The São Paulo Art Biennial was founded in 1951 and has been held every two years since. It is the second oldest art biennial in the world after the Venice Biennale (in existence since 1895), which serves as its role model.
Created in 1962, the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo is located in a pavilion designed by Oscar Niemeyer, greatly emblematic of Brazilian Modern architecture. The pavilion was created for the fourth centenary of São Paulo, which was celebrated in 1954 with the construction of Ibirapuera Park and its buildings.
The institution started organizing the Bienal de São Paulo exhibitions from its seventh edition, formerly an activity conceived and led by the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (MAM- SP). With the primary mission to present and discuss contemporary art through its events, the Foundation has become one of the most influential international institutions promoting Contemporary art, and its impact in visual arts in Brazil is wholly recognized. From its first edition, in 1951, the Bienal de São Paulo has presented 67,000 artworks by 14,000 artists from 160 countries. Until its 31st edition, the biennials have attracted about 8 million visitors.
Scheduled for 2018, the 33rd Biennial has Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro as general curator. The Spaniard is the director and chief curator of the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, with offices in New York and Caracas. He holds a PhD in Art History and Theory from the University of Essex (UK) and a Master’s degree in Art History and Latin American Studies from the University of Aberdeen also located in the United Kingdom.
From September 7 to December 9, 2018, the 33rd Bienal de São Paulo – Affective Affinities will privilege the individual experience of the spectator in the appreciation of works, to the detriment of a theme that would favor a pre-established understanding. The title refers to the novel of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Elective Affinities (1809) and to the thesis “Of the affective nature of the form in the work of art” (1949), of Mário Pedrosa. Against this backdrop, the 33rd São Paulo Biennial will be composed of seven collective exhibitions conceived by the curators: Alejandro Cesarco (Montevideo, Uruguay, 1975); Antonio Ballester Moreno (Madrid, Spain, 1977); Claudia Fontes (Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1964); Mamma Andersson (Luleå, Sweden, 1962); Sofia Borges (Ribeirão Preto, Brazil, 1984); Waltercio Caldas (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1946) and Wura-Natasha Ogunji (St. Louis, USA, 1970).
In addition to the collective exhibitions, the general curatorship includes commissioned projects of eight artists (Alejandro Corujeira, Bruno Moreschi, Denise Milan , Luiza Crosman, Maria Laet, Nelson Felix , Tamar Guimarães, Vânia Mignone), an iconic series by Siron Franco and tributes to three artists deceased: the Guatemalan Aníbal López, the Paraguayan Feliciano Centurión and the Brazilian Lucia Nogueira.
33rd Bienal de São Paulo proposed a change in what he called the Bienal’s operating system. The result were collective shows in which the works of these artist-curators were presented alongside the works of other artists with whom they have affinities or who influence them. Pérez-Barreiro also selected twelve other artists for whom individual exhibitions were set up. Among them, three honorees, already deceased and unknown to the general public: the Brazilian Lucia Nogueira, the Paraguayan Feliciano Centurión, and the Guatemalan Aníbal López. With fluid expography and spaces of respite, the show also focused on the issue of the economy of attention, which has become diffuse in the digital and social media age.
“With this model, I hope to show how artists construct their own lineages and systems to understand their own practice in relation to others, while also allowing the themes and relationships to emerge organically from the process of exhibition‑making, rather than starting with a set of predetermined issues. This choice also reflects a desire to re‑evaluate the tradition of artists as curators, which is a central part of modern and contemporary art history, and also of particular relevance in Brazil, where artists have long organized their own discursive platforms”.
“Perhaps there is no field that better evidences the changes brought about by the curatorial proposal of the 33rd Bienal than that of the educational program, which articulates all the teams of the Fundação, the curatorship and the specialized consultancies. In this edition, research was conducted into theories and practices of attention, of listening, of what there is in terms of common and affection in the contact with art. The educational publication Invitation to Attention moved away from the usual focus on the institutional space of the school and proposed a set of exercises that invite people to experience and to share sustained, self-reflexive practices of attention focused on art objects in various contexts. Throughout 2018, a public program of actions has promoted different formats for the experiencing of this proposal”.
“Pérez-Barreiro justifies his choice with a phrase attributed to the critic Mário Pedrosa: ‘In times of crisis, stand by the artists’. Or works. And above all give them a chance to reveal what may not yet have a name, has not gone through your head, or does not correspond to what you expected or the consensus and speeches with which you are accustomed. This may give rise to the impression of anachronism, back to a time prior to the hegemony of curatorial projects. In this sense, Waltercio Caldas’ exemplary text at the opening of the space he conceived with his works and of artists that make up his elective affinities (or affective, as the malleable borders this Bienal seeks): ‘It is always good to remember that true works of art are oblivious to any discourse that would misrepresent them, and are sufficiently eloquent to deauthorize opportunistic interpretations.’”