Best Contemporary Art Festivals
Top 30 Arts Biennials, Postmodernist Exhibitions.
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Example of Modern Body Painting,
one of the fastest-growing types of
popular visual art.


The Physical Impossibility of Death
in the Mind of Someone Living (1991).
Damien Hirst. The archetypal example
of contemporary art, by one of the
most famous Young British Artists.
For the meaning of art plus a guide
to the issues, please see:
Definition and Meaning of Art.

Best Contemporary Art Festivals

Contents

Festivals, Fairs and Other Arts Events
Which are the World's Top Art Festivals?
A-Z List of The 30 Best Art Festivals
ARCO (Madrid)
Armory Show (New York)
Ars Electronica (Linz)
Art Basel
Art Basel Miami Beach
Berlin Biennale
Art Dubai
Bodypainting Festival
Dak'Art Biennial
Documenta
Edinburgh Festival
Florence Biennale
Frieze Art Fair (London)
Galway Arts Festival
Harbin Snow Sculpture Festival
India Art Fair
Istanbul Biennale
Japan Media Arts Festival
Quebec Winter Festival
Sandfest
Sao Paulo Art Biennial
Sapporo Snow Festival
SH Contemporary (Shanghai)
Shanghai Biennial
Sydney Biennial
TEFAF (Maastricht)
Vancouver Sculpture Biennale
Venice Biennale
Whitney Biennial



Flaming Love (c.1970)
A popular example of contemporary
poster art from the 1970s.

Festivals, Fairs and Other Arts Events

Usually an arts festival combines fixed exhibitions and showcase displays of various types of art, with lectures, symposia, workshops, demonstrations and other performances. In fact, within the world of visual art, the term art festival typically embraces the widest possible spectrum of creative events, involving contemporary art: from traditional media, such as painting and sculpture, to more modern forms like installation and video art, film-making, animation and photography, as well as avant-garde art forms such as performance art. Decorative art as well as design is also popular, especially when associated with feminist art or when it comes in the form of antiques, or ceramics or jewellery. Art festivals come in all sizes, ranging from large events - such as Art Basel or London's Frieze Art Fair - to small ones like the Kinsale Arts Festival in Ireland. Frequency varies, too. Many festivals are annual, but some - like the Venice Biennale - are held every two years, and a few - like the Yokohama Triennial (every three years), or Kassel's Documenta (every five years) - take place even less often. The fine art content of a festival program will also vary. The Edinburgh Festival may be the world's largest arts festival, but its program is dominated by performing arts, rather than visual or fine art. Human artworks are also becoming a popular festival theme, with the emergence of several art fairs devoted to body painting, tattoos and face painting.

 

Which are the World's Top Art Festivals?

Since many different interested parties are involved in festivals - including: curators, gallery owners, artists, critics, art collectors and of course ordinary art-loving visitors - it is difficult to produce a list of festivals that everyone agrees is the "best". With this caveat, here is an A-Z list of some of the most exciting art fairs and festivals around the globe.

A-Z of the Best Arts Festivals

ARCO (Madrid)
Set up in 1982, ARCO Madrid is one of Europe's most popular art fairs, with almost 200 international art galleries represented. Also features lectures, workshops as well as a series of specific exhibitions. See also: Prado Museum.

Armory Show (New York)
Named after the landmark Armory Show of 1913, this particular New York event was established in 2000, and is now billed as America's foremost fine art fair focusing on works from the 20th and 21st centuries, with galleries, artists, critics, collectors, and curators from all over the world in attendance during Armory Arts Week.

Ars Electronica (Linz)
Founded in 1979, Ars Electronica is an Austrian arts organization which runs its own digital art festival, in Linz. Originally part of the International Bruckner Festival, it became an independent annual event in 1986, and the Prix Ars Electronica remains one of the most prestigious awards in the area of digital artworks, computer art, cyberarts innovations and other contemporary art movements involving electronic media. The festival program, which attracts some 35,000 visitors, typically includes exhibitions, performances, symposia, and concerts. Along with the Japan Media Arts Festival, Ars Electronica is one of the few events dedicated to electronic media.

Art Basel
Founded in 1970 by a group of local art gallery owners, this annual 5-day festival in June, held in the charming city of Basel, in Switzerland, is now the world's largest contemporary art fair. Similar to the Venice Biennale, it attracts about 60,000 visitors each year. The show plays host to some 300 of the top art galleries from Europe, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Africa and Asia. It is usually divided into specialist sections featuring such things as public art, new works, video art, performances, installation art and exhibitions.

