The Venice International Film Festival is part of the Venice Biennale. The famous Golden Lion is awarded to the best film screening at the competition.

In the art world, a Biennale (Italian: [bi.enˈnaːle]), Italian for "biennial" or "every other year", is a large-scale international contemporary art exhibition. The term was popularised by the Venice Biennale, which was first held in 1895, but the concept of such a large scale, and intentionally international event goes back to at least the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.

Although typically used to refer to art festivals or exhibitions which occur every two years, the term is not always applied strictly. Since the 1990s, the terms biennale and biennial have both been used to refer to large-scale international survey shows of contemporary art that recur at regular intervals (Documenta is held every five years, and Skulptur Projekte Münster every ten).[1]

The term has also derived a suffix for other creative events, as in "Berlinale" for the Berlin International Film Festival and "Viennale" for Vienna's international film festival, both of which are held annually.


According to author Federica Martini, what is at stake in contemporary biennales is the diplomatic and international relations potential as well as urban regeneration plans. Besides being mainly focused on the present (the "here and now" where the cultural event takes place and their effect of "spectacularisation of the everyday"), because of their site-specificity cultural events may refer back to,[who?] produce or frame the history of the site and communities' collective memory.[2]

The Great Exhibition in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, in 1851, the first attempt to condense the representation of the world within a unitary exhibition space.

A strong and influent symbol of biennales and of large-scale international exhibitions in general is the Crystal Palace, the gigantic and futuristic London architecture that hosted the Great Exhibition in 1851. According to philosopher Peter Sloterdijk,[3][page needed] the Crystal Palace is the first attempt to condense the representation of the world in a unitary exhibition space, where the main exhibit is society itself in an a-historical, spectacular condition. The Crystal Palace main motives were the affirmation of British economic and national leadership and the creation of moments of spectacle. In this respect, 19th century World fairs provided a visual crystallization of colonial culture and were, at the same time, forerunners of contemporary theme parks.

The Venice Biennale as an archetype

The structure of the Venice Biennale in 2005 with an international exhibition and the national pavilions.

The Venice Biennale, a periodical large-scale cultural event founded in 1895, served as an archetype of the biennales. Meant to become a World Fair focused on contemporary art, the Venice Biennale used as a pretext the wedding anniversary of the Italian king and followed up to several national exhibitions organised after Italy unification in 1861. The Biennale immediately put forth issues of city marketing, cultural tourism and urban regeneration, as it was meant to reposition Venice on the international cultural map after the crisis due to the end of the Grand Tour model and the weakening of the Venetian school of painting. Furthermore, the Gardens where the Biennale takes place were an abandoned city area that needed to be re-functionalised. In cultural terms, the Biennale was meant to provide on a biennial basis a platform for discussing contemporary art practices that were not represented in fine arts museums at the time. The early Biennale model already included some key points that are still constitutive of large-scale international art exhibitions today: a mix of city marketing, internationalism, gentrification issues and destination culture, and the spectacular, large scale of the event.

Biennials after the 1990s

The situation of biennials has changed in the contemporary context: while at its origin in 1895 Venice was a unique cultural event, but since the 1990s hundreds of biennials have been organized across the globe. Given the ephemeral and irregular nature of some biennials, there is little consensus on the exact number of biennials in existence at any given time.[citation needed] Furthermore, while Venice was a unique agent in the presentation of contemporary art, since the 1960s several museums devoted to contemporary art are exhibiting the contemporary scene on a regular basis. Another point of difference concerns 19th century internationalism in the arts, that was brought into question by post-colonial debates and criticism of the contemporary art "ethnic marketing", and also challenged the Venetian and World Fair's national representation system. As a consequence of this, Eurocentric tendency to implode the whole word in an exhibition space, which characterises both the Crystal Palace and the Venice Biennale, is affected by the expansion of the artistic geographical map to scenes traditionally considered as marginal. The birth of the Havana Biennial in 1984 is widely considered an important counterpoint to the Venetian model for its prioritization of artists working in the Global South and curatorial rejection of the national pavilion model.

