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   1 ** DRAFT – Please do no quote directly from this document ** Forthcoming in ! $%&'()&*+ %&, - .%/%0* 1*,23 ! #$%&&' &) *+, -&./&0&12 &) 345 #$ 670574, 4 56(+7*,0* Monica Sassatelli The biennalization of art worlds: the culture of cultural events Introduction A culture of the event – biennials, triennials and more generally art festivals – has become in the last few decades quantitatively and qualitatively prominent. Whilst ‘festivals’ have ancient roots, it is only in recent years that they have become an almost ubiquitous fixture of cultural calendars in cities around the world. This current proliferation is even more striking for art biennials: arguably emanating from the single model of the first  Biennale  in Venice, and up to the 1980s only reproduced in a handful of examples, biennials and derivates as large-scale, international and recurrent exhibitions (Altshuler 2013: 18) have become key institutional nodes linking production, consumption and distribution of contemporary art, and are counted now in their hundreds. If we are to understand the production of aesthetic dispositions whilst addressing the institutional settings involved in the production and consumption of art and culture today, biennials thus offer a privileged perspective. With now over 150 biennials around the world, we are increasingly likely to encounter contemporary art through their mediation, directly as visitors or more indirectly via the nebula of critical discourse and more generally media coverage they generate. The phenomenon attracting attention has become not just the biennials but more specifically the   2 biennalization  of the art world. And whilst its extent and features are fuzzy, given the flexible definition of its constituent parts, in order to study it a consideration of what the myriad of exhibitionary complexes that fit into this category share is more relevant than a taxonomic analysis of differences. The term biennalization  is used within the art world itself as shorthand to refer to the proliferation and standardization of biennial exhibitions under a common (if rather loose) format, however it is possible to construe it sociologically. Similarly to how the common-sense notion of art world can be made into an analytical sociological concept (Becker 1982), biennalization can thematise the shifting set of cultural classifications, practices and values that differentiate the contemporary art world, affecting both its content (now too also sometimes referred to as biennial art   ) and the type of rationale and experience it crystallizes. As a phenomenon that increasingly represents itself ‘on a global scale’ (Vogel 2011), biennials are a unique vantage point to access what is often termed global culture, but remains rarely empirically studied in clearly defined contexts. i  Reprising within the art world unsolved dilemmas in the analysis of cultural globalization, alleged optimists see in biennials the ‘embracing of a democratic redistribution of cultural power’ (De Duwe 2009: 45); whilst ‘pessimists’ point rather to the ‘recognition of a new form of cultural hegemony and re-colonization’ (Ibid.) While some see it as a truly global phenomenon opening up spaces for reflection and cross-fertilization in settings that promote innovation in art and self-reflexivity in forms of cultural display, others regard it as the ultimate proof of the standardizing and banalizing effect of a culture industry intensified by globalization and forfeiting culture’s partial autonomy to rampant economic expediency. This chapter proposes a sociological analysis of this debate, and of the phenomenon that gave rise to it, which so far has rarely reached beyond the art world   3 and art history. In what follows, I first follow in some detail the lineage with the first recurrent biennial, the Venice Biennale, in order to trace, from the beginning so to speak, the permutations of the ‘global’ and its representation in the art world (section 1). I then briefly map out the spread of the format and the art world’s own (enthusiastic or, increasingly, worried) perception of such biennalization (section 2). The chapter proceeds taking into consideration how biennalization is seen to specifically affect the art, artists and cities involved (section 3). In so doing, the chapter problematizes too linear stories of biennials’ apotheosis or degeneration, whilst addressing through them some of the contradictions and open issues at stake. Overall, this will show how, from the point of view of a sociology of biennials, the above dilemmas are less there to be solved, theoretically or empirically, once and for all, than as a critical measure against which to assess the cultural significance of biennalization.   1. A view from Venice: the making of the biennial as a cultural format At a cursory look, one of the first features to stand out in an analysis of contemporary biennalization is the diversity of events that go under the name of biennial, biennale  or similar. To understand biennalization as a phenomenon and the biennale as a genre means first of all to prise out commonalities and ‘family resemblances’. Interestingly, and irrespective of how little some of the more recent biennials share with it, the lineage with the first biennial, founded in 1895 in Venice as a biennial exhibition of international art, soon to be known as the  Biennale , is never forgotten. ii  Festivals, including contemporary ‘professional’, post-traditional festivals, tend to have founding myths (Giorgi and Sassatelli 2011). In the world of biennales,   4 Venice is the srcin myth for all of them, either to establish a continuum or to assume a more antagonistic relationship. It is thus worth looking at Venice, and at its own lineage, in some detail. The Biennale coined the concept and format of the periodical large exhibition surveying current trends and developments in one or more contemporary art forms, usually independent from previously existing institutions (museum or gallery) and their permanent directorship and curatorial choices. It did so combining aspects from previous models of art and trade exhibitions. Since the Parisian Salons of the 19 th  century, independent art exhibitions had become a successful genre in themselves (Altshuler 2008). Similarly, the Universal Exhibitions or  Expo , following the great success of the first London Expo in 1851, had become a recurrent, itinerant feature spreading not only throughout urban Europe, but also ‘across southern Asia, Australia, and northern Africa as exercises in European power and “uplift”’ (Rydell 2006: 135; see also Roche 2000). For curatorial aspects such as artists’ selection and the role and composition of the selection committee the Biennale took inspiration from other successful art exhibitions of the time, the Secession in Munich in particular (see Di Martino 2013). However the framework lending meaning    and   clout   to the enterprise was borrowed from Expos and their   organizing principle of individual exhibitions commissioned, managed and financed by participating nations. Clearly smaller in scale, at least to begin with, the Biennale shared the Expos ambitious, agenda-setting rationale and the framework of national competition. Sharing with the Expo the universalist rhetoric of panoptic/panoramic representation (De Cauter 1993), the Biennale sought to put Venice and newly unified Italy on the map of contemporary art, by creating that very map in the microcosm of the exhibition park, as an allegedly representative, state-of-the-art survey. Historians of
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