Location: National University of Arts, 28 Calea Grivitei – in the lecture hall.

Dates: 25-26 June 2010

Speakers: Jörg Scheller, Felix Vogel, Beat Wyss, Zdenka Badovinac, Jan May, Ursula Zeller, Annika Hossain, Susann Oehler, Razvan Ion, Marcus Graf, Li Zhenhua, Natasha Becker.

Organized by Bucharest Biennale and the Swiss Institute for Art Research.

In cooperation with the Swiss Institute for Art Research in Zurich (SIK-ISEA), Bucharest Biennale will host an international conference on the >Biennale Principle<. The agenda will address the genealogical aspects of Art Biennales by discussing the history of the Venice Biennale, as well as the present and future conditions of Art Biennales such as the Bucharest Biennale. The conference is based on the assumption that Art Biennales are foremostly Janus-faced. On one hand, they are part of the globalized art market and perpetuate its structures, rites and conventions – the homogenizing effect of Biennales. On the other hand, they often highlight local, regional or national idiosyncrasies – the heterogenizing effect of Biennales.
At SIK-ISEA, a team of international researchers is currently exploring the history of the Venice Biennale with a focus on the Swiss and various Middle-European pavilions. As the first Art Biennale ever, the Venice Biennale is a promising case study for the above implied dialectics of universalism – exceptionalism. Since its beginnings, the exhibition at the Giardini in Venice has served as an arena for bringing various nations together and engaging them in discourse. At the same time, it shed light on or even ignited rivalries between nations. As a heir of the World Fairs in the field of art, the Venice Biennale displays the same simultaneity of competition/mutual exchange, universalism/exceptionalism, inclusion/exclusion as its predecessors.
While curators, artists and politicians often pursued quite different or even incommensurable objectives, depending on their respective cultural backgrounds, the Venice Biennale was and is altogether a more or less conservative, consensus-oriented event. In most cases, the art nations involved follow(ed) the dominant narratives of art history and the dominant international artistic styles in order to adapt to the cultural lead currencies. Marginal progressivist avant-garde movements were hardly ever considered, whereas in recent times, the label >avant-garde< has become institutionalized, pacified and absorbed in mainstream discourse.
On a structural level, the Venice Biennale was (and to this day is) based on a comparative scheme, realized through national pavilions, thus allowing for the association and disassociation of cultural policies and aesthetic programmes. However, the assembly of national pavilions does not provide insight into the >nature< or >essence< of nations, but rather into the manifold ways of constructing, inventing and representing concepts of (inter-, trans-)national or (inter-, trans-)cultural identities.
One of the most promising research methods for exploring the Venice Biennale and its various contemporary successors is “Comparative Art History”. This methodological approach has recently been coined by Piotr Piotrowski (Uniwersytet im. Adama Mieckiewicza, Poznan, Poland) who also speaks of “horizontal art history” as opposed to “vertical art history”. The latter implies a certain dominance of the Western cultural centers over the so called >peripheries< or >margins< in East-Central Europe. Comparative Art History seeks to abolish such implicitly judgmental hierarchies by highlighting the specific modes of local and regional art reception and art production. It allows for the analysis of unity and diversity at the same time.
Precisely looking behind the curtains of the >Biennale Principle< casts universalist notions of art history into doubt and demands the renunciation of homogenizing, self-contained narratives of art history. The question is not only: who and what was shown at this Biennale or that Biennale? But also: what was not shown? And why was it not shown? Moreover, it is evident that certain styles and discourses indeed have transcended – and more than ever do transcend – national boundaries, but nevertheless take on different meanings in different social, political and cultural contexts.
In summary, the conference will address and discuss the potentials of Comparative Art History in the field of Biennale studies, starting from the Swiss pavilion in Venice, continuing with lectures on further national pavilions (see below) and finally tracing the modifications and variations of the >Biennale Principle< by the example of more recent Biennales such as the Istanbul Biennale or the Bucharest Biennale.

Bucharest Biennale wish to address a special thanks to prof. dr. Beat Wyss for making possible this conference and to prof. dr. Ruxandra Demetrescu for hosting the event..

The conference is supported by ProHelvetia and the Goethe Institute Bucharest.


Friday, June 25

15.00 Reception
15.30 Welcome / introduction (Jörg Scheller, Felix Vogel, Beat Wyss)
16.00 Opening lecture (Zdenka Badovinac)
16.45 Discussion
17.00 Biennales and Academic Research (Ursula Zeller)
17.30 Venice Biennale I: Cultural Policy (Jan May)
18.00 Discussion
18.15 Coffee break
18.30 Venice Biennale II: The US-American Pavilion (Annika Hossain)
19.00 Venice Biennale III: The Swiss Pavilion (Susann Oehler)
19.30 Discusssion

Saturday, June 26

09.30 Reception
10.00 Recent Biennales: Bucharest Biennale (Felix Vogel / Razvan Ion)
10.30 Recent Biennales: Istanbul Biennale (Marcus Graf)
11.00 Discussion
11.15 Coffee Break
11.30 Recent Biennales: Asian Biennales (Li Zhenhua)
12.00 Recent Biennales: Johannesburg Biennale (Natasha Becker)
12.30 Final discussion

Image: BUCHAREST BIENNALE 4, “Handlung. On Producing Possibilities”, curated by Felix Vogel, image from the installation, 2010. Courtesy PAVILION – journal for politics and culture. (Here from left to right installation of: Ângela Ferreira, Åsa Sonjasdotter).

Bucharest International Biennial for Contemporary Art proudly supported by PILSNER URQUELL

Sos. Nicolae Titulescu 1 (Piata Victoriei) Bucharest  011131 Romania T: + 4 031 103 4131 E: [email protected]


This is a project by PAVILION – journal for politics and culture.

— PAVILION, BUCHAREST BIENNALE and PAVILION UNICREDIT are projects devised and founded by Razvan Ion and Eugen Radescu

Proudly sponsored by: Pilsner Urquell
Strategic partner: UniCredit Tiriac Bank
Supported by: Austrian Cultural Forum, British Council, Centre for Visual Introspection, Danish Arts Council, dgARTES, French Cultural Institute, French Embassy, FRAME Finland, Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian, FSPUB (Faculty of Political Science, Bucharest University), National Geology Museum, IASPIS, IFA Germany, laBOMBA, Ministerio da Cultura, Mondriaan Foundation, Netherlands Embassy in Bucharest, OCA Norway, ParadisGaraj, Polish Institute, Romanian Cultural Institute, Romanian Cultural Institute New York, Romanian Institute of Geology, Rumanska Kulturinstitutet Stockholm, Seacex, UNArte (National University of Arts, Bucharest), FRAME – Finnish Fund for Art Exchange.
Media partners: 22 Magazine, Afterall, Alternativ, Arhitectura, Cabinet, Cura Magazine, Euromedia, Framework, Kaleidoscope, Metropotam, Modernism, Mute, Oops Media, Open, Radical Philosophy, Springerin, VeiozaArte, Vicious Vitamins, Zile si Nopti.
Official coffee: Illy
Official hotel: Intercontinental Bucharest
Printing partner: First Advertising
Official club: Control
Production partner: UpDate Advertising
Official city guide: City Compass