Between art weeks, openings, and contemporary art fairs, we already have much planned for 2023, but there is always time for biennials. I love visiting biennials because they are the perfect excuse to explore a city, spend there a few days and discover different locations and exhibition spaces.

Biennials are usually spread around different venues, which allows visitors to see different parts of the cities, and at the same time, they comprise the best contemporary artists, giving us much to appreciate and think about. 

And if there are plenty of big, international events, like Manifesta or Documenta, that have a long history and are internationally well-known, there are also many others that are on the rise and fully deserve a spot on our calendars. Sure, not all biennials are equally as good, well-curated, and thought-provoking (I am thinking of you, Florence Biennale – you can do better!), there are plenty that I would love to visit. 

So, as it’s still the beginning of the year, and thus time to travel plan for the months ahead, here are 5 contemporary art biennials to check in 2023. 

Contemporary Art Biennials 2023 - Gwangju Biennale building
Gwangju Biennale – Photo courtesy Gwangju Biennale

14th Gwangju Biennale

07 April – 09 July 2023

The first stop is my beloved South Korea, with the Gwangju Biennale. In its 14th edition, the biennale was founded in 1995 and is the oldest contemporary art biennial in all of Asia. 

Located in the South West of the Korean peninsula, the biennale takes place in the city of Gwangju, known for its historical tradition of art and culture. The Biennale has had a significant role in spreading Korean art and contemporary artists over the years, not only in Asia but on an international level. 

This year’s edition, titled Soft and Weak like Water, proposes to “imagine our shared planet as a site of resistance, coexistence, solidarity, and care by thinking through the transformative and restorative potential of water as a metaphor, a force, and a method. Soft and weak like water celebrates an aqueous model of power that brings forth change, not with an immediate effect but with endurance and pervasive gentleness, flowing across structural divisions and differences,” as we read in their statement.

With a rich program and international artists featured in the main exhibition, the Gwangju Biennale is the perfect occasion to visit South Korea and discover its thrilling art scene. 

All info: 

12th Liverpool Biennial

10 June – 17 September 2023

For our second stop, we are back in Europe, and more exactly in the UK. Liverpool Biennial is the largest international contemporary art festival in the United Kingdom and a great opportunity to ditch London and visit this area of England. Especially in summer, the British countryside is amazing and a visit the Liverpool would be a great addition! 

Founded in 1999, the biennial is in its 12th edition and is titled uMoya: The Sacred Return of Lost Things

This year’s edition “addresses the history and temperament of the city of Liverpool and is a call for ancestral and indigenous forms of knowledge, wisdom and healing. In the isiZulu language, ‘uMoya’ means spirit, breath, air, climate and wind. The festival explores the ways in which people and objects have the potential to manifest power as they move across the world, while acknowledging the continued losses of the past. It draws a line from the ongoing Catastrophes caused by colonialism towards an insistence on being truly Alive.”

The exhibition will feature more than 30 international artists and collectives, directed and curated by Khaniyisile Mbongwa. Taking over historic buildings, unexpected spaces, and art galleries, a dynamic program of free exhibitions, performances, screenings, community events, learning activities, and fringe events will unfold over 14 weeks, shining a light on the city’s vibrant cultural scene.

All info: 

Helsinki Biennial

12 June – 18 September 2023

Speaking of biennials on the rise, one of my favorites is the Helsinki Biennial. Debuted in 2021 (although postponed from 2020), the biennial is at the very beginning of its course, but it is already an interesting case. Presented by Helsinki Art Museum (HAM), the biennial main exhibition takes place on the former military island of Vallisaari, situated in the Helsinki fjord and easily reachable with a short ferry ride from the city center. Centered around the island and its rich biodiversity, the biennial focuses on site-specific works that take into consideration the surroundings, their history, and peculiarities. 

The 2023 biennial, curated by Joasia Krysa and titled New Directions May Emerge, will bring together over 30 established and emerging artists and collectives to reflect “on some of the major issues of our time that appear irresolvable, such as environmental damage, political conflict and the effects of technology.”

Moreover, this year the biennial will expand beyond the island of Vallisaari to the city of Helsinki, embracing the space of the HAM Helsinki Art Museum, Helsinki Central Library Oodi, and cultural centers across the city. 

All info: 

35th São Paulo Biennial

September 6 – December 10, 2023

Toward the end of the year, let’s jump across the pond to visit Brazil and its Bienal de São Paulo. Originally launched in 1951, it is the second oldest art biennial in the world after the Venice Biennial. Founded by the Italian-Brazilian industrialist Ciccillo Matarazzo (1898-1977), the biennial has been held in the Ciccillo Matarazzo pavilion in the Parque do Ibirapuera since 1957.

The São Paulo Biennial features both Brazilian and international artists and is considered to be one of the most important art exhibits both in the country as well as globally. 

The biennial strives to make contemporary art known in Brazil, push the country’s access to the art scene in other metropolises, and further establish São Paulo as an international art center. It also focuses on the promotion of Brazilian art closer to an international audience, and vice-versa.

This year’s biennial, signed by the curatorial collective composed of Diane Lima, Grada Kilomba, Hélio Menezes, and Manuel Borja-Villel, will be titled Choreographies of the Impossible

With the official press conference to be held on September 4th, 2023, not much information has been revealed so far, but I am sure the biennial will be worth a visit.

All info: 

Contemporary Art Biennials 2023 - Taipei Biennial
Taipei Biennial 2020 – Installation view | Photo courtesy Taipei Biennial

13th Taipei Biennial

18 November 2023 – 24 March 2024

To close off the year, or start 2024, the last biennial I would recommend is the 13th Taipei Biennial. Given the many months that separate us from the biennial, at the time of writing, there is not much information available yet but I am sure it is definitely one the best contemporary art biennials of 2023. What we do know is, though, who will curate the exhibition. The 13th Taipei Biennial will be collectively curated by Taiwanese curator Freya Chou, writer, educator, and editor Brian Kuan Wood, and curator Reem Shadid, and will be as always supported by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM).

First launched in 1996, the biennial promotes Taiwanese art and encourages the public to familiarize themselves with local artists. Over the years, the biennial has increased the visibility of Taiwan’s contemporary art on the world stage, and has also involved Taiwan in the Asian and global international art network. As we read in their statement, “The biennial has broadened Taiwan’s artistic vision, its professional, exhibition-organization ability, and its exposure in the international media. The Taipei Biennial has become a primary symbol of Taiwan’s contemporary art development and international artistic exchange.”

All info: 

Cover image by Bruno Thethe on Unsplash