As the coronavirus pandemic continues to drastically alter the art world calendar, Latin America’s largest exhibition today announced major changes in an international press conference hosted on Zoom. The organizers of the 34th edition of the Bienal de São Paulo said that the main group exhibition would be postponed until 2021. As a result the biennial would now take place in odd-numbered years, instead of even-numbered years.
Previously delayed from September to October of this year, the main exhibition, which carries the theme “Though it’s dark, still I sing,” will now run September 4–December 5, 2021. Travel restrictions affecting Brazil and the temporary cancelation of school trips to museums were key factors in the decision to postpone, organizers said.
The 34th edition of the Bienal de São Paulo officially opened in February with a solo exhibition of Ximena Garrido-Lecca and a performance by Neo Muyanga, and was set to have other solo shows, including one by Deana Lawson that was to travel from the Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland, that would occur throughout 2020. The final list of participating artists was to be announced by this past April, but has been delayed by the pandemic.
“The biennial was conceived from a curatorial point of view since the start as an exhibition or a project that expands its conventional limits both in time and in place,” Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, the exhibition’s chief curator, said in the press conference. “These new dates are a challenge for us as curators to follow what we had placed as parameters or essential concepts of the exhibition from the start.”
Visconti confirmed that all of the works originally intended for the solo shows, including Lawson’s commissioned photographs taken in Salvador, in Brazil’s Bahia state, will be shown in the main exhibition, and that all previously announced commissions would still be produced.
The general ideas guiding the biennial will remain the same, Visconti said. “We were already planning on dealing with ideas of resistance, of circulation, of producing art and culture in general when enclosed in a prison, a room, or a domestic setting. Most of the things that we were already working on seem to be more relevant today.”
On the call, José Olympio Pereira, the president of the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo and one of the world’s top art collectors, said that the biennial’s budget has not yet been affected by the pandemic, as a significant portion of its funds had not yet been spent prior to the worldwide shutdown earlier this year. He said that the foundation had lost revenue because it was not able to rent out the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion, which houses the biennial exhibition.
Since March, Brazil has had over 1.4 million confirmed cases with almost 60,000 reported deaths as of July 1. The hardest hit state in the country has been São Paulo, with over 281,00 cases, according to data published by the New York Times.
The change to odd years for the Bienal de São Paulo, with the 35th edition taking place in 2023, could have a major impact on other art world events. Traditionally, the Venice Biennale, the world’s oldest art festival, is presented in odd years, and the Bienal de São Paulo, the second oldest event of its kind, is held in even years. The next iteration of the Venice Biennale, under the direction of Cecilia Alemani, has been postponed until 2022 because the Venice Architecture Biennale has been moved to 2021.
Although slightly scaled back because of the pandemic, Visconti’s biennial was to involve partnerships with various local arts and culture institutions around São Paulo that would present solo shows of artists included in the main group shows. Those will still take place but open in a to-be-announced staggered schedule throughout the next year that will prioritize the needs of each individual institution.
“At the beginning we thought of having all the exhibitions of the institutions in town to coincide with the main exhibition of the biennial, like a choir that happens altogether,” Visconti said. “We’re thinking of it now as a collective poem which written little by little, a verse at a time, by each of those institutions.”