Here Are the Biggest, Splashiest, and Most Anticipated Art Biennials Around the World in 2019
Mark your calendars for another art-filled year.
If you want to see the biggest art events around the globe this year, you better save up your frequent flyer miles. This year’s leading biennials, triennials, and other art festivals extend across four continents. They include the tried-and-true Venice Biennale (also known as the art-world Olympics) and the upstart Oslo Biennial, as well as the much-delayed Havana Biennial. Many of these events’ curators share a common interest in exploring fake news, climate change, and other big-picture issues facing civilization today.
Looking to plan your travel schedule? Look no further than our rundown of the biggest exhibitions around the globe in 2019, below.
February 9–April 21, 2019
WHERE: Coachella Valley, CA
WHAT TO KNOW: Following its successful—and oft-Instagrammed—debut in 2017, the sprawling installation event returns to the Coachella Valley this winter, led once again by artistic director Neville Wakefield, who is now joined by co-curators Amanda Hunt of MOCA LA and independent curator Matthew Schum. The first edition included 16 works that ran the gamut from electronic soundscapes to shiny sculptures, like the endlessly picturesque mirrored house by Doug Aitken. Details about this year’s event are still under wraps, but we’re expecting another photogenic spectacle.
XXII Milan Triennial
March 1–September 1, 2019
WHERE: Inside and around the Palazzo dell’Arte, Milan
WHAT TO KNOW: “Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival” is curated by the Museum of Modern Art’s design guru Paola Antonelli along with Ala Tannir, Laura Maeran, and Erica Petrillo. Six major new commissions will anchor the triennial, plus more than 27 installations from institutions, universities, and individual countries. One of the main tenets of the show is “restorative design,” the concept that good design can help address the corrosive effect humans have had on their natural and social environs, making everything from breeding reindeer to processing data more sustainable with a bit of visual acumen.
14th Sharjah Biennial
March 7–June 10, 2019
WHERE: Various locations across the UAE
WHAT TO KNOW: The theme of the 14th Sharjah Biennial is “Leaving the Echo Chamber”—although the organizers stress that they’re not proposing a way to escape the metaphorical chamber, but rather reflections on how to deal with the cacophony of political news from the inside. The show is actually three distinct exhibitions organized by three curators: Zoe Butt, the artistic director of the Factory Contemporary Arts Centre in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Claire Tancons, a freelance curator and art historian; and Omar Kholeif, the former senior curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. The various exhibitions will include work by Lubaina Himid, Jon Rafman, and Wu Tsang, among others.
March 8–May 5, 2019
WHERE: More than 10 sites around O’ahu, including the Chinatown Foster Botanical Garden, Hawaii State Art Museum, Honolulu Museum of Art, John Young Museum, and The Hub at Ward Village
WHAT TO KNOW: The title of the second Hawaiian biennial, “To Make Wrong / Right / Now,” is taken from a poem by the native Hawaiian artist Imaikalani Kalahele, one of the more than 40 artists and artist groups participating in the exhibition. (One-third of the artists are from Hawaii; two-thirds are from other regions.) Co-curator Nina Tonga says each venue was carefully selected for its physical terrain and unique history as it relates to the rest of the island. Meanwhile, two artists, Abraham Cruzvillegas and Bernice Akamine, are creating new sculptural commissions that will extend across multiple sites.
13th Havana Biennial
April 12–May 12, 2019
WHERE: Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, Havana
WHAT TO KNOW: At long last, the Havana Biennial is officially back on the books for April of this year after last year’s edition was canceled due to Hurricane Irma. The theme, “Construction of the Possible,” references the biennial’s tumultuous recent past, which extends beyond the natural disaster. In 2018, an alternative to the state-run Havana Biennial called “#00Bienal de La Habana” was targeted by the government, with participating artists being detained or refused entry to the country. It remains unclear how Cuba’s new law limiting artistic expression may impact the event.
May 11–November 24, 2019
WHERE: Arsenale and Giardini, Venice, Italy
WHAT TO KNOW: The 2019 edition of the art-world Olympics promises, as usual, to be the international art event of the year. Artistic director Ralph Rugoff’s central exhibition is based around the phrase “May You Live in Interesting Times” and is expected to address the weighty issue of fake news—with a healthy dose of Rugoff’s trademark humor. Although Rugoff’s artist list for the main exhibition has stayed under wraps much longer than usual, the selections for national pavilions have been trickling out slowly. We at artnet News are particularly excited for Renate Bertlmann representing Austria and Martin Puryear representing the US.
May 17–September 22, 2019
WHERE: The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
WHAT TO KNOW: The Whitney Biennial has become not only a destination to encounter under-the-radar talent, but also an opportunity to detect trends in art-making and curatorial thought that go on to dominate the conversation for years to come. (The last edition certainly dominated conversation, but for an unenviable reason: the controversy surrounding Open Casket, Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till.) Hopes are high for the next edition, the second ever in the Whitney’s new building. It will be helmed by two highly regarded members of the museum’s curatorial staff, Rujeko Hockley (who co-organized the Whitney’s well-reviewed solo show of Toyin Ojih Odutola) and Jane Panetta (who organized a recent group exhibition of painting from the 1980s).
