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The Biennale de Lyon, 11 editions


The first three Lyon Biennials - in 1991, 1993 and 1995 - were part of a largely historical perspective, from which problematics, stakes and themes were derived.

The first one, called "The love of art", chose to assess the situation of creation in France. Resolutely going against the trend, this biennial noted that since the so-called "Pompidou exhibition" (Paris 1969), no such far-reaching project had been imagined in France. And yet, since 1981, new impetus was given to contemporary art on the whole territory, with the creation of the FRACs, of art centres and with the reorganization of museums. The institution had imported works massively, contributing in this way to opening France up, but in the same time also to increasing the asymmetry of the cultural balance, French export being ineffective. A few years before the Paris triennial, the Lyon biennial wished to explore, as an opening, "la force de l'art" (the strength of art) in France.

With a scenography from Patrick Bouchain, 69 artists were each given a space equivalent to 120 square meters closed by a door, in which they were to produce 69 original works: Arman, Cesar, Robert Filliou, Pierre Soulages, Erik Dietman, but also Fabrice Hybert, « La vérité », (The truth) (Dominique Gonzalez-Forester, Pierre Joseph, Bernard Joisten and Philippe Parreno), Pierre & Gilles, Sophie Calle, or even Alain Sechas...
This first biennial attracted 73.000 visitors in 4 weeks and reached a European audience. It embodied the potential of Lyon and its public, and represented a major step in the organisation of the structure.


The second biennial, in 1993, also going against the trend, took the opposite course of international creation by not respecting the standard criteria of international biennials.
The project was ambitious: It intended, 7 years before the end of the century, to reconsider 20th century art in the light of the "Dada and Fluxus" pair. This opus aimed at drawing the problematic found in the question of links between visual art, poetry, sound field, gesture and performance, by studying the question of the limits set by historical avant-garde (manufactured objects, ready-made, monochrome, Art and life...).
The biennial, named "And Together They Changed the World, (Julian Beck), built an original path from Marcel Duchamps, Kurt Schwitters, Kasimir Malévitch, to Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol, John Cage, Willian S. Burroughs, Ilya Kabakov, Bill Viola, Bruce Nauman, Imi Knoebel, David Hammons.


In 1995, on the 200th anniversary of cinema (Lumière brothers), the biennial traced the brief story which led in about thirty years from the first artistic experiences on TV (Wuppertal 1963) to interactivity and high-speed Internet. The Museum of Contemporary Art, opened for the first time for the occasion, co-produced with the Biennial a collection of lost historical pieces: Nam June Paik, Vito Acconci, Dan Graham, Peter Campus, Dennis Oppenheim, together with new works by Rirkrit Tiravanija, Dumb Type, Carsten Höller, Douglas Gordon, Tony Oursler, Pierre Huyghe.


In 1997, Harald Szeemann was curator of the Lyon Biennial and accepted to work on the issue of "the Other". It was, according to him, the "das", the neutral, and he chose it as a title.
Harald Szeemann made of the Lyon Biennial one of the major issues of the reconstitution of criteria at the end of the 20th century, by confronting monumental pieces (Katharina Fritsch, Chris Burden, Richard Serra) with other works more associated to primitive art. Besides, he made of the Facteur cheval, a regional artist, the symbol of "the Other", opening up to Chen Zhen as well as Emery Blagdon, Eugène Von Bruenchenhein and Elisar Von Kupffer whose works flirt with a strong mysticism.
He also presented, for the first time in Europe, a large group of Chinese artists, and would renew the experiment successfully in Venice two years later.
1997 marked a new step in the history of the Biennial. Harald Szeemann proved that when confronted to strongly historical and solid structures like La Documenta, the Venice Biennial or Munster, Lyon could play its game well by asserting its will to think globally - at a time when the word wasn't commonplace yet - and in terms of multiculturalism.


