17th Bergen Biennial Conference 

bergen biennial conference

As scholars and curators have recently acknowledged, the history of exhibitions is both one of the most vital and, paradoxically, ignored narratives of our cultural history. And given the increasing role of biennials and other perennial exhibitions of contemporary art in contemporary culture, it seems all the more necessary to critically examine them today. The impetus to do so now comes in response to the Bergen City Council’s plans to establish a biennial for contemporary art in Bergen, Norway, for which the Bergen Kunsthall has taken up the task of organizing an international conference and think tank to study and discuss the status of the biennial as an exhibition model, and also to launch a debate concerning the plans for a biennial in Bergen.
The aims of the Bergen Biennial Conference, poised to be one of the most extensive examinations of the biennial phenomenon to date, are to identify and explore existing ‘biennial knowledge’ from different regions of the world and to incite new critical thinking and writing on recurrent large-scale art exhibitions—their history, socio-political and economical contexts, as well as their impact on artistic and curatorial practices.

Taking research as its starting point, the Bergen Biennial Conference will bring together an international group of curators, critics, artists, and thinkers so as to benefit from their discussions of their findings, and create the occasion to reflect collectively about the practice and potential of biennials as institutions. The event’s discursive format—a combination of symposium and think tank—made up of three days of lectures as well as seminar style workshops with young and leading professionals in the field will be complemented with a two-volume reader. The first volume will include existing seminal texts on biennials from around the world, and a second volume will be composed of newly commissioned texts and a report on the event. On the occasion of the conference, the archive on international biennials that was conceived as part of the 28th São Paolo Biennial and constituting the most comprehensive documentation source on biennials anywhere, will be present and available for consultation in the Bergen Kunsthall.

Call for Articles

As the first step in this project, and in order to compile the first volume’s comprehensive reader about biennials, we are calling for already existing (published or unpublished, recent or older) articles from around the world and in any language on the biennial as a format or phenomenon (i.e. not reviews of a particular edition of a biennial but more comprehensive, researched articles on the larger biennial question). We ask that you submit articles that you may have written or know about, which constitute a seminal reflection on the subject of perennial exhibitions. Please include full contact information or publication information for previously published texts. All submissions will be considered for the creation of a biennial bibliography, a new reference tool aiming to be beneficial for all professionals working in the field. A selection of texts will be translated and published, with prior permission of the author.

The Biennial Reader

An Anthology on Large-Scale Perennial Exhibitions of Contemporary Art
Edited by Elena Filipovic, Marieke van Hal, and Solveig Øvstebø
Hatje Cantz & Bergen Kunsthall

TBR__560This anthology on the global biennial phenomenon includes seminal republished texts collected from around the world as well as newly commissioned contributions by the leading scholars, curators, critics, and thinkers of biennials today. By tracing the genealogy of the perennial exhibition format (understood here as including not only biennials but also other recurrent exhibitions such as triennials and quadrennials) and by examining some of the most emblematic examples of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—from the biennials in Venice and Johannesburg to those of Havana and Gwangju, and from Documenta to Manifesta—this collection reads the artistic, theoretical, political, and other ambitions of such large-scale exhibition projects against the grain of their resulting exhibitions. Poised to be a vital resource, The Biennial Reader reflects on the past, the promise, and the future of these exhibitions and argues for a new history of art written through their analysis. In the process, this “reader” of essays explores perennial exhibitions and the global hegemonic shifts that made them possible as well as their impact on contemporary art, curating, culture, and art institutions.

Texts by: Lawrence Alloway, George Baker, Carlos Basualdo, Michael Brenson, Daniel Buren, Charlotte Bydler, John Clark, Okwui Enwezor, Bruce W. Ferguson, Elena Filipovic, Marieke van Hal, Maria Hlavajova, Milena M. Hoegsberg , Ranjit Hoskote, Caroline A. Jones, Yacouba Konaté, Oliver Marchart, Sabine Marschall, Federica Martini, Vittoria Martini, Thomas McEvilley, Gerardo Mosquera, Rafal Niemojewski, Paul O’Neill, Solveig Øvstebø, Marion Pastor Roces, Donald Preziosi, Raqs Media Collective, Simon Sheikh, Vinicius Spricigo, Jan Verwoert
2010. 512 pp., 70 ills.
16,80 x 25,10 cm
softcover, with 56page illustrated booklet from the Bergen Biennial Conference 2009

The Biennial Reader is available now from Hatje Cantz, www.hatjecantz.de, and Bergen Kunsthall, www.kunsthall.no.

The Biennial Reader will be launched at Art Basel Miami Beach, December 2 – 5, 2010 and the Frankfurt Book Fair, October 6 – 10, 2010.

Biennial Archive

On the occasion of the conference, the entirety of the Arquivo Histórico Wanda Svevo (the Wanda Svevo Historical Archive) on international biennials that was conceived as part of the 28th São Paolo Biennial and constituting the most comprehensive documentation source on biennials anywhere, will be present and available for consultation in the Bergen Kunsthall.

An invaluable resource, this first ever presentation of such an extensive archive on biennials in Europe underscores the ambitions of the conference to incite new critical thinking and writing on recurrent large-scale art exhibitions.

