The third edition of the Biennial of the Americas opened in Denver, Colorado, this week (until 30 August). The show is anchored by the exhibition Now? Now! at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which includes more than 30 artists such as Robert Longo, Adam Pendleton and Kari Altmann and looks at how contemporary artists are responding to the political and cultural present.
In looking for work to include in the exhibition, the biennial’s curator and artistic director, Lauren Wright, says she wanted “artists who help us look anew at the conditions of life in the [Western] hemisphere, but not necessarily in an illustrative way”. Longo’s piece in particular (Study of Football Players Triptych, 2015) documents five professional American football players protesting the killing of the unarmed teenager Mike Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.
“I talked with a few visitors to the show, and they didn’t immediately recognise that the work made a political statement, which works very well for me,” Wright says. “I like that the piece makes commentary on political reality, but that it’s not telling you immediately what to think.”
Wright, who spent time in Mexico City preparing for the biennial, says the conversation about how art can be political is particularly acute in that city. A piece by the Mexican artist Fernando Ortega called K5-Hidden Peak (2013), made from a 14-ft step ladder with no cross-bar and, just above it, a musical triangle, “doesn’t tell you anything obvious about Mexico, but there is a way of interpreting [it] that is directly aimed at the context” in which it was made. Ortega, Wright says, “is thinking about what is going on [in the country] and engaging it, but not necessarily in the language of social practice”.
Further afield from the main exhibition are also smaller parts of the biennial, including the shows Listen to the Dream of a Word (at the biennial pavilion near the contemporary art museum, until 30 August) and Vis-à-Vis: Biennial Ambassadors Exhibition (at the McNichols Civic Center, until 26 July).
Major funders for the biennial include the telecommunications company Liberty Global, the Anschutz Foundation and the Boettcher Foundation.