History

Initiated by Founding Governor Franco Belgiorno-Nettis and supported by Founding Patron Transfield Holdings, the inaugural Biennale of Sydney was held in 1973 as part of the program of events celebrating the opening of the Sydney Opera House. The Biennale is now recognised as one of Australia’s premier cultural events. Held every two years, the three-month long exhibition is accompanied by a program of artist talks, forums, guided tours and special events – mostly FREE to the public.

The Biennale of Sydney was the first to be established in the Asia-Pacific region and, alongside the Venice and São Paulo biennales and documenta, is one of the longest running exhibitions of its kind. The inaugural edition in 1973 heralded a new generation of biennale exhibitions, with a primary focus on providing individual artists with a platform to express their creativity and ideas, rather than exhibiting their work as a representation of nationhood.

Widely respected for working with independent artistic directors, the Biennale has a reputation for having shown the work of renowned artists early in their careers. The Biennale was also the first to focus on Asia and the contemporary art of our region (1973 and 1976); the first to show Indigenous art in an international contemporary art context (1979); and in 2008, the first biennale to present an online venue.

The exhibitions and programs presented by the Biennale of Sydney provide a counterbalance to institutionally driven events, offering major opportunities for artists, by encouraging innovation and experimentation.

Since its inception in 1973, the Biennale of Sydney has provided a platform for art and ideas, showcasing the work of nearly 1,800 artists from more than 100 countries. Today it is recognised for commissioning and presenting innovative, thought provoking art from Australia and around the world. With on average 40 per cent of visits made by people from outside of Sydney, the Biennale holds an important place on both the national and international stage.

Previous Biennale exhibitions

20th Biennale of Sydney: The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed
18 March – 5 June 2016
Artistic Director: Stephanie Rosenthal

19th Biennale of Sydney: You Imagine What You Desire
21 March – 9 June 2014
Artistic Director: Juliana Engberg

18th Biennale of Sydney: all our relations
27 June – 16 September 2012
Artistic Directors: Catherine de Zegher and Gerald McMaster

17th Biennale of Sydney: THE BEAUTY OF DISTANCE – Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age
2 May – 1 August 2010
Artistic Director: David Elliott

16th Biennale of Sydney: Revolutions – Forms That Turn
8 June – 7 September 2008
Artistic Director: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev

15th Biennale of Sydney: Zones of Contact
8 June – 27 August 2006
Artistic Director: Charles Merewether

14th Biennale of Sydney: On Reason and Emotion
4 June – 15 August 2004
Artistic Director: Isabel Carlos

13th Biennale of Sydney: (The World May Be) Fantastic
15 May – 14 July 2002 (extended dates until 28 July at Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and Customs House venues)
Artistic Director: Richard Grayson

12th Biennale of Sydney: Sydney 2000
26 May – 30 July 2000
Selection Panel: Nick Waterlow (Chair, Sydney), Fumio Nanjo (Tokyo), Louise Neri (New York), Hetti Perkins (Sydney), Sir Nicholas Serota (London), Robert Storr (New York), and Harald Szeemann (Zurich)

11th Biennale of Sydney: Every Day
18 September – 8 November 1998
Artistic Director: Jonathan Watkins

10th Biennale of Sydney: Jurassic Technologies Revenant
27 July – 22 September 1996
Artistic Director: Dr Lynne Cooke

9th Biennale of Sydney: The Boundary Rider
15 December 1992 – 14 March 1993
Artistic Director: Anthony Bond

8th Biennale of Sydney: The Readymade Boomerang: Certain Relations in 20th Century Art
11 April – 3 June 1990
Artistic Director: René Block

7th Biennale of Sydney: From the Southern Cross: A View of World Art c1940–1988
18 May – 3 July 1988, Sydney
4 August – 18 September 1988, Melbourne
Artistic Director: Nick Waterlow OAM

6th Biennale of Sydney: Origins, Originality + Beyond
16 May – 6 July 1986
Artistic Director: Nick Waterlow OAM

5th Biennale of Sydney: Private Symbol: Social Metaphor
11 April – 17 June 1984
Artistic Director: Leon Paroissien

4th Biennale of Sydney: Vision in Disbelief
7 April – 23 May 1982
Artistic Director: William Wright

3rd Biennale of Sydney: European Dialogue
12 April – 27 May 1979
Artistic Director: Nick Waterlow OAM

2nd Biennale of Sydney: Recent International Forms in Art
13 November –19 December 1976
Artistic Director: Thomas G. McCullough

The Inaugural Biennale of Sydney
November – December 1973
Founding Governor: Franco Belgiorno-Nettis AC CBE