Opening May 25, 2019
WHERE: Myntgata 2 Building in Oslo, Norway
WHAT TO KNOW: These days, every city seems to want a biennial—and Oslo is no exception. But this one comes with a twist: the curators of the inaugural Oslo Biennial, Eva González-Sancho and Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk, plan to focus specifically on putting art in public spaces—an organizing principle that they hope will help their event stand out in an increasingly crowded international art calendar. The curators were also behind a two-year research project entitled OSLO PILOT that examined how the city might develop a distinctive art event. The pilot program studied Thomas Hirschhorn’s “Gramsci Monument,” a wildly ambitious interactive installation erected in a Bronx housing project in 2013, as a model, so expect some highly conceptual, interactive fare. As part of the project, local artists will also have access to studios housed alongside a visitors’ center and administrative offices.
Vienna Biennale for Change
May 29–June 10, 2019
WHERE: Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art (MAK), University for Applied Arts in Vienna, Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier, and Kunsthalle Wien Karlsplatz in Vienna
WHAT TO KNOW: The ambitious organizers of the Vienna Biennale for Change, titled “BRAVE NEW VIRTUES. Shaping Our Digital World,” are positing it as the “first multidisciplinary biennale worldwide in a nutshell.” At the helm is Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, General Director of the MAK, who envisions an intersection of architecture, art, and design that will “start a debate on values for the digital age.” The goal is nothing short of developing projects that “will improve the world.”
Momentum Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art
June 1–October 9, 2019
WHERE: Momentum kunsthall and Galleri F 15 in Moss, Norway
WHAT TO KNOW: Momentum seeks to shine a spotlight on Scandinavian artists and the way their work engages with global debates and ideas. The curator of this year’s exhibition is Marti Manen, a Spanish-born curator now based in Stockholm, who sees this 10th edition, aptly titled “Momentum10 / The Emotional Exhibition,” as an opportunity to look back at the two decades’ worth of projects that have come out of the festival.
Les Rencontres de la Photographie
July 2–September 22, 2019
WHERE: Arles, France
WHAT TO KNOW: The only annual (rather than biennial or triennial) exhibition on this list, the so-called “Venice Biennale of the photography world” makes the cut because this year marks its 50th birthday—and it’s expected to pull out all the stops to celebrate. The entirety of the small French town will be flooded with every imaginable style of photography, ranging from photojournalism to fine art and fashion photography. Last year saw more than 40 venues hosting events around Arles at dramatic sites like Roman ruins, ancient churches, and even the former asylum where Vincent van Gogh briefly lived.
4th Aichi Triennale
August 1–October 14, 2019
WHERE: Aichi Arts Center, Nagoya City Art Museum, Nagoya City (Shikemichi and Endoji), Toyota City (Toyota Municipal Museum of Art and off-site venues) in Aichi and Nagoya, Japan
WHAT TO KNOW: The fourth Aichi Triennale will bring together work by more than 60 artists from Japan and beyond and includes film, theater, and music as well as visual art. The program also promises an “art playground” where visitors of all ages can stretch their creative muscles. The theme of this year’s show, organized by Japanese writer and theorist Tsuda Daisuke, is “Taming Y/Our Passion.” The show appears to be inspired obliquely by the German statesman Otto von Bismarck and the history of politicians telling stories to manipulate or convince the public.
September 14–November 10, 2019
WHERE: Istanbul, Turkey
WHAT TO KNOW: The 16th edition of the Istanbul exhibition, titled “The Seventh Continent,” is curated by French curator, biennial veteran, and Palais de Tokyo co-founder Nicolas Bourriaud. (He also coined the term “relational aesthetics,” so expect a fair amount of interactivity.) The title of the show references the gigantic floating mass in the Pacific Ocean made up discarded plastic waste known as “the Seventh Continent,” which is considered to be the most visible manifestation of humankind’s destructive use and abuse of the natural world.
Chicago Architecture Biennial
September 19, 2019–January 5, 2020
WHERE: Venues include Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago
WHAT TO KNOW: After welcoming more than 500,000 visitors to its last edition, Chicago’s architecture biennial is gearing up for another successful extravaganza. The 2019 event will be organized by Yesomi Umolu, a curator at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago; Sepake Angiama, the former head of education for documenta 14; and Paulo Tavares, a Brazilian architect.
November 1–24, 2019
WHERE: Locations in and around New York City.
WHAT TO KNOW: Following another rousing edition in 2017, RoseLee Goldberg’s performance-based biennial will be returning for 2019. The last edition was organized around the theme of “Dada” and featured a lineup that included William Kentridge, Julie Mehretu and Jason Moran, Zanele Muholi, and Teju Cole.
November 22, 2019–March 22, 2020
WHERE: Various sites in and around Singapore, including the National Gallery Singapore and Gillman Barracks.
WHAT TO KNOW: The title of SB2019 is “Every Step in the Right Direction,” and although it is based in Singapore, explores themes relevant beyond just Southeast Asia, with the titular acknowledgement that every attempt toward improving human conditions, is, a step in the right direction. This is the sixth edition of the Biennale, and is led by a curatorial team from within the Singapore Art Museum.
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