CFP – From Biennale to biennials. The impossible desire

Call for papers
Deadline for proposals: 14 February 2023
From Biennale to biennials. The impossible desire
(26 – 28 April 2023, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and on line)

In 2000, René Block states that “the term ‘biennial’ is not protected by copyright and consequently is open to abuse” (Glaser, 2000). The following year, the Revista USP publishes an article by Ivo Mesquita, which begins with a long list of biennials, making us travel to the five continents (Mesquita, 2001/2002). And “Bienais, bienais, bienais…” is also the title of the roundtable discussion that, on the occasion of Em vivo contato (28th São Paulo Biennial, 2008), sought to elaborate categories and typologies of biennials and to define their different goals, adding to previous or ongoing attempts (Enwezor, 2003/2004; Bydler, 2004; Van Hal, 2010). 

Biennials are a true puzzle because of their heterogeneous character and shifting exhibition format, their local or global interests, or their ambitions at once cultural and geopolitical (Enwezor, 2003/2004; Gardner / Green, 2016; Hanru, 2005). But biennials are also an impossible desire both because of “the model itself (…) is based on the impossible desire to concentrate the infinite worlds of contemporary art in a single place” (Gioni, 2013) and because of the immeasurability of the phenomenon.

With a perspective at once global and local, on this occasion we propose to reflect on the biennial phenomenon between the 1930s and the 1980s. A chronological arc that starts from the moment when, under the Fascist regime, the International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice changed its name, officially becoming the ‘Biennale’, and ends with the decade that saw, on the one hand, the establishment of the First Venice Architecture Biennale (1980) and, on the other, the contraction of the biennialist map with the foundation of the Havana Biennale and its third edition (1984 and 1989).

In these fifty years the biennial model began to spread not only in the Mediterranean area (Alexandria Biennial, 1955; Cairo Biennial, 1984), in the Atlantic area (São Paulo Biennial, 1951; Inter-American Biennial of Mexico, 1958; Paris Biennial, 1959) and in the Pacific (Tokyo Biennial, 1952; Saigon Biennale, 1962; Sydney Biennale, 1973), but also in the Italian peninsula itself (Ancient Art Biennial; Biennial of Contemporary Italian Engraving, 1955; Cittadella Biennial, 1966; Lignano Biennial, 1968; Gubbio Biennial, 1973).

Each of these biennials has not only a specific exhibition format, but also a particular genealogy, which is characterized by more or less local interests and a specific historical, cultural and political context, which deserve to be analyzed and put in dialogue with each other.

This conference aims to create a space for reflection and dialogue on the term ‘biennial,’ the biennial phenomenon, and the individual and collective histories of biennials that took place between the 1930s and the 1980s. We invite doctoral students, young researchers and established scholars whose work investigates biennials to submit proposals on the following topics:

  • The power and impact of the term ‘biennial’;
  • The biennial between terminological designations and definitions;
  • The biennial as model, concept and tool;
  • The biennial phenomenon in Italy;
  • The expansion of the exhibition format: biennials and counter-biennials;
  • Geopolitics and cultural diplomacy in and of biennials;
  • Biennials as a political, cultural and artistic tool;
  • Genealogies of biennials and their development;
  • Inter-biennial relations;
  • Curatorial and artistic projects.


The conference will take place on April 26-28, 2023 at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice with a hybrid format (on site and online).
The official languages of the conference are English, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.
The deadline for applications is February 14, 2023. Please submit a 500 words abstract including a short biography to Anita Orzes ( and Vittorio Pajusco (
Please use “Conf_From Biennale to biennials” as  subject and specify the mode of participation (on site or online) in the body of the email.

Organizing Committee

Anita Orzes (Universidad de Barcelona / Université Grenoble Alpes)
Vittorio Pajusco (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia)
Stefania Portinari (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia)

Scientific committee

Olga Fernández López (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)
Ana Magalhães (Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo)
Anita Orzes (Universidad de Barcelona / Université Grenoble Alpes)
Vittorio Pajusco (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia)
Stefania Portinari (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia)
Vinicius Spricigo (Universidade Federal de São Paulo)

This international conference is organized by the Department of Humanities of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, the Department of History of Art of University of Barcelona, the International Research Platform Modernidad(es) Descentralizada(s) – MoDe(s) and  the Laboratoire de Recherche Historique Rhône-Alpes (LARHRA) of Grenoble Alpes University.