The biennial continues to grow in popularity this year with just about every corner of the world dabbling in some form of the genre. Biennials are notoriously difficult beasts, stirring up heated debates surrounding the nature of curation and representation, particularly vis-à-vis under-served communities. This is partially due to the fact that biennials set up impossibly ambitious objectives to fulfill, aspiring to gauge the temper of contemporary artistic practice as a whole, while assessing whether or not the given artists reflect broader cultural concerns.
This year’s bumper crop once again hopes to sidestep accusations of myopic curatorial decisions with an eye set on paradigmatic shifts in artistic practice which subvert the institution itself. Disobedience and dissent, within the theoretical framework or content of the fairs, appear to be on everyone’s mind. The Berlin Biennial calls artists to political action and the Marrakech Biennial undergoes a structural reconfiguration to accommodate an expanded arena of artistic engagement.
While many exhibitions assume a more familiar biennial shape, organized by an overarching theme and supplemented by a carefully honed theoretical backdrop, others have opted for even more traditional approaches focused on medium or genre. The New Museum has assembled a bevy of international artists deemed as constructing culture, rather than merely reacting to or commenting upon it, while the deCordova Biennial has gone with an almost exclusively aesthetic approach. Below is a selection of this year’s biennials from the ever-expanding pool.
The Whitney Biennial
March 1 – 27 May; some programs continue through June 10
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Comprising work from fifty-one emerging and established artists, the sixty-seventh Whitney Biennial aspires to gauge the current shape of contemporary art in America. The 2012 biennial incorporates two collaborative projects with external arts organizations Arika and Artists Space, which will provide opportunities for discussion in the form of special performances, workshops, and conversations. This year’s edition also includes a notable film program developed in collaboration with Ed Halter and Thomas Beard, the co-founders of Light Industry, a venue for film and electronic art in Brooklyn.
The 2012 deCordova Biennial
January 23 – April 22
DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum and various locations, Boston
Work from twenty-three artists and collectives from across New England will take over the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum and spill out into the Boston area early this year. Selections explore a broad spectrum of media and content, with an emphasis on topical public works.
The Ungovernables: The New Museum Triennial
February 15 – April 22
New Museum, New York
The exhibition features the work of more than fifty emerging international artists, temporary collectives, and artist groups. The exhibition’s organizers look to the concept of “ungovernability” as traditionally and pejoratively applied to native populations, yet now connotes self-empowered civil dissent and organized resistance.
Surrender: The Marrakech Biennale
February 29 – March 4
Various locations, Marrakech
Art, film and literature commingle in a series of performances, debates, screenings, and talks at the fourth edition of the Marrakech Biennial. The event encourages interdisciplinary approaches to art and contemporary culture where received ideas of the biennial are brought into question through unconventional commissions such as novels, symphonies, and even prayers.
La Triennale: Intense Proximity
April 20 – August 26
Palais de Tokyo and various locations, Paris
This year’s triennial, “Intense Proximity,” grants critical attention to contemporary ethnographic practices with a glance back to those of the early twentieth century, considering how these intersect in current artistic practices.
Ein Aufruf aus Ägypten. An Appeal from Egypt: Berlin Biennale
April 27 – July 1
Various locations, Berlin
The seventh Berlin Biennale focuses on the Egyptian street art community and military-controlled media. Participants’ work addresses an appeal issued from artist Ganzeer to create street art across the world which promotes the peaceful protests of Egyptian revolutionaries.
Dak’Art: African Contemporary Art Biennale
May 11 – June 10
Various locations, Dakar
The tenth annual African Contemporary Art Biennale will feature work from contemporary African artists.
Made in L.A.: The Los Angeles Biennial
June 3 – September 2
Various locations, Los Angeles
Manifesta 9: The European Biennial of Contemporary Art
June 2 – September 30
The Waterschei complex, Genk
Europe’s only itinerant contemporary art biennial will take place in the formerly abandoned coal-mining city of Genk in north-eastern Belgium this year with the theme of “The Deep of the Modern.” Taking a cue from the location itself, Manifesta 9 will focus on issues of urban planning, ecology, economic restructuring, industrial capitalism, aesthetics, shared memory, and globalization.
LAXART and the Hammer Museum team up to present the first Los Angeles Biennial. The exhibition will build upon the traditional format of the bi-yearly Hammer Invitational exhibitions, but will focus exclusively on emerging artists in the LA region.