Art Biennials: Towards an Alternative Curatorial Logic
Kingston University, London
Year of enrolment: 2019
Since the 1990s, art biennials have assumed a central place, alongside galleries and museums, in Europe's public infrastructure for visual arts. Biennials make strong claims regarding the radical potential of their artistic programmes. Their curators present them as cultural spaces within which the socio-political status quo can and should be challenged and disrupted.
There is a dissonance between these claims and the other manifest functions of biennials: to produce new investment opportunities for art markets, and to support governmental strategies to boost tourism, regeneration, civic status and cultural participation. Torn between these roles, biennials struggle to deliver on their promises.
This original research aims to identify ways in which biennials might change in order to realise their radical potential. It recognises that the current struggle is rooted in institutional conditions resistant to change. Focusing on the role of curators, it questions top-down, curator-centred approaches to the selection of artists and wider generation of content.
Situating curators materially in organisations and institutions, and drawing upon my own professional experience, I first examine the current state of European biennials from 2010, compare their curatorial approaches and identify obstacles to change, including the institutionalisation of curators and their practices.
Using a comparative case-study method, I will identify 3-5 European biennials that innovate and experiment with curatorial formats and processes in response to the issues above. Currently, I propose to think through the radical potential of biennials by employing two interrelated theories of cultural production: Deleuze and Guattari’s "minor" art practice (1975), and Harney and Moten’s "undercommons" (2013). Through analysis of primary and secondary material, including interviews and on-site ethnographic methods, I will explore and assess the potential of alternative curatorial approaches and emergent biennial models. My study will contribute to knowledge and impact on policy and management in the cultural and creative industries.