A Global Curatorial Celebration of Creativity & Expression

Art Biennials and Triennials offer a comprehensive overview of artistic practices whilst also facilitating cultural exchange and dialogue. With the recent conclusion of the National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV) Triennial exhibition in Melbourne and the anticipation surrounding the forthcoming Biennials in Sydney and Venice, it is opportune to explore the conceptual underpinnings of these events and clarify their respective roles within the international contemporary art sphere.

The entrance to the Venice Biennale, 1895

Art Biennials are among the most prestigious and anticipated events in the art world, with over one hundred Biennials taking place in cities globally. These large-scale international exhibitions occur every two years (hence the name) and showcase contemporary art sourced from around the globe. The exhibits include a wide range of paintings and sculptures as well as installations and multimedia works. Biennials offer a comprehensive overview of the current state and mood of the art market and provide an opportunity for artists to express their creativity and engage with highly diverse audiences of art-world denizens.

The whole concept originated, appropriately, in Venice, Italy; a place filled with history, myth, and intrigue, through the establishment of the Venice Biennale in 1895. Initially focusing solely on visual arts, the Venice Biennale (the oldest and most prestigious example), has since expanded to encompass various art forms including architecture, cinema, dance, music, and theatre. Its resounding success paved the way for the proliferation of Biennials worldwide, each with its own thematic focus, curatorial approach, and cultural significance. This international scope allowed artists from different countries and cultural backgrounds to come together to present their work, promoting cross-cultural dialogue. 

Visitors viewing Agnieszka Pilat’s Heterobota, 2023 on display in NGV Triennial until 7 April 2024 at NGV International, Melbourne.
Photo: Liana Hardy

Biennials are organised around specific themes or concepts chosen by the curators and these often reflect contemporary social, political, and cultural issues. Through their artwork, artists engage with these themes in thought-provoking – sometimes provocative – and innovative ways, sparking conversations and challenging viewers to reconsider their preconceptions. 

Established in 1973, the Biennale of Sydney is one of the most prominent contemporary art events in Australia and is one of the oldest of its kind, alongside events like the Venice Biennale and São Paulo Biennial. A defining feature of the Sydney Biennale is its commitment to presenting art in a variety of unconventional and unexpected locations across the city. From iconic cultural institutions like the Art Gallery of New South Wales to lesser-known venues, including industrial warehouses and public parks, the Biennale of Sydney transforms the city into a vibrant and often colourful hub of artistic activity, inviting audiences to engage with art in diverse settings.

Similarly to Art Biennials, Triennials (occurring every three years), serve as dynamic platforms for artistic expression, cultural exchange, and creative innovation. The NGV Triennial is a key example of this form of art exhibition. The NGV Triennial, based in Melbourne, Australia, is one of the largest and most ambitious contemporary art events held in the Asia-Pacific region and showcases a diverse range of artworks from around the world in various mediums, styles, and themes.

Visitors viewing Yoko Ono’s My Mommy is Beautiful on display in NGV Triennial until 7 April 2024 at NGV International, Melbourne.
Photo: Liana Hardy

The NGV Triennial aims to provide an opportunity for artists to present new and innovative works that reflect the complexities of the contemporary world through a variety of mediums such as visual, design, architecture, fashion, and performance. Through its thematic approach, the Triennial explores pressing social, political, environmental, and technological issues.

In addition to the exhibition, the NGV Triennial features an extensive program of public events which seek to promote and enhance public engagement with contemporary art by providing opportunities for audiences to interact directly with artists and curators. The Triennial continues to push the boundaries of contemporary art and inspires the audience to fully embrace new ways of thinking about the world we inhabit.

Through their exploration of diverse themes and ideas, these highly curated art Biennials and Triennials aim to stimulate critical dialogue and cultural exchange by exploring pressing social, political, and environmental issues through the lens of contemporary art, challenging viewers to engage critically with topical issues. As they continue to evolve and expand globally, these exhibitions play a crucial role in shaping the future of contemporary art and fostering connections across borders and cultures.

Venice Biennale: Saturday 20 April to Sunday 24 November 2024
Biennale of Sydney: Saturday, 9 March 2024 – Monday, 10 June 2024

By Amanda North, Art Specialist

Top Image: Installation view of David Shrigley’s work Really Good on display in NGV Triennial from 3 December 2023 – 7 April 2024 at NGV International, Melbourne. Photo: Sean Fennessy

April 2024