Published on Webdiary - Founded and Inspired by Margo Kingston (/cms)

Sydney Biennale: A real success?

By Nicola Mele
Created 30/09/2008 - 16:36

This contribution has been submitted to Webdiary by a student in the Online Journalism unit for the Masters in Media Practice and Masters in Publishing courses at The University of Sydney as part of the unit's assessment. The topics covered in the pieces awaiting publication are interesting – and diverse. We hope that Webdiarists will enjoy reading them, as well as giving these aspiring journalists plenty of constructive commentary.

Sydney Biennale: A real success?
by Nicola Mele

On 7th September the 16th Sydney Biennale [1] came to an end. As I am originally from Italy, a country where art is a substantial part of everyday’s life, I was interested in seeing how this important event could affect the approach of Sydneysiders towards contemporary and visual art.

The theme of this year’s Biennale was Revolutions – Forms That Turn. “The space explored by this exhibition is the gap between the first part of the title – revolutions – which suggests a directly political and content-based exhibition, and the subsequent phrase – forms that turn – which alternatively suggests the autonomy and isolation of the art object, spinning on its own and detached from daily life, or the energy and potential latent in forms themselves (turns that form),” said Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, artistic director of the Biennale. During the opening press conference when a journalist asked her what her main objective as curator of the event was, she explained that she was aiming to reach as many people as possible by presenting a wide variety of artists from all over the world, with different backgrounds, styles and stories (the Biennale featured more than 180 artists from 42 countries). And if her only objective was to gather the biggest number of visitors, she successfully achieved it since more than 435,000 people visited the Biennale over twelve weeks [2], with an increase of 37% on the 2006 edition of the event.

But the price to pay for compromising with the requests of the crowd might be a loss of quality. And this was the case of this year’s Biennale, whose works and artists were heavily criticised in terms of quality and originality. The British magazine Aesthetica defined the art festival ‘boring’ and some of the featured artists ‘amateurs’. Furthermore several critics from all over the world were unanimous in their negative impressions on the exhibition. “I came all the way from Italy just to see the Biennale and I found it absolutely disappointing,” said the co-curator at the Spazioarte Contemporary Art Gallery in Florence. “Cockatoo Island was an interesting venue, but I felt that they chose such a beautiful location just to distract the visitors from the total absence of quality of some installations featured in the exhibition. Contemporary art is not popular art, they should have considered that,” he added.

The originality of some installations was another issue that generated controversy. It was announced that 65 artworks featured in the various venues were exclusively created for this edition of the Sydney Biennale. But it was not always true. Joannis Kounellis’ installation Senza Titolo (untitled) [3] for example, was announced as conceived by the artist expressly for Cockatoo Island. However it was previously imagined for the 2007 Venice Biennale but never realised. Same story with Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, whose work The Murder Of Crows was featured at the Pier 2/3 venue.

Considering the huge response of public that the art festival had, many people were expecting Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev to be reconfirmed as artistic director. But it was announced that British curator David Elliot will be replacing her for the 2010 Sydney Biennale [4]. The official reason that Marah Braye (chief executive officer of the Biennale) gave, was a previous commitment that Christov-Bakargiev had with the Castello di Rivoli Museum for Contemporary Art in Italy.

I am not an art expert, but I was looking forward to visiting the various venues of the Biennale. I did enjoy the experience, but I wasn’t fully satisfied with the artworks. The theme of the event was interesting and could have been developed differently by analysing more in-depth the humane desire of revolution instead of focusing on the political aspect.

Did you visit the Biennale? What was your general impression on the event and on the artworks featured?

Source URL: