Principles of the Sao Paulo and Gwangju biennial totally different

September 2004 -

The artist as autonomous dreamer or as the viewer's colleague. The biennials of visual arts in Sao Paulo and Gwangju, both of which open in September 2004, are based on completely opposite fundamental principles.


Otobong Nkanga, Stripped Bare V (of VI), photo, 2003/2004

This year for the second time, the German Alfons Hug is the primary curator of the biennial in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which will be held from 25 September through 19 December. This year the theme of the biennial, which was first held 64 years ago, is 'Território livre': free space. With this theme the exposition is distancing itself from art that portrays social and political problems using documentary and scientific strategies. This is a movement that has been quite popular in the visual arts during the last several years, the high point being Documenta 11 in 2002, composed by the Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor.

According to Hug art is useless. It is a free space where reality is moulded in the artist's personal form. In the biennial pavilion, works by the eighty artists selected by Hug will be displayed in one space with artists representing 55 countries.

Contrary to the Sao Paolo biennial, the Gwangju biennial in Korea, which was first held in 1995, will attempt to break through the artist's autonomous position. The exposition, which is held every two years, will run from 10 September through 13 November in the Joong Oe Park in Gwangju. The title is 'A grain of dust a drop of water'.

Artistic directors Yongwoo Lee, Kerry Brougher and Suk-won Chang want to redefine the classic relationship between the artist and curator as creators of exhibitions on the one hand, and the visitor as consumer on the other. During a workshop in January, a group of sixty 'participating' viewers from different countries and with diverse professional backgrounds were asked what themes they would find interesting for the exhibitions at the biennial. Pairs of artists and viewers were also created, who collaborated to create the work for the four main exhibitions.