The Backyard Biennial: A Biennial Run on Zero Dollars

by Paddy Johnson on September 22, 2017 Events

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With the news that Documenta14 director Adam Szymczyk has led the massive 50-million dollar budget quinquennial into more than 8 million dollars of debt, it may be heartening to hear that there are other similarly named events that have managed to stay well under budget. Take The Backyard Biennial, which launches tonight (amongst the chaos that is Bushwick Open Studios) and runs through next weekend. According to Patrice Helmar, the organizer of the event, and proprietor of the backyard venue in Ridgewood Queens, the entire show was put on with a budget of zero dollars. The biennial includes the work of over 60 artists and takes place in queens.

When I asked Helmar, an artist and adjunct art professor, why she organized the Biennial her answer was matter of fact. “I had a colleague who was trying to organize a class to see Documenta, but I wasn’t able to afford to go see those things.” Helmar recalled a passage from a book she’d read recently which she paraphrased as, “When the wealthy go on vacation they go on trips around the world. When the poor go on vacation they visit their family.” I took that to mean that watching art professionals travel the world to see the biennales this year felt a little too much like watching the wealthy, but organizing her own biennial with friends, was similar to visiting family.

Artist: Tom Kalin Video Still from: MAN + BEAST Runtime: 1:23 minutes A film by: Tom Kalin - July, 2017 Music by Doveman Featuring Craig Paull

Tom Kalin, Video Still from: MAN + BEAST, Runtime: 1:23 minutes. Music by Doveman, Featuring Craig Paull

But organizing a biennale this size may take more work than visiting your mom and dad. Helmer told me she asked artists in her network to think of objects that would fit in her backyard. Painters were asked for works that could hang off a fence or in a windowsill. One video artist has rigged up waterproof container for a media player wrapped around a fence post. (I have no idea what this art will look like.) And an Israeli artist has brought a metal sculpture for display that is easily folded and unfolded.  

Like all biennials there are plenty of events. This Saturday between five and seven there will be a series of performances and poetry readings by artists Kyle Dacuyan, Ondine, Trenton Pollard, Shriya Samavai, Sean D. Henry-Smith, Max Steele and L.A. Warman. That will be followed by a lecture and slideshow by Ariel Goldberg. Many photographers—Helmer’s own medium and focus—will be participating in the slideshow, an event that promises to attract a lot of attention. It includes some of the city’s better known artists organizers including Nat Ward and Rachel Stern. That event will close out the show next Saturday at 6:30.

Artist: Tenaya Izu Title: boobles bongy Materials: Ceramic Dimensions: 4X4X5” Year: 2017

Tenaya Izu, “boobles bongy”, 2017 Ceramic, 4X4X5”

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