Biennale Blasé

by Travis Jeppesen on April 5, 2008

The problem with this Berlin Biennial – and every one I’ve seen so far, to be honest – is the fact that the curators can somehow never resist falling into the pitfalls of an unhealthy preoccupation with the city itself. As though we need to be told time and again the harsh lessons that history has taught us all in Berlin, that there are ghosts on every street corner, that we still have not come to terms with the past, ad nauseam. (Imagine if the Venice Biennale were organized around the theme of “mercantilism” year after year. People would revolt!)

To compare Berlin to another low budget biennale in the region – the most recent installment of the Prague Biennale – the differences in quality are glaring. The Prague Biennale curators made an effort to engage in the local, as well – but their curatorial efforts were not geared so much to the city of Prague as towards the artists living and working there. I’m not sure how many of the artists featured in this year’s Berlin Biennale are actually from Berlin, but it seems that those who are were selected from among the least interesting.


By the curators’ own admission, they decided to go about as though they were simply organizing a large-scale group show, rather than a biennale. Whether this was done out of a willful arrogance masquerading as disregard for convention, or intimidation in front of the daunting biennale concept (and perhaps it was a little of both), the curators have put together a slapdash production that doesn’t bother to cohere on any level. Not as an index of current trends, a showcase of the best and brightest, nor even the most provocative tempered with disruptions of stillness and subtlety. Everything is so blasé, but not blasé in an academic sense – blasé as in uninspired.

The “night and day” theme is inspired only insofar as the night program seems a lot more thrilling than what’s on offer during the day – as even the title of the exhibition, Mes Nuits sont plus belles que vos jours, plainly admits. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have to say that my nights never come at the expense of my days; rather, the two are interdependent. This is a delicate balance that this year’s Berlin Biennial fails to attain.

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