The world’s most famous biannual art event, the Venice Biennale, stands apart from other biennials because of its network of country-specific pavilions, discrete buildings that different countries use to show their exhibitions. Now, the Performa performance art biennial, one of the world’s more diffuse instances of the form, is launching a pavilion program that emphasizes international cooperation and “international artists.”
Performa’s announcement is cool, but it comes with a number of quirks. This being New York City, where space is hard to come by, countries aren’t going to have their own freestanding buildings as they do in Venice. Instead, they’ll take over spaces throughout NYC’s five boroughs to host major, single-artist performances co-commissioned with Performa, group projects featuring multiple international artists, and smaller-scale performances that will travel between Performa and the host country. The initial pavilions will be hosted by Poland and Norway.
The pavilions form a “cultural exchange platform,” according to Performa’s press release, that includes producing artworks, projects, and education initiatives. In addition to the project commissions, the pavilions will involve inviting curators, scholars, and art workers from the spotlighted countries to participate in the Performa Institute, as well as career training as part of the Performa staff for two “emerging cultural producers.”
What I find interesting about Performa’s pavilion initiative is that it seems less geared toward supporting artists of the pavilion nations than creating a tighter web of global “art workers” and “cultural producers,” fascinating buzzwords that signify the fluid genus of curators, writers, creative hype-men, and PR reps who make up the art world’s jet-set. The 2013 commissioned projects need not be from Polish or Norwegian artists; “the program is designed to support international artists,” the press release reads (emphasis theirs).
Performa’s focus on internationality speaks to the art world’s contemporary obsession with post-nationalism, a condition enthusiastically embraced by star “art workers” like curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. While this glib globalism might have a negative impact on local artistic identity, more resources devoted to connecting and educating the art world’s booming crop of facilitators can only be good for the world’s creative ecosystem. Ideas (and the humans attached to them) are traveling faster than ever.