Cream of the crop, simple surveys, or tourist traps? Biennials' past, present, and potential
Wolff, Cori Lea Phillips
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Biennials may be defined as large-scale, high-profile, fair-like contemporary art exhibitions which take place every two years in cities around the globe. They are a recent and rapidly increasing phenomenon in the art world, with over two hundred in existence today. Through researching the histories and criticisms of individual biennials and exploring diverse approaches to curating these shows, the specific aims of this paper are to determine museums' motives for implementing them, precisely how biennials differ from regular art exhibitions, what makes them important and necessary, and their impact on tourism, merchandising, and audience attendance. In recognizing the value of visiting a selection of biennials in order to compare and contrast them through a firsthand experience, I have carefully chosen five distinctive biennials to attend, three of which have been chosen as models and are discussed at length. Methods and data collected include carefully observing the physical layout of the biennials, noting the helpfulness of tools used to educate the public, and handing out a questionnaire in order to find out the audiences' demographics, initial expectations, reactions to the artworks, and suggestions for improvement. Thus, the kinds of data obtained are both objective (through research and physical inspection of the exhibitions) and subjective (my personal experiences, as well as visitors' input). The results have been analyzed and interpreted to verify the shows' overall uniqueness and effectiveness, locate them within the broader context of biennial exhibitions, and establish biennials' legitimacy, purpose, impact, and potential for evolution.