Curation: Biennial culture and the emergence of a globalised curatorial discourse: curating in the context of biennials and large scale exhibitions since 1989

The biggest change in curating in the last 25 years has been:

  • Increasing operation at international level
    • Under the guise of biennials and recurring exhibitions, 80 in 2005/6 alone p51

The definition of biennial

  • large scale international group exhibitions
    • Global art world is their target
    • Cultural Promotional tool for countries and cities
    • Demarcate space for artistic dialogue and cultural exchange

Biennials and a contemporary phenomenon

  • Locations act as a intersection of
    • Culture
    • Place (local/national/global)
    • Timely manifestations of current trends p53
    • The produce, promote and reconfigure the concept of contemporary

Biennials and global curating from the 1990s onward

  • Pressure on biennials as economic markets p68
    • So biennials work as economic generators through cultural tourism p69
  • Every curator is under pressure to be dynamic, charismatic and able to identify new art, artists and trends
  • Curator as a sort of cultural anthropologist p54 but this has danger sof colonialism and hegemony p69

Les Magicien de la Terre 1989 curated by Jean Herbert Martin was a response to MOMA’s ethnographic practices in the 1984 Primitivism exhibition

    • Paved the way for curator as Global Author
    • Attacked the hegemony of previous exhibitions p55
    • Challenged standard practice by including non western artists
    • But reinforces a new hegemony of pluralism and decontextualisation p58 and 63 and as a “rhizome p67 – “less dogmatic and more spiritual” p67
    • Much criticism of the exhibition was focus on the curation rather than the art eg depoliticised the art through curation
    • Described as “interpretive anthropology” p68

Biennial as an artistic empire 

“as sociologist and art critic Pascale Gielen has argued, the biennial is a post institution for immaterial labor [sic] and the arrival of the artistic multitude, in which curators, artists and audiences, regardless of their sincerity, must retain a degree of synicism and opportunism so as to get by in a global art system” p66

The art world as a global white cube

  • Biennials act as a sanitisezed exhibition space p71
  • The role of global exhibitions had led the curator to be a role of global arbiter to one of explicit artistic global mediator p71
  • Mobility is a prerequisite of curatorship in the twenty first century
  • The biennial has become a ratifying device for artists and curators alike p75 and support them as an elite network

The late 1990s and the move toward collective curating: three approaches (Exhibitions become as much about the curator than the artists p93)

  1. Exhibition auteur model – singular narrative (moreso when its about one artist)
  2. Group curation – plural
  3. Collective – autonomous

Curating isn’t just about organising. It’s about careers, economies and artistic subcultures and elites (in sociological terms) and biennials appear to to be at the pinnacle of contemporary cultural mediation.

V interesting.


P. O’Neill, (2012) Curation: The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture , Published by MIT Press


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
This entry was posted in Research and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s