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While the 1st Berlin Biennale concentrated on the local art scene of Berlin, for the 2nd Berlin Biennale curator Saskia Bos brought international artists to the city. Bos developed an exhibition concerned with the immediate participation of the public. Driven by the notions connectedness, contribution and commitment, the event aimed at a critique of the commercial and profit-oriented art world by moving away from artistic narcissism and elitist approaches opting instead for a dialogue with the public.

The artistic contributions selected by Bos aimed at a response to institutional critique based on positive approaches and forward-looking tendencies. Concerned with the content of art and ways to engage the public, her critique focused on the type of art institutions that desire sensationalism and artistic self-indulgence. Bos chose 50 (including very young) international artists from more than 30 countries who viewed art as a communal experience based on mutual forms of exchange. She focused on installations, film and video works that either engaged with the public or called for other types of interaction.

Like the 1st Berlin Biennale, the second installment was presented in the galleries of KW Institute for Contemporary Art and in the spaces of the former Postfuhramt. This time the exhibition was moreover extended to the S-Bahn arches under Jannowitzbrücke and the Allianz building–the so-called Treptowers.

Curators

Saskia Bos

2nd Berlin Biennale, 20.4.–20.6.2001; Saskia Bos, curator; photo: unknown

Curational Deputy
Waling Boers

Graphic Design
Irma Boom

From the catalog

Beyond the Self

I think this focusing on relationality, on concern and connectedness, which you feel with many artists in this show, was a way of establishing a countour for the art of today. And establishing that contour was necessary to avoid on the one hand the ‘anything goes’ approach that many Biennales have, where you put anything that’s new and surprising in the show. And on the other hand, I didn’t want to be trapped by a thematic starting point. Because I think thematic shows are reductive in the end; you tend to illustrate your own theory while you have to allow for new art practices to develop, new and experimental works, which you might not even fully understand to be shown. There are works here that are being made as we speak, where I trust the artist and only know about the outline of the project. So, there is this paradox between how open can you allow your show to be, while you at the same time have to legitimize your choices and you want to give it a focus. I wanted to make a few historical links. To maybe give a context to the many younger artists who are participating. [...]

The art space is a free space, allowing people to reflect but not to solve the problem right there and then. And maybe the aim of many of these artists, be they humorous or mainly philosophical, or reflective, is that even if they would like to change something in the real world, they wouldn’t do it themselves, they want people to realize that art can offer this relationality. Art is popular, everybody wants to be with art as an object of design more than desire. But the biennale is also a creative practice, a laboratory, an opportunity for the production of meaning. For a biennale it is important to present other possibilities of art to the audience, thus implying that the idea of the object, the market, and all the connections that are associated with art nowadays is not so much at its origin and never it source of inspiration. [...]

I do think there is another role for the artist, generated by that ‘Institutional Critique’ and by historical avant-garde art in general, where the criticality of the artist is not only allowed for, or even wished for by the curators, but almost turns against the organisation itself, when they say ‘Hang on, where are we here, in the middle of a power system?’ And I think all those elements are necessary links to the reality of the show.