The Berlin Biennale – Curating Cultural Diplomacy in the Unified City

    • Cover Conference Prague
    • Presentation speakers
      • Nicola Guy, University of Hull, Heritage Consortium, United Kingdom


    The cultural industries have been key to the ways Berlin has been promoted since its unification and the Berlin Biennale has had a major role within this. Launched in 1998 the Biennale has has attracted tens of thousands of visitors and become one of the most significant arts events in the city. This role has been supported by the Senat, with core funding being provided to the organisation since the new millennium, demonstrating recognition of the capital, both financial and cultural, that it has brought to the city, and its importance in shaping the image of the New Berlin (Colomb, 2012). Each iteration of the Biennale invites a curator to explore a different theme that is examined from the perspective of the city, with the historical context and wealth of local artists often being called upon. The Biennale has presented many large scale projects in myriad venues, utilising its links with the Senat to expand into non-art spaces, including important historical buildings that allow the city’s rich and troubled history to be placed at the forefront of the curatorial approach. This paper will explore the position the Biennale has taken of straddling the art world and being a representative of the state, questioning what political influence is possible within this. Using Forget Fear, the seventh Berlin Biennale held in the summer of 2012 curated by Artur Żmijewski, an artist known for his politically engaged and often highly controversial artwork, as the primary example through which to explore its arguably overdetermined political content. Presented in the wake of the global financial crisis this edition of the Biennale was intended as a site of action and experimentation and included displays by activists as well as artists. The exhibition received a large amount of criticism for its political content with many believing it would not be possible to present more than a surface-level interaction with the subject matter. Looking beyond these arguments this research attempts to present a productive analysis of how the Biennale can work as both a diplomatic device in place-marketing the city and still provide a significant contribution to contemporary exhibition-making.