The world’s best performance biennial is about to make some friends. This year, Performa will start collaborating with foreign countries, in what it calls a “Pavilions without walls” program. Basically, they’ll produce a few foreign exchange performances and spend a year or so training two young organizers to strategize and fundraise.
“It’s meant to be a pipeline more than a platform, in some ways,” Performa’s General Manager and Producer Esa Nickle told me this afternoon over the phone. “We’re trying use these relationships to build the whole biennial, rather than a one-off [event].” The pavilions will rotate countries each year, this year focusing on Norway and Poland. As Nickle reminded me, there are only 2500 artists in Norway, so the pool of artists is limited. But by working with curators, artists, and organizations for over a year, she hopes that they’ll leave lasting relationships. “Artists get true support, instead of just their plane ticket,” she said.
Pooling resources and strategies will also help nonprofits like Performa and its partner organizations at a time when government support is already dwindling here in the States. “You have monolithic organizations in other countries, like [the Venice Biennale], where the government buys their way in. We’re working in a different way that’s really about knowledge and networking.”
If this results in more Performa-style biennials, we’re all for it. What sets Performa apart from the Whitney or the New Museum biennials is that performance already lends itself less to a fair than a community gathering. Performa in particular chooses work that has a finger on the contemporary pulse and looks outside of itself; if you’re a fan of artists like Liz Magic Laser, Sanford Biggers, Kalup Linzy, Laurel Nakadate, or Clifford Owens, look forward to more of that quality from here on out. That’s good news for everyone.