A good biennale dances a tricky pas de deux with its theme. Too little constraint lands us in Charles Foster Kane’s warehouse, too heavy a curatorial hand stifles the unruliness which is contemporary art’s great charm. The curators of this year’s Biennale of Sydney, Catherine de Zegher and Gerald McMaster, have taken an inquisitive approach to their theme. If all our relations sets itself up against a modernist heroism which must by now be as rickety as a leaky curtain wall, its pluralism does not mean anything and everything and isn’t it so groovy we’re all connected all the time? In their curatorial statement Zegher and McMaster place their biennale within “a renewed attention to how things connect” which is already at large in the world. Bad connections spark and sputter all over the place, while good ones, we hope, form in the shadows or underground, always in resistance to the dark force of an individualism of consumers instead of individuals. all our relations is not the same as “let’s get together and feel alright” and it is not, as some feared when the theme was first announced, a rejection of the visionary in favor of a dull but worthy collectivism. Both extremes are too easy, as is most territory in between.
The 17th Biennale of Sydney succeeds spectacularly as an act of urbanism. At a time when the practice of creative urbanism in this city finds itself uncomfortably confined between the immobile sandstone cliffs of stodgy bureaucracy and the wiles of crony developers, the real deal is most welcome, even if it is only temporary. Aside from the quality of the art, which is surprisingly high, it is clear that the Biennale organizers and curator David Elliott have succeeded in a genuine act of Urban Doing, that jolly competitor to the familiar discipline of urban planning.