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date: 19 October 2019

Summary and Keywords

The first Bienal de São Paulo occurred in 1951 as an event organized by the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo. At that moment, the principal objectives of the exhibition were to win a place for São Paulo city in the international artistic circuit and present Brazilian modern art to the world. Due to the artistic direction of intellectuals such as Lourival Gomes Machado, Sérgio Milliet, and Mário Pedrosa, the São Paulo Biennales played a central role in the process of the institutionalization of modern art in Brazil, whether through the organization of special exhibitions dedicated to historical vanguards or expanding the museum’s collection through acquisition prizes. Since 1957, the exhibition has occupied the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion, one of the iconic modernist buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer for Ibirapuera Park.

In 1962, the exhibition was separated from the museum, following the creation that year of the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, a private nonprofit institution, which since then has been responsible for the organization of the Biennales. During the following decades the history of the Biennales has been a constant effort to survive numerous crises, maintaining a contemporary identity for the exhibition through experimentation with different organizational structures. The exhibition followed the model of the Venice Biennale, based on the geopolitical logic of national representation until 2006, when the Fundação Bienal decided to implement the current organizational system in which an appointed general curator is entirely responsible for the choice of artists for the exhibition. The capacity to reinvent itself from time to time, to adapt to changes in artistic practices and the global artistic scene, is what still makes the São Paulo Biennale the oldest and most important contemporary international art exhibition in Latin America.

Keywords: history of exhibitions, modern art, contemporary art, cultural institutions, curatorship, Brazilian art

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