The Biennial Problem

Where will art go next and what will it do there? Gratuitous amounts of art, material and labor have been flown or trucked in at great expense to Venice for the Biennale (currently on view), an event that every year it is held, attracts thousands to take planes, trains, and automobiles to experience it all. Over the long week of vernissage events (opening functions), biennials like this (of which Venice is certainly the oldest and most prestigious) necessitate a grand-scaled kind of contemporary art for the overall promotion and health of cultural exchange. This is a tradition, set in a cradle of Western art. And who would argue with building bridges through contemporary art shown in the sprawling circus tents of biennials? Or for that matter why demean the cold rationality of art fairs, where the desperate gaze of some dealers in their claustrophobic booths should be enough to silence any cynic’s rage against the commercial side. These two forms, the biennial and the fair, centralize a globally advanced cultural experience for the high art consumer, synthesizing leisure with big-ticket purchasing, vacationing with expensively choreographed schmoozing.

The roundtrip movement of this art and these people, however must be weighed against its environmental impact. And leaders of the art world (artists, dealers, critics, and curators) have to begin seriously evaluating where their work is coming from and find more energy efficient, sustainable ways to do things. Thinking this way might lead to a radical deconstruction of what art is today and how it can exist more potently in a globally-dependent market system. It might actually lead us towards a life that is art, one in which time is a medium, space is text, stories are objects, and inactivity is dynamic.

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