Posted on 31 October 2017 in News
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Biennale Archive Stories #3
Talks by Charles Green and Terry Smith, conversation with Mami Kataoka
Art Gallery of NSW
Domain Theatre
Saturday, 26 August 2017, 2–3.30 pm

For the third event in our Biennale Archive Stories series, renowned Australian contemporary art historians and biennial commentators Charles Green and Terry Smith discuss the Biennale of Sydney considering its history, global biennial culture and the challenges and opportunities it faces. The event is opened by Maud Page, Deputy Director & Director of Collections at the Art Gallery of NSW and introduced by Mami Kataoka, Artistic Director of the 21st Biennale of Sydney, who joins Green and Smith on stage for a 25-minute discussion after their presentations. Closing words by Jo-Anne Birnie-Danzker, recently appointed Director & CEO at the Biennale of Sydney.

Introducing the talks, Mami Kataoka explains that her research towards the 21st Biennale commenced with the Biennale’s own Archive. What is its relevance today? She invites the audience in Sydney to think about what kind of Biennale they would like for the next twenty editions, while in the concluding discussion, reveals some of her approach to curating the coming exhibition and her interest in finding different perspectives through which to look at Sydney – and through Sydney, at the world.

In his talk, ‘Post-North? Sydney and the Challenges of the “Global” Exhibition’, Charles Green discusses the Biennale of Sydney as an event that has at different points been widely considered one of the most important biennials in the world. Drawing on his recent co-authored history of biennials in contemporary art, Biennials, Triennials and Documenta: The Exhibitions that Created Contemporary Art (Wiley Blackwell, 2016, with Anthony Gardner), Green thinks through the arc of biennales as locations for contemporary art to be played out, tested and innovated, both as exhibitions and places where artists and thinkers ‘at the edges of art’ get together. Important to an understanding of Sydney’s Biennale is Australia’s north/south identity, with Green suggesting that the idea of an ‘Asian art’ and biennials of ‘the South’ counter a perception that contemporary art belonged to the North Atlantic. In his wide-ranging commentary, the 1979 Biennale of Sydney emerges as representative of an important curatorial trope: in encouraging international artists to make their works in Australia, curator Nick Waterlow OAM raised the notion of ‘dialogue’, heralding an idea of a post-national history of art.

With the title ‘Biennials in the World Picture: Sydney in Particular’, Terry Smith places biennials in a visual arts exhibitionary complex: the ever-evolving array of platforms for showing works of art, in which biennials play a structural part. Having seen all but one Biennale of Sydney edition, he highlights people, incidents and characteristics that have defined and distinguished Sydney’s Biennale – early examples being the establishment of local and regional exchange in the inaugural 1973 Biennale, and 1976 Artistic Director Tom McCullough’s strong rapport with artists and practice of consultation. (One that did not, however, result in acknowledgement of the political moment nor an adequate representation of women.) Biennales proliferate difference, redistributing it around the world. Fundamental yet variable to their character is their regularity, along with their promise of something different each time. As he concludes, the biennial format offers artists the chance to make a certain kind of transformation in their work, and in how it is exhibited; outside of physical or programmatic constraints of museum and contemporary art space contexts.

For Smith’s recent writings on the distinctive characteristics of biennials, see ‘Biennials: Four Fundamentals, Many Variations’, Biennial Foundation websiteand ‘Biennials Within the Contemporary Composition’ in Stages #6, The Biennial Condition, edited by Joasia Krysa.

Speaker Biographies

Charles Green is one of Australia’s foremost art historians in the area of contemporary international and Australian art. An authority on biennials, artist collaborations and artist teamwork, he is also a well-known artist working in collaboration with Lyndell Brown since 1989. Professor of Contemporary Art in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne, he is the author of Peripheral Vision: Contemporary Australian Art 1970-94 (Craftsman House, 1995); The Third Hand: Artist Collaborations from Conceptualism to Postmodernism (University of Minnesota Press, 2001) and the recent history of biennials in contemporary art, Biennials, Triennials and Documenta: The Exhibitions that Created Contemporary Art (Wiley Blackwell, 2016), with Associate Professor Anthony Gardner (Oxford University), assisted by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant.

Terry Smith is an art historian and critic whose main research interests are contemporary art and its position in wider institutional and social contexts together with the examination of the notion of ‘contemporaneity’. Founder in 1970 (together with Paul McGillick) of a new journal of art criticism Other Voices, Smith was active as an art critic in Australia in that decade, foregrounding the politics of an art scene positioned on the margins of the art world and publishing his influential essay “The Provincial Problem” in Artforum in 1974. A member of the New-York based Art & Language group, he also served as lecturer at Power Institute of Fine Arts, University of Sydney from 1976, and its director from 1995 to 2001. Smith is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, and Professor in the Division of Philosophy, Art and Critical Thought at the European Graduate School. Author of a number of books, his most recent are Talking Contemporary Curating (Independent Curators International, 2015), The Contemporary Composition (Sternberg Press, 2016) and One and Five Ideas: On Conceptual Art and Conceptualism (2017). A Board member of the Carnegie Museum of art, Pittsburgh, he is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Biennial Foundation, New York.

Biennale Archive Stories is a series of talks and interviews investigating the Biennale of Sydney’s 40-plus-year history with witnesses and protagonists. Approaching its 21st edition and 45th year, the Biennale considers its role over time, both in Sydney and in the world. What can we learn from its achievements and controversies? What is its relevance today?