Buried in Unpaid Debts, Montreal’s Art Biennial Cancels Its 2018 Edition

The event may have been a victim of its own ambition.

Image from IMPURE FICTION's The Mysanthrope (2016), a work presented at the Biennale de Montreal 2016. Photo: Guy L’Heureux. Image courtesy Biennale de Montreal.

Weighed down by lingering debt inherited from its previous edition, the 2018 Biennale de Montréal has been canceled.

The 2016 Biennale ran up a C$200,000 deficit (about $160,000 at today’s exchange rate). This has left artists, installers, and small, local suppliers waiting for payment for services rendered some eight months after the event concluded.

Chairman of the board Cédric Bisson told the Globe and Mail earlier this month that former director Sylvie Fortin and her team failed to balance the books when costs ran over budget. Sponsorship deals fell through and fundraising goals weren’t met, exacerbating the problem.

Fortin resigned at the end of January when the scale of the financial loss became apparent.

Bisson emphasized to the Globe and Mail that the Biennale’s creditors would be paid, though he did not name a specific timeline.

As things stand, the event is scheduled to return in 2020 after skipping an edition, although the chairman also floated the possibility that the Biennale may continue as a triennial going forward, according to the Art Newspaper, which first reported the cancellation.

When Biennale organziers split from the event’s founding institution CIAC in 2013, they predicted the newly freed show would be “one of the 20 or 25 biennales that you absolutely have to see worldwide” within a decade. Since becoming an independent entity, it has staged increasingly ambitious shows—culminating in the deficit generated by Fortin’s 2016 Biennale.

What form the event will take as it attempt to come back will apparently depend on the result of public consultations scheduled for the fall. These will include conversations with key stakeholders including artists, financial backers, institutions, and others.

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