8th Biennale of Sydney (1990)

The Readymade Boomerang: Certain Relations in 20th Century Art

11 April – 3 June 1990
Artistic Director: René Block

Artistic Director Foreword

First published on the occasion of the 8th Biennale of Sydney (1990) in the exhibition catalogue titled ‘The Readymade Boomerang: Certain Relations in 20th Century Art’ edited by René Block.

The development of western art has often been regarded as a linear process. In my opinion, it takes place in cycles, in rings. When you take a look at the art of the last century, this becomes very clear. The developments are like the annual rings on a tree trunk which differ according to colour. The colours reflect different styles in art. And just as the colours repeat themselves after a few years, so artists constantly return to earlier developments. One series of rings reflects emotionally intensive painting from Expressionism to the present day. Other rings represent Constructive art movements. Still others, Object and Concept Art. These cycles became the theme of my Biennale – for example, the Ready-made from its invention and pure use by Duchamp, to its resurgence in Nouveau Realism, Pop Art, and Fluxus of the 60s, all the way to new versions by young contemporary artists.

Images from the 8th Biennale of Sydney (1990)

I got the idea in 1988, on a train trip lasting several days from Sydney to Perth, after the Board of the Biennale had asked whether I wanted to direct the 8th Biennale in 1990. The idea crystallised in the following months after several encounters with artists and art historians. Lynne Cooke, the author of the catalogue text, was particularly encouraging. I view a biennale as a workshop, a specific place where artists from different countries come together, show their works, and find out about the works of fellow artists. Something like a fair of ideas. Originally, this workshop atmosphere was to be supplemented by a well-curated historical exhibition on the topic of the ready-made. However, constant budget cuts forced me to merge the two into a single exhibition, which turned out okay in the end.

I had a wonderful team, and we developed very creative ways of ignoring the constraints imposed by the then Biennale Board and the manager appointed by it. With the help of the chairman, Franco Belgiorno Nettis, we managed to put on the Biennale despite the Board. That made us incredibly close. And when the artists came along, it became a weeks-long party. Ten years later, I still have fond memories of it. A highlight was the piano concert given by Carlos Santos, on a timber raft in the harbour in front of the opera house – but I don’t want to talk about individual works. The Ready­made Biennale has stood the test of time well. It has remained current.

I didn’t see all the Biennales, but Nick Waterlow’s European Dialogue in 1979 made a strong impression on me. It had a good atmosphere and was clear and easy to grasp. I was a fan of the Sydney Biennale after that. The Biennale’s greatest achievement is doubtless the great effect it has had on young artists in Australia. The art scene underwent an enormous transformation. Artists, galleries, collectors, and international exchange turned Sydney into a lively art centre. This makes me very happy, and I invite Australian artists to my projects whenever I can.

The mobility brought about by faster means of travel, on the one hand, and the flood of electronic images, on the other, have made exhibitions such as biennales more necessary than ever. This is evident in their great resonance with the media and with the public. In an age where everything can be reproduced, encounters with originals are of the utmost importance. This applies to all works created by artists. Virtual artworks, some media art, and audio and video art reach audiences through the media in their original form too. This is just another kind of original. It is wonderful that everything is side by side and is being developed side by side ­ paintings, sculptures, objects, installations, photographs, video art and computer art – and is to be seen in biennale exhibitions side by side. And the Sydney Biennale is now the most important exhibition of contemporary art, both national and international, in Australia.