As early as the 1980s, as an exhibition mechanism, Biennial was introduced in some professional publications such as “Art”, however, the short essays did not receive a great response from the public, additionally, the Guangzhou Biennale did not cause a great stir with the association of the exhibition mechanism and the value of artworks in 1992. But, after the 45th Venice Biennale and 22nd Sao Paulo Biennale, Biennale has become a “myth”, and a mechanism to legalize and produce “master artists”. Participating in some international biennales, some artists have won an “international” reputation: it was obvious that the role of the “Biennale” has enlarged with the domestic discourse, followed by a result that domestic recognition improves an artist to be recognized by the international artistic system. So a lot of domestic biennales emerged in the 1990s. The biennale itself has been constantly discussed and argued by critics. How to hold a biennale? What are the differences between domestic biennales and international biennales? What kind of impact does the “biennale tide” give to contemporary Chinese art? These are mixing together and tangling in the minds of Chinese curators, critics and contemporary artist.
Recently, it is an important topic that artists participate in biennales because of the government arrangement rather than remaining private, critics often have widespread discussions on a series of problems. As an art exhibition mechanism with a participating practice based on national units, biennale fundamentally reflects the international order based on national states in the 19th century.
International veterans especially like the Venice Biennale as the features are clear. Therefore, it’s comprehensible for Chinese curators and artists to be “selected” by “the nation” to participate in the planning and creation of the national hall in the biennale. However, due to the extremely particular development in history and status, it has been a complicated issue. I don’t want to discuss whether it’s reasonable to plan and participate in a biennale as the “national” way in this essay, because of the above unique context, there’s still a myth about biennale, it’s not an art issue, but a discourse game to fight for the cultural right, or, it makes no sense to discuss this topic.
In fact, the sacred status of the biennale that once excited art circles in the 1990s, has decreased. To a certain extent, the myth of the art market has partially weakened the biennale aura. Today, it’s obvious that international art fairs have gradually been the “art feast”, instead of biennales, and even more, the large-scale art expositions gradually develop the academic function which were the last cards to the biennales, with the advantage of funds. Of course, the exposition may not be able to develop art, but we can find the “biennale” problematic in the perspective of these “activities” that go beyond the borders, ideologies, and professional bias.
Biennales had been good places to launch many important artists and genres, who won over the world with their reputation like the Olympics gold medalist did, but recently they don’t work so well. When we talk about art, it’s a common topic that some artists and some artworks are of a “biennale style”, which are highly institutionalized and standardized. It’s certain that there’s no problem with being institutionalized itself, even establishing an academic standard, which has actually expanded and spread all over the world, and even to some extent, changing and solidifying the creative methods, ideas and concepts, and genres of contemporary Chinese artists, so it mixes the good with the bad. According to the above situations, we have to actively reflect on the issues of the biennale itself, which has actually thrown a lot of “themes” that is increasingly fashionable but shallow and boring. We would be surprised and satisfied by some exhibitions in alternative spaces, or some guerrilla-style art activities, rather than biennales. It seems to be less and less important to see and respect a biennale, although which is still tickling the contemporary Chinese art and art circles, but only the biennial, nothing more.
The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of CAFA ART INFO.