ABU DHABI AND NEW YORK - Now that I have previously outlined the calendar for the coming art fair season in this space, let’s not forget biennials. New York’s most famous entry, the one at the Whitney Museum of American Art, is dormant this year, having given us a very good edition in 2012. But there is plenty of action for those of you who want to see a huge mash-up of international art in a setting where the commercial element takes a back seat.



Sharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces, Sharjah Heritage Area. © Photos: Haupt & Binder, Universes in Universe.

First up is the Sharjah Biennial, sponsored by the Sharjah Art Foundation in the United Arab Emirates, March 13–May 13. Sharjah has been somewhat quieter than its neighbors Dubai and Abu Dhabi in terms of prominence in the art world, but they have been beefing up this event (it was started in 1993). Just like museums, biennials sometimes inject new energy by commissioning structures, and so the event will inaugurate the foundation’s new buildings. With 20,000 square feet of indoor space, connected by lots of courtyards and dotted by terraces, the new digs are inspired by traditional Islamic architecture. Curator Yuko Hasegawa proposes a “new cultural cartography,” says the press release, involving the relationship of major global regions to each other. I never fully understand the jargon of biennial statements of purpose, but she has selected 24 artists for the task, and I’ll be curious to see how it pans out.


Francis Alÿs’ Don’t Cross the Bridge before you get to the River from 2008 will be exhibited at this year’s Sharjah Biennial. Photo:Roberto Rubalcava.

The granddaddy of all art biennials, of course, is Venice, and festivities get underway in that romantic city June 1, as they have every two years (or so) since 1895. The old-fashioned, Olympics-like format—organizing the pavilions by country—is one of its charms, forces national curators to choose their artists wisely and well. The chief of the whole affair is the New Museum’s associate director, Massimiliano Gioni, who is one of the most respected people in the art world these days. That bodes well. Eight countries are brand-new this year, including the Bahamas and the Maldives, not previously known as artistic hotbeds. The biennale is up until late November, though for in-the-know types the last few days of May are the perfect time to arrive and get a jump on parties, previews and the like.

If you’re really committed to your planning, a couple of other biennials have their dates set for the fall: Lyon, France commences September 12, and Istanbul just two days later. More on those as we get closer, but the best tidbit so far is that the official theme of the Istanbul Biennial is: “Mom, am I barbarian?” If you have to ask…