The Display of Art: Exhibitions, Biennials, Salons: International Exhibitions

Definitions and resources related to historical and contemporary exhibitions.

International Exhibitions

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.

Smith, Terry. "Biennales in the Conditions of the Contemporary," Art and Australia, v.42 #3, Autumm 2005, p. 406-15.

Clark, John. "Biennials and the Circulation of Contemporary Asian Art," Yishu, v.8 #1, Jan-Feb 2009, p.32-40. 


Universes in Universe: Visual Arts from Africa, Asia, and the Americas in the International Art Context, an online magazine that includes photos and tours of biennials and exhibitions as well as a comprehensive calendar of biennials.  

Catalogues for Selected Biennials, Annuals, and other Serial Exhibitions

Documenta: An exhibition of contemporary art founded in 1955 occuring every five years in Kassel, Germany. KU owns many of the catalogs from this very important exhibition. The library database at the Documenta Archive contains bibliographic references to books, exhibition catalogues, magazines and brochures on the documenta and its artists and on contemporary art in general. The archive database allows you to do a cross-media search involving image material, newspaper articles and videos.

Bienal de Sao Paulo:  Founded in 1951 and held every two years, this exhibition features both Brazilian and international contemporary art. Since 1957, the São Paulo Biennial has been held in the Ciccillo Matarazzo pavilion in the Parque do Ibirapuera and includes national presentations as well as international exhibitions held under the direction of rotating chief curators. KU owns many of the catalogs from this important exhibition.  

Venice Biennale: Dating from 1895, this is the oldest, most extensive, and most important of the international contemporary art exhibitions. Occuring every two years in "odd" years in Venice, Italy, the event now includes the Venice Film Festival, the International Festival of Contemporary Dance, the International Festival of Contemporary Music, an International Theater Festival, and, in even years, the Venice Biennale of Architecture. In 1907, the several countries started installing national pavilions at the exhibition and there are now 30 permanent national pavilions. The Aperto, which began as a fringe event for younger artists and artists of a national origin not represented by the permanent national pavilions, is usually staged in the Arsenale and has become part of the formal biennale programme. KU owns many of the catalogs from the art exhibition. Check the library catalog for holdings.  KU also owns many of the catalogs from the architecture exhibition under a variety of call numbers. To find them, search the library catalog for the author "International Architectural Exhibition." 

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.