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Quick Facts and Numbers

The year the biennial was born: The Venice Biennale in 1895

Biennials/Triennials currently active: over 60

Year of the first biennial in Asia: 1952 with the Tokyo Biennale

Percentage of biennials initiated by the government vs independent: 65%: 35%

Longest interval in between editions: The Sculpture Project in Muenster held every 10 years.

The most short-lived: Melbourne International Biennial, Biennale Ceara America, Kyoto Biennale, Quadrennial of Contemporary Art with 1 edition.

Biggest budget for a biennial since 1990: Gwangju Biennale with an average budget of over
$US12 million 1

Lowest budget for a biennial since 1990: The 1st Tirana Biennale with a budget of $US 30 000

Longest duration of a biennial: 5th SITE Santa Fe International Biennial 2004 which lasted for 176 days

Most visited biennial in the 1990s: 1995 Kwangju Biennale 1 640 000 visitors

Year with most number of biennials held: 2005 with 27

Most visited biennial in the 2005: 51st Venice Biennale with 915 000 visitors


"You Say Biennial, I Say Biennale"? 2
The word 'Biennale' is Italian and means "every other year". Thus, biennale describes an event that happens every two years. Biennial is the English spelling of the word Biennale. The first international biennial was the Venice Biennale inaurgated in 1895.

With the plethora of biennials over the years, the notion of the word has evolved to refer to, most commonly, as a large-scale exhibition held periodically to showcase international contemporary art and simultaneously act as a vehicle from which to establish the cultural positioning of a city.

What is 'biennialisation'?
It describes the worldwide proliferation of biennials since the 1990s. For a hundred years from 1890s to 1980s, only 17 biennials were in existence. Today, there are over 60. 3 What drives this phenomenon? One biennial organiser summarises the trend as: "biennials and large-scale periodic exhibitions constitute a sizeable part of the production and distribution system of artistic products, an instrument of the economic strategy of the world-wide cultural industry, and a vehicle for the development of cities." 4 The 1990s saw the first wave of mushroom of biennials not just in the traditional centre of art - Europe - but also in Asia, which Prof. John Clark rendered as "the attempt to make Euramerica come to Asia". 5 The growth of biennials has accelerated since the millennium, with Europe launching 18 new biennials over the past few years.




Africa & Middle East

Asia & Pacific

No. of Events













Post-war - 1970s


















2000 -2006






What are the different modes of biennials?

In terms of participation for the artist:

By Invitation from the selected curator(s) is the habitual practice although selection through a call for proposals occasionally take place as in the case of the CP Open Biennale (1st edition), India-Triennial (1st and 2nd editions) and Yogyakarta Biennale (2005).

Participation as representative(s) of respective countries: The national pavilions inaugurated by the Venice Biennale is a model that has been adopted by the Sao Paulo Biennale, India-Triennial, and Biennale Bangladesh. In the case of the Venice Biennale, national pavilions programmed by the country pay to participate alongside the Italian Pavilion which is through invitation only by the selected curator(s).

It is not common for participation to occur through competition, as in the case of the Osaka Triennale, however, it is common for prizes to be awarded, as in the cases of the Venice Biennale, Carnegie International, India Triennale, Biennale Bangladesh, Gwangju Biennale, International Cairo Biennale of Art, Sharjah International Art Biennial, International Biennial of Cuenca, etc.

In terms of curatorial practice:

Biennials are platforms from which independent curators are able to launch their ideas on a grand scale. It is commonplace for museums or art centres to bring in guest curator(s) in order to ignite new curatorial insights, as seen in the Shanghai Biennale, Taipei Biennial, Asia-Pacific Triennial, Lyon Biennale, SITE Santa Fe International Biennial, Whitney Biennial, Biennale De Montreal, Quadrennial of Contemporary Art, etc.

The selection as curator of a major Biennial carries with it a great deal of prestige and visibility and thus a way in which an individual work and reputation can become internationally reclaimed (or not).

In terms of collection:

If the budget allows, works created for biennials may be purchased by the organiser, especially in the case where museums are the instigators of the biennial, as in the case of the APT and the Queensland Art Gallery. In biennials where site-specific works are commissioned, as in Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, Liverpool Biennial, and Sculpture Project in Muenster, it is common for a number of these works to become permanent fixtures.

Nomadic biennials, i.e. the country that the biennial takes place changes from edition to edition as is the unique practice of Manifesta, worth mentioning here.

