Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Heather M. Shirey

Second Advisor

Eric Kjellgren

Third Advisor

Jayme Yahr


Large-scale, perennial exhibitions, or biennials, have become the venue par excellence for the display of contemporary art in the twenty-first century. The majority of scholars interpreting biennials in this relatively new field of study cite the Venice Biennial as the historical origin of the biennial concept, and therefore point of comparison, for each subsequent adaptation of the biennial model to the present. Originally, host cities implemented these events for the purpose of showcasing their industrial, technological, and generally modernizing tendencies, including the sophisticated grasp and execution of Western art trends by their citizens.

The combination of experiencing cutting-edge artistic production in the rarified space constructed specifically for its display, set apart from the everyday built environment, imbued the biennial exhibition model with legitimating powers to recognize art trends and elevate the reputation of the cities that hosted them. Dissatisfied and excluded from these Eurocentric events that privileged and exhibited art authored by and about Western subjects, a pioneering curatorial group in the 1980s appropriated and adapted the biennial model to meet the specific needs and realities of the spaces and citizens operating outside these hegemonic centers. This group was known as the Third World Biennials in a new global center, Havana, Cuba.

With the recent conclusion of Bahia, Brazil’s third biennial, this study seeks to interpret the purpose of the biennial from Bahia’s specific contemporary context, biennial history, and curatorial design. By outlining conclusions drawn from studies of biennials conducted thus far, outlining the biennial literature produced for this event, and by visual analysis of the Public Archives installation, this research will illustrate how the cumulative, constructive efforts and exchange created between the Bahia biennial and visitors proposes multiple identities for today’s Bahia.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.