"A biennial should be a profoundly political and spiritual event. It contemplates the present with a desire to transform it." This is the ideal Rosa Martinez brings to her role as curator of SITE Santa Fe's Third International Biennial Exhibition. A seasoned member of the new generation of globally aware, often peripatetic international curators, Martinez is passionate about her own role in producing such an exhibit: "I want to create events that translate the emotions and thoughts of a very precise moment in relation to a very specific place."
Initially a student of literature and language (she considered pursuing an advanced degree in philology), Martinez eventually found her way to art history, a field that unexpectedly brought together, and even reanimated, her interests. In 1977, she was appointed head of the arts education programs at Fundacio "la Caixa," in Barcelona. (Spain's main savings bank, "la Caixa" spends half its annual profit - a not insignificant $150 million this year - on social and cultural activities.) Martinez held the position for more than a decade, but it wasn't until she accepted a new appointment as chief curator of the Bienal de Barcelona, a show of emerging artists from the Mediterranean region, that her curatorial career began. In 1992, it was back to "la Caixa," where she assumed a new position - this time as a curator in charge of the Sala Montcada, an experimental space devoted to the work of young artists.
Martinez made her international curatorial debut as a member of the team responsible for the first edition of Manifesta, the European biennial focused on the work of emerging artists. It was her role in that seminal exhibition that led, a year later, to her appointment as artistic director of the Fifth International Istanbul Biennial, a massive undertaking that cemented her reputation. This summer, as the curator of SITE Santa Fe's third biennial, Martinez will present the work of twenty-eight artists, from veteran sculptor Louise Bourgeois to emerging Cuban performance and installation artist Tania Bruguera, from Greenpeace, an organization whose efforts are not customarily associated with contemporary art, to kunsthalle staple Pipilotti Rist. Entitled "Looking for a Place," the exhibition is scheduled to open on July 10 and will be on view until the end of the year. - CB
CARLOS BASUALDO: Having been involved as a curator or as an artistic director at three different biennials, do you think there are criteria for what makes a "biennial," or is the designation merely genetic, an umbrella term covering a whole range of disparate, large-scale exhibitions?
ROSA MARTINEZ: I believe we are reinventing the biennial today. New biennials have arisen on the periphery. Havana, Johannesburg, and Istanbul are introducing new approaches that question the nineteenth-century modal of the Venice Biennale - the reference point for all biennials until recently. Originally, this exhibition was introduced to celebrate the Western vision and the power of the dominant nations, each with its own pavilion. But these pavilions have become increasingly pathetic and anachronistic. In this type of biennial, state bureaucratS acting as curators cheese artists they believe to be good, but who may merely be their good friends, Even Venice has tried to escape these limitations with the Aperto. At the last Bienal de Sao Paulo, the unevenness of the national pavilions highlighted the obsolescence of this type of presentation. By contrast, the Roteiros - the Aperto-like section of the Sao Paulo exhibition - was a more accurate response to how art is produced today, not limited by national boundaries but dealing with problems common to various social groups.
If biennials proliferate now, it's because the label is prestigious. They are associated with topicality, innovation, and risk, as well as with an idea (of, at any rate, a certain idea) of internationality. In many cases, art is used as a diplomatic credential to enter into the sphere of "civilized discourse," still synonymous with "Western. …