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Five reasons to go to the Biennale of Sydney

Galleries become "embassies", streets become galleries and art infiltrates everyday life in the latest city-wide art takeover

Daniel Boud

Every two years the Biennale of Sydney takes over the city's major art institutions and Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour, creating a wonderland of art curated by a different person/team per edition.

The 20th Biennale is curated by Stephanie Rosenthal, who comes from Munich's Haus der Kunst, via a post at London’s Hayward Gallery (who were behind the fabulously successful Light Show that toured to the MCA in 2015).

Rosenthal assembled an advisory group of 13 international curators, writers and theorists to help shape the Biennale with her – from the line-up of artists and works to the thematic strands, and the public programs before and during the festival. This advisory group includes curators from Tokyo's Mori Art Museum, New York's Guggenheim Museum, the as-yet-unopened Fondation Galeries Lafayette (Paris), the South London Gallery, Brisbane's QAGOMA, and London's ultra-hip Carroll/Fletcher.

Five things to know about the Biennale

The art will be arranged in ‘embassies of thought’

Artistic director Stephanie Rosenthal might have an intimidating high art pedigree that includes two decades of curation at Munich’s Haus der Kunst and London’s Hayward Gallery, but one of the defining aspects of her Biennale of Sydney is her desire to bring art out of the rarefied world of galleries and museums and into the everyday. In the process, she’s gone so far as to rename Sydney’s biggest art institutions. Under her curatorship, the Museum of Contemporary Art is dubbed the ‘Embassy of Translation’; the Art Gallery of NSW is ‘Embassy of Spirits’.

“The themes came about through me travelling, meeting artists and realising that they are these clusters of urgency – things that artists care about currently.”

At Cockatoo Island ('Embassy of the Real'), you'll discover artists who are interested in science fiction. In the huge Turbine Hall, Korean artist Lee Bul will be creating a utopian cityscape within the cathedral-sized space, concocting a possible future from the dreams and aspirations of humanity.

There will be lots of performance

Rosenthal’s speciality is movement and performance-based art, and her Biennale includes choreographic giant William Forsythe (whose Quintett was performed by Sydney Dance Company in March 2015), Boris Charmatz, and expat young Australian choreographer Adam Linder.

The art will spread inner-west

More than a third of artworks is to be presented at venues in the inner-west, and Rosenthal will activate art in two new venues in the area: the former train stop ‘Mortuary Station’, on Regent Street; and the Newtown Cemetery.

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The Biennale title is taken from the William Gibson quote

“The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.” The theme, at its simplest, is understanding the ‘now’. Rosenthal says, “If each era posits its own view of reality, what is ours? One of the key ideas this Biennale explores is how the common distinction between the virtual and the physical has become ever more elusive.”

Of the 83 artists and collectives presenting work, there are 14 from Australia

Justene Williams, Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, Richard Bell, Daniel Boyd, Adam Linder, Lauren Brincat, Jamie North, Mike Parr, Brown Council (Frances Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley, Diana Smith), Agatha Gothe-Snape, Archie Moore, Keg de Souza, Erub Arts and Ken Thaiday Snr.