Delocalized biennials move beyond their home cities

BienalSur -- the first International Biennial of Contemporary Art of South America -- has ambitious plans: to connect vast territories by gathering artists and curators in more than 30 cities in 15 countries. Opening next month, it is one of several recent biennial-style exhibitions to move beyond the traditional single-city model.

The goal of BienalSur's far-reaching premise, say organizers, is to erase borders. In addition to a main hub in Buenos Aires, BienalSur will extend around Argentina, to Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico and Cuba, and as far as Paris, Berlin and Tokyo.

In some cases, venues will host events simultaneously, with shows held in one country projected on screens elsewhere to emphasize a theme of connectivity.

Earlier this year, the Sharjah Biennial opened with a similar concept: Act I, the biennial's main exhibition and program, ran in the UAE city from March to June, while Act II is set to begin in Beirut on October 19. An off-site program began in Dakar in January, followed by subsequent ones in Istanbul, Ramallah and Beirut.

This city-hopping program is the work of curator Christine Tohme, who set out to "critically rethink the role of the biennial," particularly the format of large-scale, centralized exhibitions, by rearranging its structure in terms of both time and space.

Documenta, an art exhibition that takes place not biennially but once every five years, similarly moved beyond the one-city concept with its 14th edition, which opened in April in Athens, then moved in June to its regular home of Kassel, Germany, where it will remain through September 17. As part of a dialogue between the two cities, a 3,000km equestrian ride from Athens to Kassel, devised by Ross Birrell, was performed over 100 days.

The once-in-a-decade Skulptur Projekte Münster likewise went beyond its host city for its fifth edition, which runs through October 1, expanding to the industrial city of Marl.

According to Georg Elben, director of the Marl sculpture museum, curator Britta Peters wished to "literally swap sculptures between the two neighbouring municipalities, in order to examine the works at another location and under totally different social and urban conditions."

BienalSur will take place in Buenos Aires between September and December 2017; additional venues are soon to be announced. Act II of the Sharjah Biennal opens in Beirut on October 19, 2017.