In the September 2018 issue of Apollo (and published online here), Ben Cranfield examined the ‘unstoppable takeover of the art world by the biennial form’. With every passing year, the list (now at nearly 250) grows; just this month Strasbourg launched the first edition of its Biennale (until 3 March); Oslo will follow in spring (opening 25 May). Whatever you think of them, biennials – and annuals, triennials, and quincentennials like Documenta – have become the dominant template for group exhibitions of contemporary art.
Still, not all biennials have been created equal. Venice, home of the first ever biennial inaugurated in 1895, continues to lead the pack; few will want to miss the 58th edition, curated by Ralph Rugoff and wryly titled ‘May You live in Interesting Times’ (opening on 11 May 2019). Of the national pavilions so far announced, I am particularly intrigued to see Ukraine’s presentation with Kres Lemsalu, who currently has a solo show at the Goldsmiths CCA in London (until 3 February), and Scotland’s with Charlotte Prodger, who was recently announced as this year’s Turner Prize winner.
Younger stalwarts include the Biennale de Lyon, whose director Thierry Raspail has appointed a curatorial team from the Palais de Tokyo to organise its 15th edition (autumn), and the Istanbul Biennial, now in its 16th edition curated by Nicolas Bourriaud (14 September–10 November). Political turmoil has meant a difficult few years for the cultural scene in Istanbul, but Bourriaud intends to ‘build an exhibition that measures up to our historical situation’. Current events are expected to come to the fore in the 14th Sharjah Biennial, titled ‘Leaving the Echo Chamber’ (7 March–10 June), which will have an unusual structure of three separate exhibitions organised by three different curators (Zoe Butt, Omar Kholeif and Claire Tancons).
A biennial technically takes place every two years, but not all organisers meet their deadlines. In 2018 the state-run Havana Biennial was postponed due to financial pressures following Hurricane Irma, and an independent artist-run version sprung up in its place. This year the event, themed around ‘The Construction of the Possible’, is back (12 April–19 May). Less clear is the future of the Antarctic Biennale, which launched with an 11-day expedition on a research ship in 2017, but does not seem to be making a reappearance this year.
Other art biennials to look out for in 2019
Honolulu Biennial 2019 (8 March–5 May)
Setouchi Triennale 2019 (26 April–4 November)
Whitney Biennial 2019 (17 May–22 September)
Momentum 10 – The Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art (8 June–9 October 2019)
5th Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art (12 September–1 December)
Toronto Biennial of Art (21 September–December)
Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art 2019 (4 October–24 November)
‘She changed how we encounter sculpture’ – remembering Phyllida Barlow (1944–2023)