In 2000, the Lyon Biennial was for once held on an even year to celebrate the three zeros. At the threshold of the third millennium, the 5th biennial wondered about the validity of art and of the numerous uses of the term on a worldwide scale, in particular when applied to the material productions of cultural eras evading western criteria.
This Biennial, called "Sharing exoticism", dealt with the question, both traditional and central, of the relationship between universality and relativity. A committee of anthropologists, including Marc Augé and Alban Bensa, was made part of the artistic project. Curating was entrusted to Jean Hubert Martin who, some 10 years before, was responsible for "Les magiciens de la terre" ("Magicians of the earth") a very polemical exhibition.
140 artists were invited. The Biennial started with a joint work by Sol LeWitt and Ester Mahlangu, and gathered, among others, artists such as Navin Rawanchaikul, Takashi Murakami, Cai Guo Qiang, Georges Adeagbo, Gedewon, Kallatte Parameswara Kurup, John Goba.


2001, back to odd years. There was only one year to organize the Biennial. A team composed of 7 curators came up with "Connivence" ("Connivance"), that dealt with the convergence between different forms of art: video games, choreography, photography, cinema, literature and music, through artists like Jérôme Bel, Marco Berrettini, Xavier Le Roy, William Eggleston, Adrian Piper, Steve McQueen, Kolkoz, Robert Wyatt...

"It Happened Tomorrow", in 2003, marked the beginning of the Biennial taking place in several locations, among which La Sucrière, a restored industrial warehouse, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Curating was entrusted to the Consortium, starting in this way a trilogy dedicated to the question of temporality. This problematic was partly related to the increasing number of biennials everywhere in the world (there were over 110 at the time), and to their great success, and presented an up to date version of the current international artistic trend, like a continuous flow. Lyon wondered with reason about this phenomenon which seemed to produce an infinite and never-ending news stream, within a system of historicity produced artificially and by the exhibition world. At that time, the Biennial went back to taking place in autumn, after being held three times in a row in the summer.
Among the guests of the 7th Biennial were: Mike Kelley & Paul McCarthy, Tim Head, Katharina Fritsch, Steven Parrino, Larry Clark, Yayoi Kusama, Catherine Sullivan, La Monte Young, Bridget Riley, Ugo Rondinone...


In 2005, the second volume of this new trilogy was conducted by Nicolas Bourriaud and Jérôme Sans. It was called "The experience of duration" and brought together the works of the collection of the museum (La Monte Young, Terry Riley, James Turrell) and spectacular pieces (Martin Creed, Kader Attia, John Bock, Erwin Wurm, Kendell Geers), but also rediscovered Tony Conrad, showed Robert Crumb, and produced a monumental work by Daniel Buren acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art.


In 2007, with "The History of a Decade That Has Not yet Been Named", Stéphanie Moisdon and Hans Ulrich Obrist invited 50 curators from all over the world to chose a work embodying the decade. It was an issue focused on the question of the present, and a bet on history. Among the invited artists were: Josh Smith, Kelley Walker, Urs Fischer, Tomas Saraceno, Hilary Lloyd, Nathaniel Mellors, Sheela Gowda, Ryan Gander, Tino Sehgal, Wade Guyton. The Only Lyon award was given to Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla.


In 2009 the 10th edition, entitled “The Spectacle of the Everyday”, was conceived by young Chinese curator Hou Hanru. Through this overarching theme, he reflected on the purpose of art in our spectacular world, and attempted to restore the very close bond between creativity and individual lives.

This Biennale considered several dimensions: “The Magic of Things” proposed work by artists who transform everyday objects or situations; “Celebrating the Drift” looked at artists who intervene in the urban space; “Living Together” explored the dialogue between cities and their inhabitants; and “Another World is Possible” featured statements by artists who examine reality critically and envision new social grammars. The guest artists included Adel Abdessemed, Pedro Cabrita Reis, Dan Perjovschi, Tsang Kinwah, Sarkis, and Agnès Varda. The Francophone Artist Award was bestowed on Maria Teresa Alves




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