Cover image of the review


30 Dec 2017
17 Dec - 15 Apr 2018

Buried within the question recently explored by Felicity D. Scott, ‘Who is the festival for?’, is the rapidly fading possibility of a public. It is a discourse that seems to slip too easily into arguments about the centrist compromise of regulated-, or neo-liberal, architectures of the state. The elaborate zones of exclusion raised for the National Gallery of Victoria’s inaugural Triennial, which follows its first International Festival of Photography, seem to point only toward one social imaginary: some of us—increasingly fewer of us—play the citizens. Others fall outside of the law, into a radically precarious and simultaneously emancipatory statelessness, a barbaric expanse coveted, nevertheless, by those searching for another world.

Revisiting the rise of art’s festivilisation, Charles Green and Anthony Gardner describe a scene in the foyer of the Sydney Opera House during the first Biennale of Sydney in 1973, where a relatively small, ‘insular and conservative,’ selection of mostly Australian art peered out cautiously toward the horizon of international contemporaneity. A few lines later they state that by its third edition in 1979, the Biennale had become, for its founders, ‘Australia’s lifeline’ to the outside art world. Fast forward nearly half a century, to the NGVs globally oriented Triennial—which all but replaces the local focus of 2013’s Melbourne Now—and it appears not much has changed. Very much keyed to the promotion of its founders, principally the NGV’s current director Tony Elwood, the exhibition is not about the multitude of artworks on display. Instead, it proposes that we, the lucky few, should get lost amongst this ‘free’ survey of global contemporary art and design in a comprehensive experience.

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