Initiated by Founding Governor Franco Belgiorno-Nettis and supported by Founding Patrons Transfield Holdings, the first Biennale of Sydney was held in 1973 as part of the opening celebrations of the Sydney Opera House. The Biennale has since grown to become one of the great cultural events hosted in Australia. The Biennale of Sydney is a non-profit organisation that presents Australia’s largest and most exciting contemporary visual arts festival. Held every two years, the Biennale is a three-month exhibition, open for free to the public, with an accompanying public engagement and education program including artist talks, forums, guided tours, school programs and family days.

The Biennale of Sydney was the first biennale 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 the new generation of biennale exhibitions, whose primary aim is to provide a platform for individual artists, their creativity and ideas, rather than representations of nationhood.

Widely respected for working with independent artistic directors to exhibit prescient themes and artists, the Biennale has a reputation for showing renowned senior 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 provide a counterbalance to traditional institutionally driven exhibitions and programs, and act as a cultural catalyst by encouraging innovation and experimentation. They also offer major opportunities for artists, facilitating cultural interchange and global connections.

Since its inception, the Biennale of Sydney has provided an international platform for innovative and challenging contemporary art, showcasing the work of nearly 1700 artists from over 100 countries. Today it ranks as one of the leading international festivals of contemporary art.

The Biennale Archive

The Biennale Archive includes physical records from the first nineteen editions of the Biennale of Sydney, forming the most comprehensive archive of national and international contemporary art activity in Australia. The Biennale Archive comprises rich artists’ files, images, correspondence, media clippings and photographic and video documentation that stretch back to the organisation’s inception in 1973.

In 2015 Transfield Holdings supported the Biennale of Sydney to specifically enable the documentation of the Biennale Archive and its gifting to the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of the Gallery’s new National Art Archive initiative.

The Biennale of Sydney Archive project will be undertaken over the coming years with materials being digitised and key moments and narratives being explored. Significant materials in the Archive will be made available to the public through the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Biennale of Sydney websites. The addition of the Biennale of Sydney Archive to the National Art Archive provides tremendous opportunities for artists, students and academics for research purposes.

In the coming months more information will be added to the Biennale of Sydney website.

Previous Biennale exhibitions

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