São Paulo Biennial quarantined

October 2008 -

The São Paulo biennial art exhibition, the largest of its type in South America and one of the most important in the world, will begin on 26 October 2008 without a single art work being displayed. In the words of the event's curator, Ivo Mesquita – who is also the curator of São Paulo's Pinacotheek, the Biennial is extremely ill and must be quarantined. This is why the 2008 Biennial will be 42 days long, the normal length of a real quarantine.


The first pavilion of the Biennial building, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, houses spaces for performances, concerts and theatre, and for video and film presentations. The second pavilion is still empty. The third building will house an enormous library containing the archives of all Biennials since the event's inception in 1951, plus catalogues of approximately 200 other biennial exhibitions throughout the world.

"The idea behind the Biennial is a 19th century concept, but we live in the 21st century. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the concept", says Mesquita. "There will only be a single large installation, in the form of a restoration of Niemeyer's original design for the Biennial Building and the immense empty space of the second pavilion."

Another reason for the radical form of this exhibition is more practical than ideological. Appointment of a curator has been delayed for more than a year as the result of internal arguments and political squabbling. The chairman of the foundation that organises the Biennial has been accused of nepotism. He hired the insurance office that employs his son-in-law. He has also been accused of giving preferential treatment to his own publishing house, which did business with the Biennial.

"I only had ten months to organize this event, rather than the customary two years", Mesquita explains. "Rather than throwing something together in haste, I am staging a huge debate about the position of art in contemporary society." Forty artists from twenty countries have been invited; they will participate in discussions and seminars.