Under attack from the local arts community, the Cuenca International Art Bienal considers major changes ahead of 2016 edition

Feb 23, 2015

Cuenca’s International Art Bienal is reviewing its mission and says it needs to do a better job of engaging the public. Many local artists criticized the 2014 event for its focus on installation art and pointed to poor attendance as a reason to make changes.

Cristóbal Zapata

Cristóbal Zapata

Cristóbal Zapata has been named Bienal director by the Bienal Board of Directors, and has been asked to review event criteria as well as look at ways to increase interaction with the community.

Zapata says the Bienal needs a clear idea of the kind of art it will display. “There needs to be a curatorial concept that attracts high quality work from around the world,” he says. “We will also look at taking the Bienal to the local communities, not just expecting them to show up at the display areas.” He said he was considering the kind of public outreach used by the Cuenca Film Festival, which screens movies in local neighborhoods as well as in larger theaters.

Another of Zapata’s objectives is to make the Bienal an on-going project, not simply an event that runs for four months every other year. “It should be an integral part of the arts community in Cuenca,” he says. “It should provide training to young artists, help promote appreciation of the plastic arts, and offer education. We should also consider having permanent exhibits sponsored by the Bienal.”

One of the critics of recent Bienals is artist Eudoxia Estrella, one of the founders of the Bienal and  first director of the Cuenca Museum of Modern Art. “The event has abandoned its original mission and needs to return to its roots,” she says. The event was founded 28 years ago to display international painting, she says, and the 2014 Bienal included no painting at all.

Cuenca expat and former London arts writer Learom Rich says the 2014 International Art Bienal was a disappointment. “It was definitely a case of being less than what met the eye,” he says. “I have nothing against installation art but most of what was displayed last year was not good, even though some of it was created by people with international reputations,” he says. “I think this is the reason that the public stayed away in droves. Overall, the show was a flop.”

Rich agrees that the Bienal lacks a clear focus. “In the last two or three events, there has been a kind of ‘in-crowd’ mentality among the organizers,” he said. “They consider painting and sculpture to be old school and looked to big name installation artists to fill the space. The situation is not unique to Cuenca; it’s happening in public shows and galleries all over the world.” He added: “I agree that painting should be part of the Bienal.”

Zapata, a Cuenca poet and arts reviewer, coordinated the 1997 Bienal which concentrated on painting.

The Bienal opens its 13th edition in November 2016.

Photo credit: El Comercio

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