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Ai Wei Wei art
Reuters/Stefano Rellandini
Calling all contemporary art fans
HAVE ART, WILL TRAVEL

2018’s must-see art shows are in Bangkok and Ohio—not Venice and Paris

By Rosie Spinks

Mention the word “biennial” to any aesthete and the places that come to mind are likely to be Venice, Berlin, and Paris. But in the contemporary art world, the large-scale recurring exhibitions that take place every two or three years (the latter, of course, called a triennial) are becoming more diverse and global than ever.

And if art fairs are your thing, the year ahead is set to be the ultimate year for biennial and art-related tourism. As artnet noted, 2017 was pretty stellar for art events and included “a once-in-a-decade affair that saw the dates of the Venice Biennale, documenta, and (Germany’s) Skulptur Projekte Münster align.” The Venice event, which is perhaps the most prestigious, saw well over half a million visitors, which was nearly a quarter more than its last installment in 2015.

But despite 2017’s highlights, this year is poised to be even more compelling—with some 250 slated to take place across the globe. Indeed, with those high profile European events not on the docket this year, there’s more room for a slew of other, more under-the-radar locations to shine. There are events spanning four continents in places as diverse as Dhaka, Sydney, Santa Fe, and Tallin. There’s even the “nomadic” European biennial known as Manifesta 12, which will take place in Palermo, Sicily. Meanwhile, the newly re-named Paris Biennale, in a bid to modernize and compete with the likes of Art Basel and Tefaf, has now shifted to a yearly schedule. 

There are also some unexpected new entrants—in unexpected cities—to add to the art fair lineup, including fairs in Riga, Latvia; Cleveland, Ohio; and the premiere Bangkok Biennale. The Bangkok event, which begins in October, is being positioned as the “Venice of the East,” and has already garnered talent as notable as Maria Abramović for its inaugural fair. In a contemporary art world where the most prestigious events are often western European—and focused on big business—it’s welcome to see so many upstart and unexpected places enter the field.

And while a place like, say, Cleveland, Ohio might not be what first comes to mind when you think of contemporary art hot-spots, that’s part of the point. The curators hope the event will not just be in the city, but of the city too, meaning reflective of the city’s history as an American boomtown. Indeed the event is aiming high, with one organizer telling artnet that they aspire to “be the most important contemporary art event in North America.” Ambitious, for sure—but the event has already signed up 60 artists from Berlin to Buenos Aires

All of which is to say: If you’re looking for a reason to travel in 2018, the contemporary art show circuit just might be your ticket.