International biennales

In the term's most commonly used context of major recurrent art exhibitions:

See also


  1. ^ Niemojewski, Rafal (2021). Biennials : the exhibitions we love to hate. London. ISBN 978-1-84822-388-2. OCLC 1205590577.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  2. ^ Vittoria Martini e Federica Martini, Just another exhibition. Histories and politics of biennials, Postmedia Books, 2011 ISBN 88-7490-060-0, ISBN 978-88-7490-060-2.
  3. ^ Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals, 2005.
  4. ^ "In Guatemala, the Bienal de Arte Paiz Offers an Object Lesson in Community-Based Art Done Right". artnet News. September 7, 2018. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  5. ^ ArtReview: World's 'smallest' biennial on Ilet la Biche, Guadeloupe
  6. ^ "Welcome to the world's smallest art fair – on a disappearing speck of sand". The Guardian. January 24, 2017.
  7. ^ "Home | Biennale of Luanda 2021".
  8. ^ "Bienal de Cerveira". Bienal de Cerveira.
  9. ^ "GIBCA • home".
  10. ^ Dunmall, Giovanna (July 26, 2023). "Art and island-hopping in Finland's cultural capital". The National (Abu Dhabi). Retrieved July 27, 2023.
  11. ^ "Lagos Biennial (Nigeria)". Biennial Foundation. Archived from the original on April 24, 2017. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  12. ^ "Lofoten International Art Festival LIAF (Norway)". Biennial Foundation. Archived from the original on June 7, 2013. Retrieved July 1, 2021.
  13. ^ "Momentum (Norway)". Biennial Foundation. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  14. ^ "ENGLISH|NAKANOJO BIENNALE". June 12, 2013.
  15. ^ "October Salon (Serbia)". Biennial Foundation. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  16. ^ Gallery, Osten. "Drawing".
  17. ^ "RIBOCA - Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (Latvia)". Biennial Foundation. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  18. ^ "Scape Public Art". Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  19. ^ "Sequences (Iceland)". Biennial Foundation. Retrieved June 26, 2021.
  20. ^ "Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art (Greece)". Biennial Foundation. Retrieved July 25, 2021.
  21. ^ "About Us – VIVA ExCon Organization".
  22. ^ "West Africa Architecture Biennale". A3 Africa. Retrieved March 1, 2023.
  23. ^ "Biennale WRO". WRO ART CENTER. November 24, 2009.

Further reading

  • Filipovic, Elena (2010). Marieke van Hal, Solveig Øvsteø (ed.). The Biennial Reader. Bergen, Norway: Bergen Biennial Conference.
  • (Spanish) Niemojewski, Rafal (2013) "Venecia o La Habana: Una polémica sobre la génesis de la bienal contemporánea." Denken Pensée Thought Mysl... Criterios, Issue 47 (October).
  • (Spanish) Ojeda, D, de la Nuez, R (eds), Trazos discontinuos. Antología crítica sobre las bienales de arte en Asia Pacífico. (Discontinuous strokes. Critical anthology of art biennials in Asia Pacific). Leiden: Almenara Press. ISBN 978-94-92260-47-5
  • Jones, Caroline (March 29, 2006), Biennial Culture, Institute national d'histoire de l'art, Paris((citation)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • (in English and Italian) Vittoria Martini e Federica Martini, Just another exhibition. Histories and politics of biennials, Postmedia Books, 2011 ISBN 88-7490-060-0, ISBN 978-88-7490-060-2
  • Federica Martini, Cultural event in Mobile A2K Methodology guide, 2002.
  • Manifesta Journal No 2 Winter 2003/ Spring 2004 - Biennials. Artimo Foundation. June 1, 2003. ISBN 90-75380-95-X.
  • Morris, Jane (May 1, 2019). "Why is the Venice Biennale still so important?". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  • Niemojewski, Rafal (2006) "Whence Come You, and Whither Are you Going? On the Memory and Identity of Biennials" Manifesta Journal, MJ – Journal of Contemporary Curatorship, N°6 Winter 2005/06
  • Niemojewski, Rafal (2014) "Turning the Tide: the oppositional past and uncertain future of the contemporary biennial" Seismopolite: Journal of Art and Politics, Volume 1, Issue 6, (February).
  • Niemojewski, Rafal (2018) "Contemporary Art Biennials: Decline or Resurgence?" Cultural Politics, Duke University Press, Volume 14, Issue 1, (Spring).
  • Niemojewski, Rafal (2021) Biennials: The Exhibitions We Love to Hate, Lund Humphries. ISBN 9781848223882
  • Vanderlinden, Barbara (June 2, 2006). Elena Filipovic (ed.). The Manifesta Decade: Debates on Contemporary Art Exhibitions and Biennials in Post-Wall Europe (illustrated ed.). The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-22076-8.

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