Biennial Museums USA

How many curators does it take to organise a biennial?

An expanded Texas Biennial, taking place across three cities and with 15 curators, opens successfully but there are some growing pains

Adela Andea, Primordial Garden, 2013, installation at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum in San Antonio

The Texas Biennial is a sprawling affair. Its fifth edition, which opened last week, spans a total of three cities—Dallas, Marfa and San Antonio—and includes nearly 70 artists, all of whom live and work in the state. That number doesn’t take into account the artists included in a number of presentations in two additional cities: Austin and Houston. The open call for submissions drew almost 1,200 hopefuls, whose works were sorted through by 15 curators. Around 15 events are taking place during the biennial, including openings, talks and performances, and 80 organisations are participating in various ways. By any measure, the biennial is a considerable undertaking, but could it suffer from too many cooks in the kitchen?

The event has grown substantially since 2005, when it was started in Austin by the artist Shea Little. The first three editions were based exclusively in that city, with the biennial expanding to Houston and San Antonio in 2011. The organisers have since tinkered with the curatorial model, which included a panel of jurors in 2005 and 2007, and individual curators in 2009 and 2011.

So, is the 15-curator model used in this edition necessarily better? The organisers themselves did not agree. At a panel discussion held at the Glassell School of Art in Houston on 7 September, Clint Willour said he felt more like a juror than a curator because he never participated in the show’s installation. He wondered aloud, too, whether or not the best contemporary art in all of Texas was being shown at the biennial and pointed out that ethnically, the selected artists were was not as diverse as they could have been.

Virginia Rutledge, the curator-at-large, herself stressed that there was no guarantee that the biennial would continue to exist in the future, arguing that that it wasn’t entirely clear how such a large affair could continue to be supported both financially and administratively. Fresh ways of thinking are necessary, she said.

But growing pains aside, the show’s ever-expanding reach is a sign of Texas’s growing appetite for art and culture. The group survey at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum in San Antonio drew massive crowds, despite a hurried hang and a few missing wall labels, and the invitational alumni show at the Lawndale Art Center in Houston, which included Christie Blizard, Marcelyn McNeil, Tom Orr and Brad Tucker, was beautifully installed.

Texas Biennial 2013, 5 September-9 November, www.texasbiennial.org

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