The number of biennials (or Biennale in Italian) grew tremendously during the late 20th century. The term biennial (used in this case to encompass annuals, triennials and other serial exhibitions)describes an international exhibition of contemporary art occuring on a periodic basis, such as every two years. By 2009, it was estimated that there are over 100 art biennials around the world.
These exhibitions have burgeoned all over the world with some lasting only for short periods while others keep appearing. The goal of the biennial is to show, in a regular, ongoing manner, the latest developments in international contemporary art so as to benefit local artists and audiences. Critics may charge that biennials are motivated more by the demands of cultural tourism than by their avowed purpose of linking local art practice to international standards. Supporters point to the fact that biennials have assumed a role that museums, in their collecting and exhibiting tend to defer, the challenge of the contemporary.
By showcasing local artists, many of the biennials have promoted art outside the US and European traditions. The Havana Biennial in Cuba has publicized contemporary art from Latin America, Dak'Art in Senegal has been a platform for contemporary art with cultural roots in Africa, and the growth of biennials in Asia has been phenomenal with outlets in Shanghai (China), Kwangju (Korea), and Fukuoka (Japan) to name a few.
Issues of globalization, cultural diversity, internationalism, public culture, geopolitics are common in the literature of these international exhibitions. The role of the curator and of the artist in the event is widely debated. Organizers are challenged to reflect national or local characteristics or alternatively to be open to innovation and international exchanges. Biennials continue to expose spectators and participants to the rich diversity of contemporary visual culture.
Whitney Biennial: Started as an annual exhibition in 1932, this biennial exhibition of contemporary American art at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City typically features work by young and lesser known artists. KU owns many of the catalogs from the art exhibition.