Magazine article Art Monthly

5th Bucharest Biennale: Tactics for the Here and Now

Magazine article Art Monthly

5th Bucharest Biennale: Tactics for the Here and Now

Article excerpt

various venues 25 May to 22 July

The Bucharest Biennale is peculiar among international art festivals. It is run by Pavilion, a small non-profit space that publishes a 'radical' journal of philosophy and ideas. The team (of mostly men) who run it have noted that they see themselves as critical and anti-institutional in their creative pursuits. Indeed Razvan Ion, one of the organisation's founding directors, reveals that it was never his intention to create an international biennale in the Romanian capital, but rather to create a collective space to activate discussion in what he sees as a small and hermetically sealed art scene. The fact that it occurs every two years, he asserted, was partly a result of constricted resources. Contrarily, however, the Bucharest Biennale, which exists in one of the poorer countries of the EU - one that, Ion informed me, boasts an average household income of around [euro] 350 to [euro] 500 per month - seems, on the surface at least, to have adopted the very same language and infrastructure of the international art-world biennale: the festival occurs biannually, is self-described as Romania's 'foremost contemporary art event', appoints a guest curator for each edition, utilises various sites across the city, is sponsored by a major bank and is accompanied by private parties for guests.

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Ion sees every biennale, especially this fifth iteration, as a feat of collective will on the part of his team. One of his major sponsors, he informed me, had pulled out as the exhibition was being finalised. As a result, he decided to lay the exhibition's budget bare for the audience - [euro] 124,100 (including cash and in-kind support). Ion doesn't shy away from the festival's shortcomings - of scale, that is, or in terms of industry gloss. He is excited that many of the artists are considered to be in the 'emerging' category and that the festival's venues are disparate and fragmented. Indeed, it is through this uneven puzzle that the experience of its most recent edition, entitled 'Tactics for the Here and Now', is best explored. For example, at one of its key venues, The House of The Free Press, a menacing and half-used printing press is reactivated by the invasive presence of Abbas Akhavan's Untitled Garden, 2008-09, a fortress-like series of tree hedges lined up in a row that impede the visitor's entrance to the gallery space.

For the fifth edition, Pavilion chose to appoint Glasgow-born, New York-based curator and executive director of Art in General, Anne Barlow. Formerly a curator at the New Museum, where she launched the Museum As Hub initiative - which saw Barlow linking museums from the far reaches of the globe - it comes as little surprise that she has chosen to work with artists with a broad international breadth and scope. Barlow's thoughtfully curated exhibition takes its departure from the current 'precariousness' of contemporary culture. In her introductory essay for the exhibition catalogue, Barlow suggests that this 'sense of confusion' arises from the uncertainty of global capitalism and of political movements, the de-centred and fragmented nature of contemporary life necessitates a performative approach in contemporary artistic practice. This being so, the curator chose to work with artists operating within these continually shifting paradigms, artists whom Barlow notes work 'with investigative or indirect approaches that wield or possess their own kind of power . …

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