2nd Biennale of Sydney: 1976

Fujiko Nakaya, 'Fog Sculpture', 1976

Fujiko Nakaya, Fog Sculpture, 1976. Installation view of the 2nd Biennale of Sydney (1976) at The Domain, Sydney. Courtesy of Experiments in Art and Technology, New York

This was the first Biennale held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which was to become the primary venue for the exhibition over the next two decades. The 1976 exhibition was also the first to articulate a tight curatorial theme developed by an Artistic Director. The decision to allow a single curator to determine the theme and the selection of artists became the hallmark of all subsequent Biennale of Sydney exhibitions, and is perceived to be one of its enduring strengths. The 2nd Biennale of Sydney took place against a backdrop of heated political debate in the art community concerning the dismissal of the Whitlam government. The opening ceremonies which were presided over by the new Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser, were met with artists’ protests.

Stelarc, 'Event for Stretched Skin', 1976

Stelarc, Event for Stretched Skin, 1976. Installation view of the 2nd Biennale of Sydney (1976). Courtesy of the artist and Sherman Galleries. Photograph: Shigeo Anzai

The work in the 1976 exhibition explored new forms in sculpture including video, performance and mail art, each of which tested the basic definition of sculptural form. Much of the work in the exhibition caused considerable debate in the community. People were confronted by the non-traditional media of Stellarc, an artist whose work involved the suspension of his body from hooks piercing his skin, to Fujiko Nakaya whose visually stunning fog piece filled the Domain Park at the entrance to the Art Gallery of NSW, and a form of space as a sculpture with no tangible substance. For the first time in Australia the work of Joseph Beuys was exhibited.

In Hyde Park, a central Sydney location, the English artist Stuart Brisley captured public imagination by building himself a cage which he inhabited for several days. Eventually he broke free of this “art cage,” much to the delight of the cheering throng of office workers having lunch in the park. Linda Benglis exhibited three of her provocative, organically inspired sculptures including the aluminum “Eat Meat”. The Ant Farm Collective were represented by their “Mother’s Day Time Capsule” environmental installation. Other artists who exhibited included: Gilberto Zorio, Mark di Suvero, Noburo Takayama, Jan Dibbets and Guiseppe Penone. In all, eighty artists from ten countries participated in the second Biennale of Sydney whose particular focus was art from the Pacific Rim. Works from New Zealand, Japan and California, in particular, were seen to have a special synergy with cultural developments in Australia at the time.