Biennial art and its rituals: value, political economy and artfulness
The visual art of the last decades privileges, explicitly or implicitly, social rather than art historical or aesthetic issues. In sites ranging from university classrooms and journals to museums and biennials, the emphasis is usually put on how effectively art handles the social issues of the day while questions of aesthetic value are often treated as suspicious and ideological. Given this anti-art character in these contexts of mediation, the insistence to perceive the objects as artistic objects constitutes a paradox that has been rarely discussed in sociological terms. This article draws on ethnographic research in order to explore “biennial art” that is to say the art that displayed in contemporary art and international platforms of showcasing. These platforms struggle to maintain a concept of art as social practice while at the same time nurture an exclusive and highbrow environment in which “artfulness” is key. I call this quality artfulness so as to both underline its artificiality as well as the inventiveness and skills required for its production. Artfulness in these sites is enabled through various formal or informal rituals of valorization, including guided tours, curatorial statements, media promoting activities and artist talks. These rituals, positioning certain objects within the sphere of art and producing them as objects meriting aesthetic interpretation, resemble the politics of publicity found in aesthetic capitalism at large.