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The Biennale de Lyon 2011: the 11th Biennale

This year I have invited Victoria Noorthoorn as curator for our international exhibition.

Since 1991 and Lyon's first Biennial I have made a point of maintaining close dialogue with each guest curator or group of curators. Most of the time I suggest a particular turn of phrase as the basis for this dialogue: a term that is necessarily both simple and wide-ranging, for it must be inherently a reference to art and simultaneously a comment on the world (art, the world. No space, no conjunction, no other typographical sign than the comma). This initial term is in no way a title – it's just a beginning. The question of the beginning has enjoyed immense success with the critics, together with a progeny that knows no limits. Philosophy has turned it into metaphysics, but this is not the place for drawing up its family tree.

As a rule this beginning works for three biennials, which leads me to conclude that we work in cycles.

The scope of words, their use value and their range of authority – and this applies to the most ordinary, everyday ones – are very often momentous. The words/beginnings of the Biennial are ordinary and momentous too: "history" in 1991–95, "global" in 1997–2001, "time frame" in 2003–07 and "transmission" starting in 2009. These are portmanteau terms, enormous almost to the point of caricature. One of their virtues – and not the least – is that of being rapidly forgettable. But more importantly, let's mention that the most recent of them, "transmission", fits with the era which, for the sake of rapidity, we call globalisation; and that it brings to mind, of course, the element of convergence it's up to us to imagine and produce – that's what a biennial's all about – despite our multiple differences and immeasurable divergences.

My hypothesis is this: globalisation is now a fact of life, the people we dialogue with are everywhere – it hardly matters where anymore – and Facebook is our neighbourhood. We're witnessing fabulous, non-egalitarian and, as always, problematic inter-megalopolitan exchanges – transfers of capital, ideas, myths and people – whose natural precondition is both the principle of migration and the enormous worldwide migration of images. Migration is a positive response, one capable of undermining the communitarianism and identitarian rootedness whose damage we observe on a daily basis. It is on this "migratory" reality that art's new stories intermingle and are founded; the art, too, is new, envisioned out of and with specific stories now become obstinately discontinuous. As the infinite number of biennials around the world testifies.

Apart from "art, the world", my submission is this: just what is exchanged? What is retained? In what imagined community are we participants? What kind of monstrosity might be the landscape of this present with no clear future, this interminably restless present we are contributing to?

The landscape is the exhibition. And this year's exhibition is A Terrible Beauty Is Born, a title chosen by Victoria Noorthoorn at the suggestion of Carlos Gamerro.1 This is a line from Yeats' poem Easter 1916, which describes the tragic massacre by British troops of Irish nationalists demanding their independence in the spring of 1916. This "Terrible Beauty" is a new reality, inherited from a twentieth century that still lives on, and which heralded, fuelled – and now overspills into – today's expanded present.

Bergson's "upsurge of the unforeseeably new" can seem baffling. When Yeats was writing in 1916 the "new" in art was associated with the simmering "modernity" of the first two decades of the century, later – if prematurely – dismissed as defunct. That modernity is now the common memory of our Western culture, more or less shared, more or less maligned, but nonetheless still enduring; and doing so in different, globalised forms – free of all "isms" or manifestoes – since 1975. It now survives as part of the realm of poetry. As Jean Christophe Ammann has put it, "Nothing new has appeared since the end of the historical avant-garde. What remains is poetry, that anthropological constant that has always unified people."2 We have exported our art forms everywhere, and to just about everybody, and they have been given a more or less favourable reception, been more or less accepted or rejected – like our languages. Latin America, Africa and Central Europe – among others – have long lived under the dominion of imported narratives and thinking. Some artists, and poets above all, made this situation a weapon of war, one initially describing their world then, little by little, ours. And that world is the same, or almost, with all its concordances and discordances. What is being transmitted? What is this Terrible Beauty?

The exhibition is spread over four sites. One is the old TASE factory in Vaulx-en-Velin, the others are in Lyon itself: the Bullukian Foundation, MACLYON and the Sucrière. With 60 artists and 13,000 square metres (140,000 sq ft) of exhibition space.




The Biennial is first and foremost an international exhibition, but this is not the whole Biennial. There are two other showcases as well:


Resonance and Veduta.

VEDUTA, a fulltime forum and a small window onto the diversity of visual culture, is infiltrating six Lyon municipalities and the Miribel-Jonage park in 2011: artists' residences, workshops, joint initiatives involving tertiary education institutions, social integration workspaces, and exhibitions. Plus innovative projects like The Museum of the 20th Century, by and with Yona Friedman; and the White Cube – the ephemeral museum – with the residents of suburban Décines acting as directors, curators, registrars, mediators, caretakers and visitors. Veduta is the slash that holds the indestructible creation/reception duo together.


RESONANCE is a programme for the whole Rhône-Alpes Region. With the collaboration of museums, art centres, artists' collectives and community associations, more than 150 different events will take place right through the Biennial, from 15 September to 31 December 2011. And don't forget Resonance Night, on 24 November.


Some Focal Points

- Rendezvous 2011 at the Institute of Contemporary Art (IAC) in Villeurbanne: 12 September–13 November, co-curated with MACLYON and the National School of Art in Lyon.

"Rendezvous 2011" presents 20 young artists, 10 from art schools, notably in the Rhône-Alpes Region, with the others to be chosen by 10 international biennial directors and curators: Dakar: N’Goné Fall; Gwangju: Massimiliano Gioni; Istanbul: Adriano Pedrosa & Jens Hofmann; Kochi Muziris: Bose Krishnamachari; Liverpool: Lewis Biggs: Moscow: Daria Pyrkina; New Orleans: Dan Cameron; São Paulo: Moacir dos Anjos; Sydney: David Elliott; Yokohama: Akiko Miki.

- Antoine de Galbert, Collector in the Twentieth-Century Art section of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon (16 September 2011 – 2 January 2012): a selection of a hundred early, modern and contemporary works from the collection of Antoine de Galbert, former gallerist in Grenoble and founder-president of the Maison Rouge, Fondation Antoine de Galbert in Paris.

- Alan Charlton at the La Tourette monastery in Eveux (10 September – 6 November 2010): The English artist takes over the monastery designed by Le Corbusier and Xenakis with paintings that bring a new radiance to the chapel and the rest of the interior.



1. Together with Alejandro Tantanian and Ruben Mira, novelist/translator/scriptwriter Carlos Gamerro will be a contributor to the 2011 Biennial catalogue.

2. Jean Christophe Ammann, En y regardant mieux, les presses du réel, 2010, p. 8.





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