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Special reports

The top worldwide biennials and events this year

From the Venice Biennale to Sculpture Projects Münster, 2017 promises to be a heavyweight year

by Gareth Harris  |  6 January 2017
The top worldwide biennials and events this year
Whitney Biennial curators Christopher Lew and Mia Locks. Photograph: © 2016 Scott Rudd
Whitney Biennial
17 March-11 June
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
The Whitney Museum opens its hugely influential biennial exhibition for the first time in its new downtown building after a three-year hiatus. The curators—Christopher Lew, who is based at the Whitney, and the independent curator Mia Locks—have selected 63 participants after visiting dealers and curators in 40 cities. The line-up includes established names such as the US artists Jo Baer and Larry Bell, international collectives like the Gulf-based GCC, and young New York artists including Torey Thornton, Casey Gollan and Victoria Sobel. Dana Schutz, Pope.L, Jordan Wolfson and Anicka Yi will also feature.

“Throughout our research and travel, we’ve been moved by the impassioned discussions we’ve had about the recent tumult in society, politics and the economic system,” Lew says in a statement. The director of the Whitney, Adam Weinberg, adds that the biennial endeavours to gauge the state of art in the US today, stressing that Lew and Locks indeed have their “fingers on the pulse”.

Marta Minujín’s El Partenón de libros (The Parthenon of Books) (1983) is to be replicated in Kassel as part of Documenta 14 © Marta Minujín Archive
Documenta 14

8 April-16 July
Various venues, Athens
10 June-17 September
Various venues, Kassel
In contrast to the Venice Biennale, Documenta, the quinquennial contemporary show held in Kassel, is gearing up to be a highly political exhibition. For the first time in its 60-year history, the event will be split across two cities: Kassel in Germany, the birthplace of the exhibition, and Athens. A huge replica of the Acropolis in Athens, made from 100,000 banned books, will rise in the Friedrichsplatz in Kassel as part of Documenta 14. The work is a re-staging of The Parthenon of Books by the Argentine artist Marta Minujín, who created the piece in Buenos Aires in 1983.

“Athens is, of course, a very visible embodiment of the general decline of the economy and the condition of civil society that is taking place across Europe, with the rise of the right wing visible everywhere,” the artistic director, Adam Szymczyk, told the online magazine Kunstkritikk. He also stressed that he is “looking for possible alliances with locations and cultural environments, producers, traditions and histories that are located at an improbable distance to both Athens and Kassel”. Szymczyk subsequently plans to include Sámi artists from Karasjok, a remote municipality in northern Norway, in the show.

All the World’s Futures, the Venice Biennale in 2015.
57th Venice Biennale

13 May-26 November
Arsenale and Giardini, Venice
The artistic director of the next Venice Biennale, Christine Macel, says that she is creating an exhibition “designed with the artists, by the artists and for the artists”, adding that she is concerned with “individual expression” and art having “a spiritual dimension”, rather than a political slant.

Macel, who is the chief curator of contemporary art at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, indicated that there will be more women in the exhibition—entitled Viva Arte Viva—an emphasis on forgotten artists, and explorations of work from Latin America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Russia. A quirky aspect of Macel’s biennale is Open Table, whereby participating artists will have lunch with members of the public in front of the Central Pavilion in the Giardini throughout the exhibition. Meanwhile, artists will be asked to name their favourite books for the Unpacking My Library project. The lists of texts read will go on show along with a copy of Walter Benjamin’s 1931 essay Unpacking My Library, a Talk about Book Collecting.

13th Sharjah Biennial
10 March-12 June
Various venues, Sharjah
The Sharjah Biennial, which was founded in 1993, has provided a crucial platform for contemporary artists in the conservative enclaves of the Middle East. The 13th edition of the biennial is organised by Christine Tohmé, the founding director of the Beirut-based Ashkal Alwan (the non-profit Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts). The exhibition is due to include works by more than 50 international artists and will be based on the theme of Tamawuj, meaning in Arabic the rise and fall of waves or an undulating appearance.

Aros Triennial
3 June-30 July
Venues include Aros Aarhus Art Museum, Aarhus
The scope of the first Aros Triennial is ambitious, covering the past 400 years through three sections titled The Past, The Present and The Future. “[It] will reflect on man’s perception of nature according to philosophical, religious and political changes,” the organisers say. Simon Starling, Doug Aitken, Alicja Kwade and Superflex are due to present new commissions alongside works by Old Masters such as Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. Elmgreen & Dragset will unveil a park structure titled Cruising Pavilion.

Sculpture Projects Münster
10 June-1 October
Various venues, Münster
The fifth edition of Sculpture Projects Münster, which is held every ten years, includes more than 30 public art and performance works spread across the city in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia. The Chicago-born artist Michael Smith will set up a booth near the train station where he plans to tattoo some of the city’s senior citizens. The Romanian artist Alexandra Pirici will present a performance piece in the town hall in which the participants act as “living search engines”, fielding questions from visitors about the history of Westphalia.

Istanbul Biennial
16 September-12 November
Various venues, Istanbul
The curators of the 15th edition, the Scandinavian artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset, say that their presentation in Turkey, entitled a good neighbour, will deal with multiple notions of home and neighbourhoods, "exploring how living modes in our private spheres have changed throughout the past decades. Home is approached as an indicator of diverse identities and a vehicle for self-expression, and neighbourhood as a micro-universe exemplifying some of the challenges we face in terms of co-existence today.” The biennial was launched by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts in 1987.

Lahore Biennale
Opens November
Venues to be confirmed, Lahore
The inaugural edition of Pakistan’s first biennial, led by the Pakistani artist Rashid Rana, will encompass residencies, talks and workshops across the city, and include new commissions from established and emerging artists. Organisers say that the exhibition will “explore art’s power as an instrument of social change”, though security issues may deter international visitors. Rana says that the biennial is “bound to be different. In my vision, the city serves not just as a site, but is also the medium.”

More biennials and triennials in 2017

Kochi-Muziris Biennale
Until 29 March
Kerala, India

Desert X
25 February-30 April
Palm Springs, US

Honolulu Biennial
8 March-8 May
Honolulu, US

Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art
10 March-14 May
Moscow, Russia

Kathmandu Triennale
24 March-9 April
Kathmandu, Nepal

Yokohama Triennial
4 August-5 November
Yokohama, Japan

Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA
September-January 2018
Greater Los Angeles, US

Folkestone Triennial
2 September-5 November
Folkestone, UK

Chicago Architecture Biennale
16 September-31 December
Chicago, US

Lyons Biennale
20 September-31 December
Lyons, France

Performa 17
1-19 November
New York, US

Prospect 4
11 November-25 February 2018
New Orleans, US

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