Art Basel Miami Beach
An American spin-off which takes place in early December, Art Basel Miami Beach is an annual contemporary art exhibition which began in 2002, as a city-wide event. Taking into account its range of exhibitions, participating galleries and other features, including performance art, organizers claim that it has now outstripped the parent fair in Basel in size, though not in numbers of visitors. Features top contemporary artists like Christopher Wool (b.1955) and others.

Berlin Biennale
This Biennale takes place April-July in one of the largest and most exciting communities of contemporary artists in Europe. Set up in the style of the Venice Biennale's Aperto exhibition, the Berlin Biennale was founded in 1998 as a champion of cutting-edge postmodernism and to capitalize on the city's importance as a centre of avant-garde culture: a city famous for launching such movements as Dada and Fluxus. See also: Guggenheim Berlin.

Art Dubai
Since its formation in 2006, Art Dubai has been the leading contemporary art fair in the Gulf and is now an essential meeting point for collectors, artists, curators and other art experts from across the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond. Art Dubai's Global Art Forum, involving leading arts professionals from the region is devoted to the promotion and dissemination of all arts and cultural works from the Middle East and North Africa, including Islamic art as well as secular works. See also: Museums of Islamic Art and Culture.

Bodypainting Festival (Austria)
The World Body Painting Festival takes place each year in Austria, and attracts artists and tattooists from all over the globe. During the period 1998 to 2010 it was held in Seeboden, Carinthia, close to the Millstatter See, in late July. Since then, it has been staged at Portschach at lake Worthersee. The festival program includes performances, workshops, live demonstrations of face painting and exhibitions of folk art techniques as well as numerous demonstrations.

Dak'Art Biennial (Dakar)
This biennial festival began in 1992 and is devoted exclusively to contemporary African art, including African sculpture as well as postmodernist forms, although it also includes exhibitions of more traditional tribal art. It takes place in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

Documenta
Held every five years in Kassel, Germany, Documenta is a major event in the world's art calendar, and compares - in both prestige and importance - with the top Biennales. An exhibition of contemporary art which attracts the world's top contemporary artists - including offbeat artists like Keith Haring (1958-90) - and which lasts for 100 days (hence its nickname "the museum of 100 days"), it was set up in 1955 by artist and curator Arnold Bode as part of the Federal Horticultural Show, held in Kassel, in order to update the country's contribution to modern art, in the aftermath of "degenerate art" and other cultural disasters perpetrated by the Nazis. In fact, this first show focused on banned prewar art movements, such as German Expressionism (Die Brucke, Der Blaue Reiter, Die Neue Sachlichkeit), Fauvism (Henri Matisse and others), Cubism (Picasso, Braque), Futurism (Carra, Balla, Severini,Boccioni), and Metaphysical Painting (Giorgio de Chirico). Documenta is not a sales show and typically coincides with three other big events: Art Basel, Skulptur Projekte Munster and the Venice Biennale. It attracts up to 750,000 visitors.

Edinburgh International Festival
An umbrella title for many arts and cultural festivals held in Scotland, each August, which together form the largest yearly cultural festival in the world. It includes the Edinburgh Art Festival, the country's largest visual arts festival, whose program typically includes a diverse selection of exhibitions and events which take place throughout the city. See also: National Gallery of Scotland.

Florence Biennale
Begun in 1997 by Art Studio, run by Brothers Pasquale and Piero Celona, Florence Biennale is contemporary art fair held in the Fortezza da Basso in Florence, Italy. The exhibition features over 800 participating artists from over 70 different countries and attracts some 17,000 visitors.

Frieze Art Fair (London)
Founded in 2003 and held every October in Regent's Park, Frieze plays host to more than 170 of the most dynamic galleries of contemporary art. Owners Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover also publish Frieze an international magazine devoted to postmodernist art. See also: Turner Prize.

Galway Arts Festival
Ireland's most important arts festival, attracting some 150,000 visitors annually, it takes place each July in Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. Its visual art content includes works of painting, caricature art, mime, assemblage, performance and plastic art. See: Contemporary Irish Artists.

Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival
Established in 1963, this winter sculpture event takes place during the month of January in the city of Harbin in windswept Northeast China. Participating ice sculptors employ a variety of techniques, from lasers to ice lanterns. Exhibits include full size buildings made from blocks of ice taken from the nearby Songhua River.

India Art Fair (New Delhi)
Founded quite recently in 2008, the India Art Fair (formerly the India Art Summit) is held in New Delhi in January. Devoted to the art of India, it focuses mainly on contemporary forms, but includes other exhibits, including aspects of India's rich heritage of ancient art. See, for instance, the Petroglyphs of Bhimbetka found at Auditorium Cave, Bhimbetka and at Daraki-Chattan Cave, in Madhya Pradesh.

