Biennials are famous international art exhibitions that aim at bringing western and non-western art and artists together and they take place every two years. Although these exhibitions have been helpful to bring artists from various countries together and to encourage artists to produce, be engaged with artwork. The biennials are also important in providing platforms to the artists to present their artwork in front of a global audience. Moreover, it is considered an important way of merging the core and periphery. However, some criticize the biennials to focus on the hierarchy and maintaining the differences between core and periphery engendering exclusion and discrimination. Regardless, biennials have their benefits and the promotional art and artists from various parts of the world.
Art has no borders is a famous line even among the non-artists. They consider the arts to transcend the boundaries and the borders but Chin-Tao Wu in her article “Biennials without Borders?” questions the idea of globalization of art. She studies the trends and globalization in the biennial Documenta exhibitions between 1968-2007 and concludes that the artists that are represented in these exhibitions are most of the time from Europe and other western countries. Also, some of the ‘outsiders’ who attend the exhibitions reside in the Europe or America. The statistics show that in 1972, 96 percent of the artists presented in the exhibition were North Americans Europeans. Even in 2002, the number of artists from west constituted 60 percent of all participants. Moreover, the artists from the periphery have moved to the core countries and they represent their culture. Most of the artists who have presented non-western countries currently reside in the Europe or America. Therefore, the idea that the biennials are integrating the non-represented cultures and artists is not true. The artists who join the biennials presenting their countries of origins live in the core. For instance, the study of the biennials up to 982 shows hundred percent of the participants representing non-western countries were residing in Europe or America. Consequently, the biennials have not contributed to encouraging the artists from the non-western world rather they help the privileged few who have flowed to the center from the periphery. Regardless the percentage of artists attending these exhibitions from the country of residence, core, has dropped to 61 percent in 2007. Moreover, the flow of artist from the periphery to the core is mostly one way, which provides a sense that the artists move from periphery to core, and not the other way around. Such a trend of a one-way flow of artists shows the lack of globalization. As in globalization, there must be a two-way flow of artists (Wu). The argument proves that there are certain borders in the art as well and the hierarchy in the art persists in the so-called globalized world.
Moreover, the biennials focus on hierarchy validating and authenticating the European or Western art over art from other parts of the world. The biennials such as Magicians of the Earth, which raised many questions on hierarchy. It also raised questions of authenticity of modern arts of the “third world” because the exhibition draws a fine line between the western cultures and other cultures (Buchloh). It creates the division of the art and artistic approaches by creating the “other versus Western culture.” The exhibition promoted the culture of magic and ritual and considered them authentic culture and art of non-western culture and suggesting the modern art of the non-western world was copied from the west and western societies. The exhibition related ‘traditional’ spiritual, magical and other anecdotal artwork to the non-west and refused to recognize the modernized artistic work of non-western art claiming a monopoly over the modern art (Araeen; Buchloh). Therefore, other art exhibitions are criticized for similar ventures as they stereotype certain type of art to non-western culture creating a hierarchy where the Western art is modern and creative but the non-western art traditional (Buchloh). It shows a willingness of the exhibitions represent stereotypical artwork and ignore the artwork that does not fit their definitions of non-western art. In addition, it is necessary that the two artists, western and non-western, must be different from one another to be considered authentic (Araeen). Therefore, the biennials that are trying to incorporate certain artwork stereotype and discriminate non-western art.
Despite the criticism, Biennials play beneficial for the artists in many ways. For examples, the biennials provide a platform to the artists and bring them together. They provide an environment to discuss the issues and concerns of the people. They helped people to realize the hierarchy, problems, and stereotypes that persist in the field of art. For instance, if there were no biennials people might not have realized certain western and non-western biases regarding artwork from a particular country. It helps artist realize their similarities and differences. It contributes to raise awareness and become critical of the strongly held notions in the field. It has helped to understand and improve the biases including people from various cultures (Konate). Therefore, the biennials must not be disregarded as evil as they are crucial in many other ways.
To conclude, biennials have helped the artists in many ways by recognizing the stereotypes, providing a platform for discussion, changing the attitude, and bringing openness to the discussion. However, the exhibitions have surfaced the problems of prejudice and discriminations. It has raised awareness about the perceived western monopoly over the art that contributes to the problematic behavior towards non-western art and artist. It has surfaced the prejudices of the western world towards non-western artwork by providing a platform to voice the concerns of the non-western culture.
Benjamin Buchloh, “The Whole Earth Show: an interview with Jean-Hubert Martin” in Art in America (May 1989)
Rasheed Araeen, “Magicians of the Earth: On ‘Magiciens de la Terre,’” 1989
Chin-Tao Wu, “Biennials Without Borders?” in New Left Review (May-June 2009)
Yacouba Konaté, “The Invention of the Dakar Biennial,” in The Biennial Reader (Elena Filipovic, Marieke van Hal and Solveig Ovstebo, eds., 2010)