La Biennale de Lyon was launched in 1991 and has become one of the largest contemporary art events in the world, with greater attendance and broader representation than Manifesta and the Whitney Biennal. For its 13th edition in 2015, the Biennale de Lyon brings together 60 artists from 28 countries to explore the theme of La Vie Moderne.
The biennale was co-founded and is overseen by Thierry Raspail as Artistic Director. Raspail is also the Director of the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon (MAC Lyon) – a position he has held since the museum’s creation in 1984. The guest curator for the biennale’s 13th edition is Ralph Rugoff, the Director of London’s Hayward Gallery.
The Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon is the biennale’s primary site with installations by 34 artists on all three levels. The museum building was designed by Renzo Piano with the Cité Internationale and was inaugurated in 1995 during the 3rd Biennale de Lyon. MAC Lyon has a notable history of early exhibitions for a panoply of major contemporary artists.
Side note: We saw Keith Haring here in 2008 before hipsters wore Keith Haring t-shirts, and we’re excited for Lumière in 2016 – Yoko Ono’s first retrospective in France, closely following MoMA’s 2015 exhibition.
In addition to MAC Lyon, the biennale has four other exhibition sites in Lyon. There is a sculpture at Parc de la Tête d’Or and a video installation at l’Institut Lumière in Monplaisir. There are 35 artists at La Sucrière, a former sugar factory in the redeveloped southern quarter of Presqu’île. Nearby, there’s an installation at the new Musée des Confluences.
At MAC Lyon, T.J. Wilcox’s In the Air is a panoramic film installation made in 2013 in New York. Interestingly, it is not very far from the reproduction of a 1901 Photorama at the Musée Lumière. Wilcox’s contemporary view of Manhattan is separated from Louis Lumière’s panorama of the port of Marseille by an ocean and a century, but each represent a version of La Vie Moderne with particular technology and urban views.
At La Sucrière, Hicham Berrada’s Mesk-ellil is a dark, humid garden planted with night-blooming jasmine. The installation reverses the plant’s day/night cycle with artificial daylight at night and artificial twilight during the day. The mesk-ellil, “musk of the night” in Arabic, releases perfume during the day for a sensory experience that inverts a natural system.
Magdi Mostafa’s The Surface of Spectral Scattering provides an aerial night view of Cairo with 10,000 LED bulbs, 23,000 connections, and 15 power centers that react to sound waves on the periphery of the installation, visualizing globalization across the ancient metropolis.
La Vie Moderne is a relatively ambiguous title, but becomes a multifarious theme for a biennale with artists from 28 countries. Narratives expand from divergent concerns of everyday life, and La Vie Moderne brings them together into a larger, contemporary global culture. The Biennale de Lyon opened on September 10 and continues to January 3, 2016.