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The Biennial Boom

The 56th Venice Biennale, which opens in a little over a month, may be one of the world’s best-known and most prestigious art festivals, but in the past 20 years or so it’s gotten a lot of company on the international art calendar—or, depending on how you think about it, a lot of competition.

Yes, we are talking about the biennial boom, and the chart above tells the story.

In the years after Venice’s founding in 1895, cities, museums, philanthropists, and NGOS started their own biennials, at a rate that picked up after World War II and went to light-speed in the ’80s and ’90s, when such festivals (along with their commercial cousins, art fairs) began to be seen as big business for local economies.

After a peak of more than 40 new shows in the five years from 2005 to 2009, growth has dropped slightly. Is the era of biennials on the wane? It’s probably too early to make a call on that one, but it may be safe to say that with events from Los Angeles to Lagos, we are running out of places in which to hold them. Thank you to the Biennial Foundation, which is responsible for the raw data for this graphic.

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