061115WinterKingHawthorn-85.png

 A Condensed Providence Biennial History

The original intent of the Providence Biennial for Contemporary Art, incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) in 2011, was to combine an international high-end biennial exhibition with the outsider spirit of the local Providence scene, and to do so by definition on an every-two-year schedule. While referencing an art fair, never did we intend a pure Art Basel commercial model; instead, we foresaw curated presentations entirely differently than those of commercial galleries. We were spiritually akin instead to the new art fairs that blossomed around Art Basel's blue chip echelon, such as VOLTA, a contemporary art fair featuring art dealers, galleries and friends in collaboration.

 

Excepting the then entirely out of reach and elusive (although magnificent) immense historic Armory on the West End of the capital city, a Providence venue for our mission was lacking. The Armory was a showcase in need of tremendous restoration, its renovation cost factor an insurmountable challenge for any worthy organization or group. For our purpose it was, in a word, inaccessible.

Thus we re-evaluated, like artists do. Curating, like art-making, teaches us to be agile and responsive (as Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg has remarked).

Thus we re-evaluated, like artists do. Curating, like art-making, teaches us to be agile and responsive (as Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg has remarked).

The Biennial shifted to exploring multiple, alternative venues as sites to engage with various thematic exhibitions. These projects showcased the work of New England artists and many artists from beyond the region who addressed a wide range of interests, from the purely aesthetic through the eco-political. We thirsted for more in these compelling, predominantly group rather than solo exhibitions, and for "being part of the wheel that moves culture forward," to quote a Biennial board trustee.

 

Prior to launching its 2022 program called Providence Curates: Cultivating a Transformative Experiment, the Providence Biennial curated and presented a schedule even more frequently than every two-years and in various types of alternative venues. These ranged from an empty office in downtown Providence to the Rhode Island State House, from an academic office building to an outdoor bocce ball court, and we reached into nearby Massachusetts as a venue for our program.