Goat Kings
In front of the Faculty of Law of Buenos Aires, installation of the Portuguese Pedro Cabrita Reis

The biennial format has long ceased to have a single standard and, even though it generally contains a multinational presence, many experiments are often carried out. There are biennials created to address only one region, such as Mercosur, in Porto Alegre, or Europe, such as Manifesta. Their most recent initiative is Bienalsur – International Biennial of Contemporary Art in South America.

“We use the term biennial as a Trojan horse”, ironizes Diana Wechsler, artistic-academic director of Bienalsur. For her, this was a way of gaining support and interest from interlocutors in Argentina and abroad. The metaphor makes sense, after all, everything that this recent biennial based in Buenos Aires encompasses goes far beyond what any other exhibition of its kind has achieved.

African artist Romuald Hazoumé from the Republic of Benin, Diana Wechsler, artistic-academic director of the Bienal sur, artist Carolina Wolmer, Anibal Jozami, director of the Bienal SUR, artist voluspa jarpa, Bertrand Ivanoff, journalist Marlise Ilhesca, organizer of the Bienal , and the Brazilian Eduardo Srur PHOTO: Patricia Rousseaux

First, it is organized from a public university, UNTREF (Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero), which gives it a more research-oriented character and less concerned with tourism or the art market, despite its rector and general director of the event, Anibal Jozami, and his wife, Brazilian journalist Marlise Ilhesca, are a prestigious couple of contemporary art collectors.

In addition to Wechsler, however, who directs the master's and doctorate courses in visual arts at UNTREF, an academic committee with 30 universities from all over the world, from Japan to Brazil, reinforce the biennial's research side.

UNTREF, it is worth remembering, has an important exhibition space in Buenos Aires, the Center for Contemporary Art and the Museum of Immigration, where excellent shows have already been shown, such as “Levantes”, on display at Sesc Pinheiros, in São Paulo, by French artist Georges Didi. -Huberman, who has a professorship at the Buenos Aires university, and “Losing the human form”, organized together with the Reina Sofia museum.

Therefore, without a doubt, it is not forced to say that a biennial will emerge from it. Strange, when talking about this circuit, is that it takes place simultaneously in 84 spaces in 32 cities in 16 countries, most of them in Latin America, but also in Australia, France and Japan. As a result, an accurate assessment of this initiative is practically impossible.

Alice Creischer (1960), Andreas Siekmann (1961), Brukman's workers, Installation composed of ten sewn costumes and digital drawings on paper PHOTO: PR

Despite the explicit content of South America in the title, the concept of the south is closer to what the Sesc Videobrasil Festival has been presenting, that is, of exhibiting counter-hegemonic practices, which formally occur not only in the south. In documenta 14, by the way, which also addressed this issue, this occurred with the appropriation of the Greek magazine “South as a State of Mind”, which in Europe represents a less harsh and rationalist way of thinking such as the that occurs in northern countries.

With this expansion of the concept of the south, the Argentine biennial is also concerned with a political position. For Jozami, who in addition to being a dean is also a businessman, investing in such a complex event is part of the university's role. “Art and culture are often seen as palliative for those who suffer social inequalities, but one of our axes is precisely to support social projects that give visibility to marginalized groups,” he told the ARTE!Brasileiros, in the large office with wooden furniture in the rectory room, in the Recoleta neighborhood. There he answers everything in detail, except when the question is about values. In Argentina, there are no laws to encourage culture, which makes sponsorship direct, whether from the State or from the private sector, and the rector only says that “the exhibition costs less than it appears”.

Marion Baruch, Rumania, 1929, Portrait 4, 2013, Silk, 19cm x 140cm, Mamco Collection, counterpoints in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts of Buenos Aires PHOTO: PR

Finally, the selection of artists depends on a democratic call for projects by public notice – out of 2500 received, about 300 were approved – for invitations to exhibitions that are already circulating in art institutions, such as “Take me (I'm yours). Originally conceived by Julia Peyton-Jones, Andrea Schlieker and Hans Ulrich Obrist, in 1995, following the fashion of reenactments, it reappeared in 2015, in France, with the help of Christian Boltanski, and since then it has been circulating around the world, from New York to Milan, where it is now also located. The concept is simple: it consists of multiples of artists, such as postcards, shirts, posters and buttons, which can be taken by visitors free of charge.

“We brought this exhibition because this idea has to do with the concept of the biennial. Here, as it takes place in a free location, we had to replace everything much faster than in other cities”, says Jozami.

Here, one of the contradictions of Bienalsur is made explicit, which, if on the one hand seeks academic support, on the other does not shy away from appealing to Obrist, the most stellar curator of the contemporary circuit, who uses his celebrity to be everywhere, even with the same show. This strategy recalls the recurrent need for validation of Latin American countries by the countries of the North. Unnecessary.

Even so, within such a broad spectrum, Obrist is diluted in Buenos Aires, where 26 other spaces host exhibitions and projects linked to the Bienalsur, bringing together museums, such as Malba and Belas Artes, to cultural centers, such as the recently CCK (Kirchner Cultural Center) was inaugurated.

There is everything, and the strength of this event seems to be born from this diversity: from a parade-manifesto by Ronaldo Fraga, using Latin themes in unconventional models, to the giant Pet bottles by Eduardo Srur, which resemble the denunciations of ecological movements such as Greenpeace. .

Ivan Grilo, Nadie ha dejada de existe, 2017, two 100 cm x 25 cm plaques, bronze PHOTO: PR

Between these two examples, there are exhibitions on collecting – of the five axes of the biennial, one is called Collection of Collection -, such as “Art to think about the new reason for the world”, with recent acquisitions by the Spanish Reina Sofia museum, in general with high voltage. policy. The other axes of the Bienal are: Art in the Urban Space; Art on the Borders; Art and Social Action, and Bienalsur Curatorships.

The title that the Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas dedicated to his book on (d)OCUMENTA 13 would fit well to describe the Bienalsur: “there is no place for logic in Buenos Aires”. It is certain, however, that such a broad and inclusive action of contemporary art, present from historical museums to border areas and full of controversy, is essential to oxygenate the sad times of conservative progress on the planet. And Jozami guarantees: more is coming in 2019.


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