SANTA FE — At this point it’s hard to keep track of which type of art event there are more of: art fairs or biennials. There are art fairs that look like biennials, biennials that look like art fairs, triennials, pop-ups, and everything in between. But the trope of the biennial — a large-scale, multinational contemporary art exhibition that takes place every two years and has a breadth and diversity beyond normal shows — has long been a fixture in the art world: the Venice Biennale, the king of the biennials, began in 1895, with the Carnegie International following the next year. Countless other respectable biennials abound today: Whitney, Sharjah, Berlin, Shanghai. With these heavy hitters dominating the scene, smaller ones have been left to figure out where they stand and how to differentiate themselves. This is the case with the recently restructured SITE Santa Fe biennial, SITElines.
Unsettled Landscapes, which opened on July 20, is the first installment in a three-part biennial series, SITElines: New Perspectives on Art of the Americas. Taking place over the next six years (this year, 2016, and 2018), the exhibition series will investigate the multifaceted landscape of contemporary art and cultural production in North, South, and Central America. While the biennial form itself is not new to SITE — the organization has been producing one every other year since 1995 — the methodology with which it’s decided to approach the construct has shifted. SITE has envisioned a biennial structure that’s episodic, thematic, and continuous. This creates a pledge that the ideas explored in the first exhibition will be carried forward and unpacked further in subsequent ones. Additionally, SITE has reaffirmed its commitment to place, launching community-centered programming through its newly established connectivity hub, SITEcenter, including screenings, conversation, and performances.
Unsettled Landscapes is itself divided into three categories within the overarching theme of landscape: landscape as genre, landscape as territory, and landscape as trade. It was organized by four curators: Mexico City–based independent curator Lucía Sanromán, Albuquerque-based independent curator Candice Hopkins, SITE Curator of Special Projects Janet Dees, and SITE Director and Chief Curator Irene Hofmann. The show has some strong pieces and points of view to share, but curatorially lacks cohesion and a tangible weight. Smaller in scale than one would expect for a biennial — the entire show is set at SITE’s main location — it feels disjointed; the three subcategories outlined in the exhibition literature are not visibly distinct in the gallery space. We’ll dive deeper into the work in a forthcoming review, but in the meantime, here’s a visual walkthrough of some of what can be found in Unsettled Landscapes.
Unsettled Landscapes continues at SITE Santa Fe (1606 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe, New Mexico) through January 11, 2015.