Which five independent curators have curated the most biennials since 1990 (up to 2006)?
Hanru HOU
Hans Ulrich OBRIST

Please name and identify the nationality of the 10 Asian artists who have shown in the most biennials since 1990 (up to 2006)?
Rirkrit TIRAVANIJA (Thailand /USA)
YANG Fudong (China)
HUANG Yongping (China/France)
Guoqiang CAI (China/ USA)
Heri DONO (Indonesia)
Navin RAWANCHAIKUL (Thailand)
Sooja KIM (Korea)
Surasi KUSOLWONG (Thailand),
Chiehjen CHEN (Taiwan)
Michael Minghong LIN (Taiwan/France)
Fei CAO (China)

What is the percentage of male and female artists?
Sorry, no accurate figures hitherto. Yet, it is clear that the majority of artists participating in international biennials are male. Take Venice Biennale as an example. " ...before 1980, the highest percentage of representation of work by female artists in the Biennale was twelve percent, " as Pat Hoffle observes. (Artlink, Vol 25 #3, p40)

In a review of 2005 Venice Biennale, Joe Hill begins, "The 2005 Venice Biennale will surely be remembered, first and foremost, as the year of women. It is the first Venice Biennale where women held the curatorial reins, where the Guerrilla Girls set a playfully serious tone for the Arsenale parcours, and where women took the lion's share of the prizes, with Annette Messenger's contribution to the French pavilion winning Best National Participation, American Barbara Kruger garnering the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, and the Golden Lion for a young artist under thirty-five going to the deserving Regina Jose Galindo from Guatemala." 6 No wonder Hoffle has dubbed 2005 Venice Biennale "The Shelia's Biennale".

In Asia, the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial claimed to be gender conscious by featuring a higher percentage of women artists. In the past three editions, 17%, 37% and 34% were women artists.

Which biennials began as local (national) events and have subsequently turned into international events?
Shanghai Biennale
Taipei Biennial
Guangzhou Triennial
Busan Biennale
Gwangju Biennale
Yogyakarta Biennale

Which country has hosted the most international biennials?
Japan. In 1952, the same year she made her debut at the Venice Biennale, Japan founded the first biennial in Asia with the Tokyo Biennale. Japan currently hosts the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, Yokohama Triennale and Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial with the Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto Biennale (2003) no longer running.

Which biennials are now defunct?
Tokyo Biennale (18 editions)
Osaka Triennale (10 editions)
Johannesburg Biennale (2 editions)
Biennale Kulturbro (2 editions)
Kyoto Biennale (1 edition)
Biennale Ceara America (1 edition)
Melbourne International Biennial (1 edition)
Quadrennial of Contemporary Art (1 edition)


If you have any additional interesting facts or find any errors in the information above please feel free to email us on info@aaa.org.hk



1. With an average budget of over $US12 million, no other biennale can compare with the exception of Documenta.

2. "You Say Biennial, I Say Biennale" is the title of a feature discussing the plethora of biennials on the occasion of Biennale of Sydney 2002. Broadsheet, March-May 2002, Vol.31, no. 1.

3. In reaching this number, we have decided to include international biennials only that include a wide range of mediums. Recently, biennials have expanded into medium-based, the most popular medium being photography, video and new media. We have not included the single-medium biennials in this website !V such as ICP Triennial of Photography and Video, Kuala Lumpur International Photography Biennale, Iowa Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary Miniature Prints, International Ink Painting Biennial of Shenzhen, ICC Biennale, Ljubljana International Print Biennale, International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in Tokyo. This is something we will include in the future.

4. Quoted from: http://www.athensbiennial.org/pages/main_en.php. For a counter argument, see Joe Hill's reflections on the cultural economics as discussed in "Developing a Consequential Biennials Dialogue", Diaaalogue, AAA's Online Newsletter !V January 2006 (http://www.aaa.org.hk/newsletter_diaaalogue.html#diaaa32).

5. "The Charm of Foreign Parts", Diaaalogue , Asia Art Archive's online Newsletter - August 2003 (http://www.aaa.org.hk/newsletter_diaaalogue.html#diaaa06).

6. Joe Hill. "The Burden of (Mis)Representation and Other _____s of the Biennale Spectacle", Yishu, Vol 4, no3, 2005, p11.

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Last Update: 11 April 2013