By:Adam Lerner Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section: Inspirations
The Biennial of the Americas was conceived in 2004 when I was asked by the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs to come up with ideas for a city-wide art event that would cultivate civic pride and bring national attention to Denver. I presented a few alternatives but the possibility of an event that would gather artists and thinkers from all over the Americas stood far above the rest. It was ambitious, probably the most ambitious of all the ideas I presented. The name Biennial of the Americas implies a grand scale and wide reach. That explains why it took until 2006 for the idea to gain momentum, thanks to the leadership of the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs led by Erin Trapp, who set the vision forward.
I imagined the Denver biennial as a return to the origin of the genre, which began in the late nineteenth century, as a cousin of world’s fairs and international expos. These events were founded as forums for nations to showcase their contributions to civilization. Toward this end, the arts would often stand alongside science, technology and industry. Now, when so many of the world’s problems are interconnected – when global economies and cultures are interconnected – it makes more sense than ever to develop international platforms for shared insights and creativity. When I presented the concept of a biennial, I tried to emphasize the civic nature of the event. There are art biennials all over the country: the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Site Santa Fe in New Mexico, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to name just a few. These are all hosted by individual institutions or museums that put on grand displays every two years. There are also art fairs in cities across the country that provide a platform for galleries to showcase art for collectors and aficionados. These are dynamic events, but they are not civic-led. I knew Denver was capable of generating civic support above and beyond the specific interests of institutions and commercial endeavors. When so many of the world’s problems are interconnected – when global economies and cultures are interconnected – it makes more sense than ever to develop international platforms for shared insights and creativity
On the summer evening in 2010 when Denver’s Biennial of the Americas kicked off, I was proud to see thousands of people crowded around the Museum of Contemporary Art. We had a day-long opening for our exhibition Energy Effects, a partner exhibition of the Biennial, and there was a steady flow of visitors throughout the day. But something magical happened that evening as the massive crowd assembled outdoors. A rock-n-roll marching band beat their drums and danced. A group of artists that make fire-breathing robots showed up to stage a spectacle. And fifteen hundred people appeared on cruiser bicycles, many of them in costume. It felt like right there was the organic, creative force of the city. In the middle of the crowd was a 1969 champagne-colored Chevy Malibu, a classic muscle car turned on its nose, poised just above a large puddle of water. It was artwork by Guadalajara artist Gonzalo Lebrija, a project realized by a partnership between MCA Denver, Amy Harmon’s Urban Market Partners and the Biennial of the Americas. It looked absolutely still but it had enormous presence. The night of the opening, it was like a lightening rod conducting all the excitement around it. It reminded me what we wanted to achieve with a city-wide event. It reminded me that art and ideas generate energy.
Adam Lerner is the Director and Chief Animator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver.