Museu de Arte de São Paulo in 2016. Photo: Eduardo Ortega.

Biennials in Gwangju, Busan, Seoul, and São Paulo Kick Off this Weekend

As the summer comes to an end and museums and galleries prepare to open exhibitions for the fall season, art world denizens will have the chance to get an early dose of contemporary art in South Korea and São Paulo this weekend.

In a departure from how it’s traditionally organized, the thirty-third edition of the São Paulo Bienal will consist of seven group shows rather than one large thematic exhibition. Head curator Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro has selected artists—Alejandro Cesarco, Antonio Ballester Moreno, Claudia Fontes, Mamma Andersson, Sofia Borges, Waltércio Caldas, and Wura-Natasha Ogunji—to each curate their own show under the theme of “Affective Affinities.”

“The seven artist-curators have been working with full autonomy both in regards to each other and to the general curatorship,” Pérez-Barreiro said in a statement. “The only imposed limitations are of a practical nature such as budgets and the use of physical space within the Bienal Pavilion.” The São Paulo Bienal will be held at the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion in the Parque do Ibirapuera in São Paulo, Brazil.

Opening back-to-back are the Seoul Mediacity Biennale, the Gwangju Biennale, and the Busan Biennale, on September 6, September 7, and September 8, respectively. Consuming each exhibition’s offering of art—on topics ranging from politics to existential questions on the function of art—will be a test for even the most ambitious art-world travelers during this marathon weekend for local and international visitors to the South Korean biennials.

The Seoul Mediacity Biennale, titled “Eu Zen,” or live well, in Greek, will take a look at how people live and the various issues that affect people’s lives in today’s rapidly changing world. Organized by a curatorial collective made up of leaders from the fields of dance, film, literature, art, and economics, the 2018 biennial looks to expand the role of the museum.

Its six codirectors include dance critic Kim Nam-soo; independent curator Jang Un Kim; Lim Kyung-yong, director of the Book Society; Daul Jang, climate and energy team leader of Greenpeace; Hyo-Choon Choi, general director of SeMA; and Gibin Hong, director of the Global Political Economy Institute. Visitors to the event will discover an agora set up at the Seoul Museum of Art, where participants will be asked to talk about a wide variety of topics, including democracy, artificial intelligence, physical disabilities, and social inequality. Among the more than sixty artists displaying works are the Treasure Island Collective, choreographer Ro Kyung-ae, the Disabled Women’s Theater Group, and media artist Yangachi.

For its twelfth edition, the Gwangju Biennale has adopted a new exhibition model. Rather than have one lead curator, the show appointed a team of curators comprising South Korean curators Sung woo Kim, Man Seok Kim, and Chong-Ok Paek; Gridthiya Gaweewong, artistic director of Bangkok’s Jim Thompson Art Center; Rita Gonzalez, head of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Christine Y. Kim, associate curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Clara Kim, senior curator of international art at Tate; B.G. Muhn, an educator and specialist on North Korea; and David Teh, an independent curator and art critic.

With the theme of “Imagined Borders,” the biennial will present work by more than 150 artists who were invited to respond to a slew of issues. The exhibition will also feature work inspired by the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, a student-led movement for democracy and protest against the government of Chun Doo-hwan. The military’s attempt to repress the demonstrators left hundreds dead. The Gwangju Biennale will take place at the Gwangju Biennale Exhibition Hall and the city’s Asia Culture Center.

Titled “Divided We Stand,” the ninth edition of the Busan Biennale—led by artistic director Cristina Ricupero, curator Jörg Heiser, and guest curator Gahee Park—will focus on the global political climate, the Cold War era and its aftermath, and the concept of borders. Rather than mount the exhibition at the biennial’s usual venue, the Busan Museum of Art, it will be staged at the Museum of Contemporary Art Busan and the former Bank of Korea in Busan. It will feature work by Mina Cheon, Smardar Dreyfus, Mauricio Dias and Walter Riedweg, Min Jeong Seo, Lim Min-ouk, Henrike Naumann, and Ming Wong, among around fifty other artists.