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19 May 2024 —
22 May 2024

Seeing in the Dark: The Complexities of Curating Biennials | With Vera Mey and Philippe Pirotte

Vera and Philippe
karl and aaron


Seeing in the Dark: The Complexities of Curating Biennials

At two special events in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington and Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Vera Mey and Philippe Pirotte, Co-Artistic Directors of the 2024 Busan Biennale, will discuss the complexities of curating Biennials with Karl Chitham, Director of the Dowse Art Museum. They will be joined in Wellington by Aaron Lister, Senior Curator at City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi.

Why would anyone curate a biennial in this day and age when the format itself attracts so much criticism? What do biennials offer in the gamut of representation within a competitive attention economy? Vera Mey and Philippe Pirotte, Co-Artistic Directors of the 2024 Busan Biennale, will discuss the complexities of working on a deeply flawed yet potentially generative format such as a biennial, in Asia, in a period where traditional platforms for exhibition making in traditional artistic centres appear to be collapsing. They will explore the opportunities for collaboration that biennials offer, as well as how the symbolic value of presenting art has evolved over the past decade, revealing an often uncomfortable entanglement between artistic experimentation and the co-option of market forces, and the strategies of various artists for autonomy in an increasingly display-statured world.

Philippe Pirotte will recall his experiences curating biennials and large format exhibitions including the 2016 Montreal Biennale, the 2017 Jakarta Biennale and as a member of the commission for Documenta 15, 2022. Vera Mey will discuss her insistence on forms of internationalism in what feels like a turn to localism in exhibitionary practice, drawing upon her research looking at the relationship between art and regionalist solidarity movements across Asia and Africa in the middle of the 20th century, during a period of decolonial upheaval in world history. They are joined in conversation by Karl Chitham, a champion for the arts in New Zealand for 20 years with a specific interest in toi Māori and currently the Director of the Dowse Art Museum, Head of Arts and Culture for Hutt City.

Chairing the conversation in Te Whānganui-a-Tara Wellington will be Aaron Lister, Senior Curator at City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi.

About the speakers

Vera Mey and Phillipe Pirotte are Co-Artistic Directors of the 2024 Busan Biennale, Seeing in the Dark, which opens in Busan, South Korea on 17 August.

Philippe Pirotte is a Professor in Art History and Curatorial Studies at Städelschule Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Frankfurt, Germany, where he served as Rector between 2014 - 2020 and Director of the kunsthalle Portikus. He is also Adjunct Senior Curator at the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), and he serves on the Documenta Commission (2019-2022), which selected ruangrupa as the artistic direction of documenta fifteen (2022). Prior to this, he co-founded the Antwerp Contemporary Art Center Objectif (1999), and from 2005-2011 he took on the directorship of Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland. From 2004 to 2013, Pirotte was Senior Advisor at the Rijksakademie for Visual Arts in Amsterdam, and from 2018-19 he served as visiting professor curatorial studies at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. More recently, Pirotte curated the Samdani Art Award exhibition for the 2020 Dhaka Art Summit in Bangladesh, and the group show Arus Balik. From Below the Wind to Above the Wind and Back Again for the Center for Contemporary Art Singapore (2019). He was member of the curatorial team of the Jakarta Biennale in 2017, and was artistic director of the 2016 edition of La Biennale de Montréal, Canada.

Vera Mey recently completed her PhD at SOAS, University of London and is currently a Lecturer in Art Curating at University of York, as well as International Programme Manager at Te Tuhi. Her doctoral research looks at modern Southeast Asian art during the Cold War eras in Cambodia, Indonesia and Singapore, paying particular attention to intersections of racial plurality within regionalism. Part of this research feeds the co-curatorial framework of Spectres of Bandung: A Political Imagination of Asia-Africa, in part supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation. She has worked as a curator both institutionally and independently including on the founding curatorial team of NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Anywhere but here (2016) at Bétonsalon - centre d'art et de recherche, Paris, and within the curatorial team of SUNSHOWER: Contemporary art from Southeast Asia 1980s to now, the largest survey of Southeast Asian contemporary art to be exhibited, at the Mori Art Museum and National Art Centre Tokyo (2017). Mey co-founded the scholarly journal Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia (National University of Singapore Press).

Related exhibitions and events

Vera Mey has recently curated Pulp III: A Short Biography of the Banished Book, a solo exhibition by Singaporean artist Shubigi Rao presented by Te Tuhi at Te Wai Ngutu Kākā Gallery in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.
On Saturday 25 May, Mey will be in conversation with Rao at Te Wai Ngutu Kākā Gallery to discuss the artist's practice as closely linked to writing fiction, documenting history and reading.
More information on the event here.

Karl Chitham has recently curated for Te Tuhi Takiwā Hou: Imagining New Spaces, an exhibition of Māori moving image works by some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most exciting contemporary artists.
More information on the event here.

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