Istanbul Biennale
Active since 1987, the Istanbul Biennale in Turkey is held from September to November in every odd-numbered year. Heir to the traditions of Byzantine art, this showcase of contemporary art from both Europe and Asia is one of the most prestigious art events in the region.

Japan Media Arts Festival
Founded in 1997, this festival takes place each February at the National Art Centre in Tokyo, under the auspices of the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs. The fair is famous for its prizes - Japan Media Arts Awards - which are awarded for achievements in four categories: Art (Non-Interactive Digital Art), Entertainment (Interactive Art, such as video games), Animation art, and Manga. See also: Japanese Art.

Quebec Winter Festival (Carnaval de Quebec)
Started initially way back in 1894, but held annually since 1955, the festival runs for the first three weeks or so of February, and features ice sculpture as well as the usual range of winter activities, including the traditional bikini snow bath event.

Sandfest (Texas)
Every April, Port Arkansas in Texas plays host to one of the strangest events in the calendar of American art: the Sandfest competition for sand sculpture. Plastic art like you have never seen it before. Participating artists include a number of world-class sand sculptors.

Sao Paulo Art Biennial
Established in 1951, it is the oldest biennial in the Americas and the second oldest art biennial in the world after the Venice Biennale, which began in 1895. Noted for its curated themed exhibitions, the Sao Paulo Biennial specializes in Brazilian, Latin American and international contemporary art.

Sapporo Snow Festival
Founded in 1950, when six students built a number of snow statues in a local park, this 7-day winter arts festival is held every February in Sapporo, Japan, and attracts some 2 million visitors. The program includes the Sapporo International Snow Sculpture Contest, as well as exhibits of ice architecture - including mazes, theatres and other structures. The festival ranks alongside the annual Harbin Ice Sculpture festival in China.

SH Contemporary (Shanghai)
China's first international art fair SH Contemporary was founded in 2007 by Lorenzo Rudolf, one of Art Basel's former directors. Managed by BF International Fairs, Bologna Italy, SH Contemporary reflects the strength of the rapidly growing Asian art market, in particular the influence of Chinese art collectors.

Shanghai Biennial
Founded in 1996, it began as a showcase of traditional Ink-and-Wash Painting techniques, and some calligraphy, by Chinese painters from the Shanghai region. Since then it has grown extensively, and now features cutting edge movements like Cynical Realism, as well as conceptual art, installations, digital and video art and several other disciplines. In 2010 it featured 50 participating postmodernist artists, of whom just under 20 were from China. This biennial is the major contemporary art event in the city, and is usually held in September at the Shanghai Art Museum. As well as the main curated museum exhibition, its program includes lectures, "happenings" and installations in a number of different venues across the city.

Sydney Biennial
Billed as the third oldest biennial in the world, and the largest and best-attended contemporary visual arts event in Australia, the Biennial of Sydney was set up in 1973, and takes place across the city from June to September. The first arts biennial to be founded in the Asia-Pacific region, it now features Australian and Oceanic art, as well as works from around the world. See also: Australian Impressionism as well as Australian Modern Painting (c.1900-60). For older works, see: Aboriginal Rock Art (Australia).

TEFAF (Maastricht)
Founded in 1975 as the The Pictura Fine Art Fair, it was renamed The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) in 1996. Typically features over 250 of the most eminent art and antiques dealers from around the world. In 2011, for instance, its 30,000 exhibits had a combined value of $1.5 billion.

Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale
This festival of public art is an open air exhibition of contemporary sculpture, featuring installations by Canadian as well as international sculptors. Each exhibition can be viewed for a two-year period, in public spaces across the city of Vancouver. A key feature of the Biennale is its community educational program that enables local students to learn more about the art on display. In addition, the city gets to keep two sculptures for long-term display.

Venice Biennale (Biennale di Venezia)
The oldest, largest and best-attended of all international festivals of visual art, the Venice Biennale opened in 1895, and now takes place in venues throughout the city, from June to November in odd-numbered years. It also encompases the Venice Film Festival, and the Venice Biennale of Architecture, which is held in even years. Among its famous participants was the Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic (b.1946) who won the Golden Lion for her performance "Baltic Baroque" (1997).

Whitney Biennial (New York)
Established in 1973, and held at the Whitney Museum of American Art (March thru May), this is New York's leading exhibition of postmodernist art by unknown, emerging and established American-based artists - including a fair representation of women artists, thanks to feminist pioneers like Judy Chicago (b.1939) and Barbara Kruger (b.1945). The Whitney Biennial has also shown the politically slanted collages of street artist David Wojnarowicz (1954-92). Overall, it is considered by many art critics to be the key contemporary arts show in the world calendar. In addition to painting, sculpture and the usual contemporary forms, the Biennial now features performance art as well as contemporary dance and theatre.

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