At the beginning of 2020, the art world was looking forward to over 40 Biennials across the globe. The advent of Covid-19 has resulted in the cancellation of almost half, with more in the works at the time of writing. From São Paulo’s Bienal to the Front International, in Cleveland, exhibitions across the world have made the decision to delay or postpone in response to the global pandemic.
These cultural leaders have been responsible for breaking boundaries since their foundation, the first and arguably most famous being the Venice Biennale, established in 1895. According to Defne Ayas, the co-curator of South Korea’s Gwangju Biennale, “The biennial is a testing ground.” Yet amid a pandemic, this “testing ground” is subject to tests it could not have imagined but a year ago.
The response to the pandemic varies from Biennial to Biennial. Some have made the decision to postpone for up to 12 months, while others plan to go ahead, albeit tailoring to a more local audience than perhaps anticipated. Some have headed straight to the web, commissioning projects for an online audience.
The logistics of such events makes their cancellation complex, with some deciding to proceed irrespective of present events. The Yokohama municipal authorities, for example, are still planning to open their Triennale on 3 July, in spite of the fact the region is under a state of emergency at present. Their 2011 edition which took place soon after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, was, according to the New York Times “as well attended, playing a possibly therapeutic role.”
Maneula Moscoso, the Liverpool Biennial’s co-curator, summaries the impact of Covid-19 perhaps best of all: “We’re going through something we have never seen.
“Coronavirus arrived in several waves: first the virus, and then all the different realizations of what it means.”