Hirshhorn Plaza

Friday, December 7, 2001

The Smithsonian’s International Art Museums—Freer Gallery of Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the National Museum of African Art—will host “Who Defines the Contemporary? Biennials and the Global Art World,” a free symposium on biennial exhibitions, on Saturday, Jan.12, 2002.

The program includes exhibition tours beginning at 10 a.m. at the Hirshhorn (Independence Avenue at 7th Street S.W.), followed by presentations and a panel discussion at 2 p.m. at the Freer’s Meyer Auditorium (Independence Avenue at 12th Street S.W.). Speakers include international biennial curators and artists Hou Hanru, Sue Williamson and Paulo Herkenhoff. Art critic and curator Dan Cameron will serve as the panel’s moderator.

“With their commitment to Asian and African traditions as well as to modern and contemporary art, the international art museums are uniquely positioned to provide a global perspective on artistic expressions of the present,” said Tom Lentz, head of the Smithsonian’s International Art Museums Division. “The exhibitions of Juan Muñoz, Sue Williamson and Xu Bing and the symposium panel engage new voices that have emerged with the phenomenal expansion of the international biennial over the past two decades.”

Over the past 10 years, there has been a significant increase in the numbers and locations of biennial exhibitions. Biennials are now hosted in such cities as Dakar, Brisbane, Cairo, Istanbul, São Paulo, Johannesburg and Havana. Panelists have been asked to speak on several aspects of this phenomenon, addressing questions such as:

To what extent do the alternative biennials broaden the concerns of the internationally renowned Venice Biennale? 

Is the model of the Venice Biennale sufficient for exhibiting the diverse practices and productions of the global art scene? 

Does the organization of biennials by nation-state or region fit the realities of the globalized age? 

How have biennial exhibitions expanded the parameters of contemporary art to include artists and sensibilities from outside Euramerica? 

Who is defining the mainstream and how has the growth in curatorial and critical expertise within non-Western centers contributed to the redefinition of mainstream? 

To what extent is the global proliferation and expansion of the biennial an extension of the modernist project?
What sort of art is exhibited on the biennial circuit and what is excluded? 

What relationship do biennial artists maintain with local art worlds or with art worlds in Euramerica?  

The day begins with special tours of current exhibitions at the Hirshhorn, African Art and Sackler Gallery starting at 10 a.m. with a tour of the Hirshhorn’s “Juan Muñoz” exhibition. At 10:45 a.m., artist Sue Williamson will present her installation piece “The Last Supper Revisited” at the African Art Museum (950 Independence Avenue S.W.). Exhibition curator Britta Erickson will conclude the morning with a tour at 11:30 a.m. of “Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing” at the Sackler Gallery. Registration is recommended for the panel discussion only. People may register via telephone at (202) 357-4880, ext. 433 or through e-mail at contemporary@asia.si.edu. For more information, visit www.asia.si.edu/programs/contemporary.htm.

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