Moscow Biennale

Moscow’s third biennale of contemporary art is tied, for the first time, to one venue, Dasha Zhukova’s vast Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, under one curator, Frenchman Jean-Hubert Martin. He has chosen “Against Exclusion” as the overarching theme of the core exhibition, a title he sees as encompassing a number of aspects. “One of the references in the background of this title is certainly the issue of civil rights in Russia, the way individual freedom is treated,” Martin told The Art Newspaper. “Of course that is not a point that is addressed by most of the artists in the exhibition, but it is behind the exhibition as a whole.”

The title also refers to the breadth of countries represented in the biennale: “In Moscow in the last ten or 15 years there have been a number of exhibitions showing European or North American art, but very little coming from South America, Africa or Asia, with probably a few exceptions for the Chinese because they’re fashionable,” Martin said. “Most of my colleagues show artists that are in the network of galleries and museums and have more or less accepted the mould of modernist and postmodernist work. My understanding of art is much wider—I want to also include artists working for their communities, for example Aboriginal Australians who are not usually included in the network of high art.” Martin was the curator of the renowned “Magiciens de la Terre” exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in 1989, which brought artists from marginalised areas of the world to the fore. He also said that he wants to include older artists in “Against Exclusion” rather than just focusing on emerging artists, as the two previous biennales did, and that he is against any type of aesthetic exclusion.

It will be interesting to see how the city of Moscow reacts to such an influx, but Martin feels confident that at the very least, it will spark debate. “It’s difficult to say beforehand how well an exhibition will be taken, but I have nothing against creating a discussion—it is always very positive in terms of culture,” he told us. Some of the works will directly address the question of politics in the title, with Flemish artist Koen Vanmechelen showing an installation of chickens from various countries that have been crossbred to create hybrids, “physical examples of how racial purity is a fantasy that doesn’t exist”, Martin told us. Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping is also showing work with animal hybrids that explores similar ideas but is also “a metaphor about violence and war”, said Martin. Works incorporating animals seems to be a thread that runs through the show, whether intentional or not, continuing into the pieces commissioned specifically for the biennial. There are around 15 of these, including French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s installation of birds under a net that are enticed to “play” electric guitars, with a special program loaded to interpret the sounds. “It makes a very particular, strange music,” said Martin.

Martin is not directly involved with the expansive guest programme and special projects, which were mostly programmed by the biennale commissioner, Joseph Backstein. “I think we were very liberal because there will be an enormous number of annexed exhibitions next to the Garage,” said Martin. He also said that, compared with the previous two years, there will be a much greater proportion of Russian artists in the main exhibition, with 12 invited to take part who he believes need to be better known on an international level. He sees it as important that they are visible in the large Garage show as opposed to just in the peripheral events. “Foreign _visitors who sometimes come for a very short time don’t have the chance to visit all the annexed exhibitions, they concentrate on the main show,” he said.

This article was published in The Art Newspaper, September 2009, p57. To see it in context, click on the PDF link below.

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