Each art biennial forms a kind of microcosm of the art world, aiming to address and attract current cultural movements as well as exhibit a region’s contemporary art production, or at least a curated segment. Viewed from the outside, the presence of a biennial designates its host as a participant in a globalizing art system and its larger economy. But how are these biennials perceived in the cities or regions where they’re held? What roles can they take in their local contexts and communities? Does a biennial reflect the local scene, is it integrated, accessible to its inhabitants, representative? How can the local discourse around biennials inform our understanding of this proliferating form of exhibition?
Responding to the need to reflect on the mechanisms of the art biennial, this publication collects six local responses to biennials (and one triennial) in Shanghai, Ljubljana, São Paulo, Aichi, Dhaka, and Glasgow, and how they relate to the intentions, both stated and implicit, of their organizers. First published outside the international art press, these texts address the realities of an art exhibition that is caught between a tendency to universalize and a local, regional, or national desire for representation and participation. By revisiting these texts—and making some accessible in English for the first time—we aim to highlight the local urgencies, responses, and discussions around biennials, and how they diverge from the international biennial discourse.
This publication does not attempt to be a history of the biennial, rather it hopes to contribute to the literature of local art and cultural criticism in a biennial context. Not simply condemning the neoliberal tools of the (Western) biennial complex or an exclusionary art system, the authors of these essays unpack the specifics of a particular biennial to discuss its potentials and flaws, how it both creates and exposes contradictions, from a perspective committed to the cities and their art scenes. Local Perspectives on a Global Format is published in the context of Perennial Biennial, a collaboration of five European contemporary art biennials—in Liverpool, Berlin, Riga, Ljubljana, and Bergen—to develop and explore lasting sustainable models in the biennial field. The contributions were selected from responses to an open call, and each text includes an introduction by the colleague(s) who nominated it for inclusion.