Figure 0.1 Queue of art-world guests waiting patiently on the first morning of vernissage week to visit artist Mike Nelson's installation in the British Pavilion at the 54th Biennale of Venice, 2011. Photograph Charles Green.


Why Biennials?

This book examines the history, display, and transformation of art by one of the most significant phenomena in contemporary global culture: landmark survey shows of international contemporary art or, as they are also known, “biennials.” The term is used inexactly and sometimes inappropriately, encompassing not just biennials but also triennials and even the quinquennial survey exhibition, documenta.1 These regularly recurring exhibitions have come, since the early 1990s, to define contemporary art. For decades now, biennials have been one of the most ubiquitous and celebrated exhibition formats across the globe, appearing in countries as different as Senegal, Albania, and China. Many visitors encounter contemporary art solely within their frames, while their mix of artists and art from diverse cultures and places has ensured that vital intercultural dialogues have emerged. This has brought clear benefits to art history and art-making. Biennials have drawn local practitioners into ostensibly globalized networks of art-world attention and financial support, publicizing regions or cities previously deemed “peripheral” to the ...

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