Arquivo Histórico Wanda Svevo (the Wanda Svevo Historical Archive) administrates a central element of the cultural heritage on which the São Paulo Biennial is based. The archive is the most important reference source for the biennial as institution. In connection with the 28th biennial in São Paulo a campaign was launched to collect publications from as many biennials and other periodical exhibitions as possible from all over the world. The influx of books led to an expansion and contextualization of the existing Arquivo Histórico Wanda Svevo. Behind this was a wish to show the public the vast range of biennials that exist in the world today. Over 200 biennials have been registered, some of which no longer exist and are therefore now only accessible through this kind of historical documentation. Other biennials are active institutions that appear in a new guise in every version, where catalogues and other publications provide valuable insight into the exhibition history of the biennials.


The idea for a biennial for contemporary art in Bergen was first announced in the City of Bergen’s Action Plan for Arts and Artists 1995-2005 (the Arts Plan). The next step in realizing this idea took place in 1999 with the establishment of BergArt, a collaborative, interdisciplinary annual festival involving several art institutions in Bergen.

Although BergArt resulted in interesting collaborations among institutions in Bergen, some of the participating festivals, such as Oktoberdans and the Bergen International Film Festival (BIFF), proved to have a much stronger impact than the BergArt festival itself. At the same time, several well-known and widely recognized arts festivals focusing on music, theatre, film and dance have been flourishing in Bergen. However, the lack of a festival-like event for the visual arts was increasingly felt. In 2007, the City of Bergen’s Commissioner for Culture therefore re-introduced the idea of starting up a biennial for visual arts from 2009.

In 2007, a new Arts Plan, ‘Bergen City of the Arts 2008-2017’, was unanimously adopted by the city council. The stated ambition of the plan is to make Bergen the most interesting and innova¬tive city for art and culture in the Nordic countries by 2017. An important part of this vision is the development of a biennial with significant artistic quality, as well as the plan to discuss the biennial format with respect to the dilemmas that arise when policy aims encounter artistic freedom. The issues relate to the institutional autonomy of art, its independence from overall public goals, and the political and instrumental use of the biennial, and of art in general, as an element in the development of the city.

In light of these issues, the City of Bergen’s Departments of Cultural Affairs, Business Development and Sports have asked Bergen Kunsthall to host an international art symposium in 2009 that focuses on biennials. The planned launch of the biennial itself has been postponed from 2009 to 2011. This decision resulted from an acknowledgement that the biennial format is presently being discussed and evaluated internationally. It will be productive to participate in these ongoing discussions and to use them as a point of departure for the founding of a biennial in Bergen. Instead of regarding the increasing number of biennials around the world – and even within Norway – as competition and an obstacle, we can utilise the current recons¬ideration of the biennial concept in international discourse as an important backdrop and basis for discussion.


Bergen Biennial Conference: 17th of September – 20th of September 2009. Brief summary of conference program. For details on lectures, dialogues and workshops please read the daily program.

Thursday 17th of September: OFFICIAL OPENING

Venue: Bergen Kunsthall.

Opening of the conference and the Arquivo Histórico Wanda Svevo of the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, Bergen Kunsthall at 19:00 by Henning Warloe, Commissioner of Finance, Cultural Affairs and Sports, City of Bergen.

The official opening of the Bergen Biennial Conference will also mark the start of the Biennial Archive’s opening party. Wine will be served during the opening, before the party continues in Landmark café and bar.

Arquivo Histórico Wanda Svevo
Bergen Kunsthall – NO.5
17th September – 4th October
Opening: 17th Sep 19:00
Open daily from 12:00 – 21:00.

Friday 18th of September: HISTORY

The opening day of the conference will lay the foundations for subsequent discussions by focusing on the history and origins of biennials and other perennial international exhibitions, from early World’s Fairs and the Venice Biennial, as well as such others as the São Paolo, Havana Biennials and Documenta to the 1990’s biennial boom that saw the rise of the Manifesta, Berlin, Istanbul, Gwangju, Mercosul, and Dak’Art Biennials, among many others. Discussions will closely consider the historical events and socio-economic, geopolitical contexts that made these recurrent exhibitions possible or even necessary and urgent. This day will also address the ambitions and forms that these exhibitions and the art they show have taken over the years.

Saturday 19th of September: PRACTICE

The second day will focus on practice, elaborating on the different types of biennials today, looking at their functioning, developments and evolution over time. This day will be the occasion to reflect collectively about the biennial as a historically new type of art institution, reading the variety of benefits and limitations of such large-scale art events against the grain of their resulting exhibitions. Questions will be raised such as: Do biennials foster different or more interesting art exhibitions and more inventive curatorial practices? How does the biennial differentiate itself from and/or depend on other art world structures?

Sunday 20th of September: FUTURE

In a time when post-modernity has come to an end and an era of alter-modernity has been announced, is the perennial exhibition still relevant? Taking up the query that some biennials are themselves asking of late about the potentials and limits of the format, this day focuses on the future. Reflecting on the responsibility and the role of the curator, the recent tendency towards new discursive models for biennials will be discussed, as well as the consequences of these changing exhibition structures for artists, curators and the public. Why is ‘yet another biennial’ seen as redundant, while new museums or art centers usually are welcomed within a community? The discussions and thoughts of the previous days will come together and the possibilities for new curatorial paradigms as well as the idea for a biennial in Bergen will be assessed.


The Biennial Reader Volume I,II
A two-volume Biennial Reader will accompany the Bergen Biennial Conference. The first volume will include republished seminal texts on biennials from around the world, as well as a selection of texts based on the Call for Articles. The second volume will be composed of newly commissioned theoretical texts which will relate to the topics addressed in the Conference.

Bergen Biennial Conference 2009 – Bergen Kunsthall

Kontakt og Andre Spørringer

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