imomus (imomus) wrote,

Around the world in 80 biennials

Can you imagine what it would be like to spend a year doing nothing but seeing art biennials? With over fifty now happening around the world, it would be quite possible. That's the theme of my new column at Wired News. In the article it's some random punter who's won an all-expenses-paid "Biennial Mystery Tour", but there are people who really do this; curators of other art biennials, mainly. You've got to keep an eye on the competition, after all; keep up with hot artists and cities, keep triangulating trends, making your selections from within other curators' selections, but also introducing fresh talent to hungry locals and the keen, kerosene-burning international audience.

For comic effect I make it sound in the article like an incredibly arduous year, but actually I think I wouldn't mind it at all. It'd be like an endless shopping spree, but without the guilt or the excess baggage charges, and no need to rent storage when you got home. Well, when I say "without the guilt" I really mean that any guilt you felt about your utter privilege would be expiated by all the exposure to heavy, moralistic curatorial concepts; "all the problematics of the early 21st century," as N. Bourriaud et J. Sans put it in their introduction to the themes of this year's Lyon Biennale; "feminism, multiculturalism, the struggle of sexual minorities, “new age” spirituality, identitarian and relational experience, ecology, orientalism, decolonisation, psychedelicism… But above all... a model for rejecting the consumer society."

I really doubt that biennials are "models for rejecting the consumer society". But I do think they help to transform their host cities—post-industrial places like Liverpool, filled with empty warehouse space and untapped creativity—into cities fit for the information age, that odd epoch where we shop for non-material things and work with our minds. Even if they don't make a profit on ticket sales alone, biennials end up attracting money and attention to the cities they're held in, post-industrial port cities like Liverpool and Yokohama or "emerging" cities like Sao Paolo and Istanbul. Emerging from what? Well, from the obscurity of not having a big, centrally-curated, government-subsidised contemporary art show every two years, silly!
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