New geographies of the biennial: networks for the globalization of art

An exhibition is always the act of locating art works and bodies producing an understanding of the role of partiality, of the importance of engaging with a site and, at the same time, producing a polylogue with other places. A place is no fixed thing; it has an episodic history and takes its particular aspect through intense immersion.

dOCUMENTA (13) Guidebook (2012, 7)

Abstract

In order to explore global biennials of contemporary art, this study provides a geospatial analysis of eleven global biennials to examine where artists are drawn from in these international exhibitions. The project aims to cut across a broad scope of biennials held in multiple regions to examine how artists are circulating in the contemporary world, where they are showing and, most importantly, how biennials are defining international contemporary art in the era of globalization. By mapping a series of biennials held around the globe over several iterations in the 2010s, this study provides unprecedented evidence of the geography of biennial selection among major exhibitions, how this has changed over time and whether patterns emerge for participation in global art world events. More than half of these biennials are held in countries that are in the Global South; this means that most of these locations are emerging art centers responding to new economic patterns under globalization. The use of maps to show the geographic distribution of biennial participants will point to various, competing models of the geography of global contemporary art and will allow reflection upon how new biennials are changing the geospatial dynamics of international art exhibitions today.

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Code availability

This study uses Tableau software and their code is copyrighted material.

Notes

  1. 1.

    This is an implicit assumption of most participants in the contemporary art world, even if the efforts to undermine such a structure are longstanding but the argument has been made explicitly by recent art market scholars such as Quemin (2012), Baia-Curioini (2012) and Velthuis and Baia-Curioni (2015). Zarobell (2017) has questioned this model but the logic has not been dislodged.

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to acknowledge his research assistants, Erika Nielsen and Dan Basil, as well as Carol Spector whose help with Tableau was essential.

Funding

Funding for this project was provided by the Faculty Development Fund of the University of San Francisco.

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Correspondence to John Zarobell.

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The datasets for this study were built from publically available material on biennial websites. The dataset has not been published.

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Zarobell, J. New geographies of the biennial: networks for the globalization of art. GeoJournal (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-021-10384-8

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Keywords

  • Biennials
  • Globalization
  • Contemporary art
  • Global south
  • Geospatial analysis