (for the first time), Egyptian, and South African Pavilions.
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