Vol 3 No 1 (2022)
Exhibiting Prints: The Role of Printed Matter in International, Large-Scale Exhibitions

Guest editor: Jennifer Noonan

Prints, multiples, artist’s books, posters, printed ephemera, etc., have been exhibited alongside paintings and sculptures in international, large-scale exhibitions. They have been displayed in, sold, and collected from the Venice Biennale, São Paulo Biennial, Documenta and several other perennial exhibitions. Regardless of their continuous, vital presence within international venues and despite the proliferation of scholarship on biennials, there have been few studies on the role of prints and artist’s editions within these exhibitions. The texts collected in this third issue aim at opening art historical narratives towards a sometimes marginalised medium, which has been in many cases vital for the life and fortune of large-scale exhibitions: cultural tourism, dissemination of the avant-garde, bourgeois collections’, taste-making, democratisation of art, institutional critique as well as politics. 

Contributors: Maeve Coudrelle, Alessia Del Bianco, Adelaide Duarte and Lígia Afonso, Jacob Lund, Jennifer Noonan, Camilla Pietrabissa.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.25432/2724-086X/3.1

Clarissa Ricci, Camilla Salvaneschi, Angela Vettese
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Editorial Vol. 3, No. 1.

This article examines the exhibition of prints at the Venice Biennale between the 1930s and the early 1970s. Drawing upon recently discovered archival material, this essay argues that the prints displayed and awarded prizes during this period offer a picture of the art world, biennial culture, and its socio-political milieu, including the ebbs and follows of nationalism and internationalism. Part of this study, therefore, includes an assessment of how the print exhibitions reveal the shifting aesthetic, cultural and at times political world in which they were situated. This essay also provides an extended analysis on the role graphics played at the 1970 Venice Biennale in the Italian and United States pavilions and will argue that the organisation and installation of these exhibitions mirrored contemporaneous, ephemeral aspects of avant-garde art and, in fleeting moments, transnational exchanges.

In 1901, Vittorio Pica praised the organisers of the Venice Biennale for devoting “one or two small rooms” to “a selection of works by the finest modern masters of bianco e nero”. The exhibitions organised in 1899 and 1901 presented—for the very first time in Italy—some of the leading names in European graphic art, building on the success of the sizeable exhibit of Dutch etchers in the 1895 and 1897 iterations, as well as of prints by James McNeill Whistler and Vittore Grubicy de Dragon. The sections dedicated to prints and drawings, starting in 1895, played a key role in sparking an interest in prints—and the international Etching Revival—in the Italian art world of the early 20th century.

This article attempts to outline the story of the graphic arts sections in the exhibitions of 1899 and 1901, examining the background, proposals, organisation, and selection of artists, as well as the artistic reception. An analysis of archival materials from the ASAC in Venice and of correspondence between Vittorio Pica and Secretary General Antonio Fradeletto helps identify their strategies and approach—which paralleled Pica’s activity as a critic—to promoting the development of printmaking and public familiarity with the art. It sheds light on the pioneering role played by these first few Biennales in building critical knowledge of intaglio as an original language in modern Italian art, and in introducing a range of practical and aesthetic concepts that reflected the latest currents in contemporary printmaking. These early Biennales marked a turning point in the history of Italian graphic art, introducing an exhibition model that grew in popularity, spreading knowledge and appreciation of prints.


Throughout the 1960s, Santiago, Chile hosted the Bienal Americana de Grabado (American Print Biennial), a recurring Pan-American printmaking exhibition that set the stage for a regional boom in graphic arts biennials. This article draws on archival research to contextualise the Santiago Bienal in relation to other major exhibitions in the region, including the Bienal de São Paulo (Brazil), the Bienal Americana de Arte (Argentina), and the Bienal de Arte Coltejer (Colombia), analysing its structure, audiences and objectives through a comparative lens, and exploring its unique contributions to the “second wave” of biennials in the Global South. Using the device of selection committees to engage influential institutions, curators and artists from across the Americas, and bringing a wide variety of techniques and styles into conversation, the Santiago Bienal sought to foster hemispheric cooperation amidst the Cold War period. Its organisers resisted binary alliances and geopolitical power imbalances in favour of a horizontal Pan-American network of exchange. Drawing on printmaking’s affordability and accessibility, the biennial promoted a rhetoric of collaboration and generosity, while also foregrounding Latin American contributions and new experiments in the medium.

As an ephemeral, portable and disposable object, the postcard is a powerful medium for the global circulation of images and the creation of enduring collective imaginaries. This essay considers a project by artist Aleksandra Mir for the 53. Venice Biennale (2009), titled VENEZIA (all places contain all others), which entailed the design, printing and free distribution of one million postcards. A visitor could mail the postcards on the spot, ensuring the global circulation to the project. The participatory and ephemeral nature of this postcard project is discussed in relation to the curatorial concept of that year’s Biennale, the ability of the postcard format to activate a problematic memory of place, and the various iterations of the project from 2005 to 2018. Mir’s use of the postcard format in the Venetian context stresses the close link between the contemporary art world and the economy of tourism in late capitalism.

There is a growing number of sources on the subjects of biennials and fairs. Reviewing three recently published books about art fairs and biennials presents us an opportunity to discuss fresh research on openly market-driven exhibitions (art fairs) and ostensibly less commercial ventures (biennials and the large-scale exhibitions). Arguing for the independence of biennials from the art market, and benefiting from a multidisciplinary perspective, the three publications add innovative knowledge to an issue that still arouses some criticism. Double Trouble in Exhibiting the Contemporary: Fairs and Biennials edited by Cristina Baldacci, Clarissa Ricci and Angela Vettese; From Roman Feria to Global Art Fair, From Olympia Festival to Neo-liberal Biennial. On the 'Biennialization' of Art Fairs and the 'Fairization' of Biennials, by Paco Barragán; and Biennials. The Exhibitions we Love to Hate by Rafal Niemojewski, will be here analyzed in terms of their structure and their contribution to the subject. 

Taking Forensic Architecture's project Triple-Chaser as its point of departure the article is a theoretical exploration of the role of exhibition in contemporary aesthetic and artistic practices. It claims that works of art are capable of producing a reflexive transformation of our non-artistic everyday lifeworld (cf. Juliane Rebentisch) and argues that the act of exhibition, of making visible or perceptible, is a decisive element in such a reflexive transformation of the non-aesthetic and non-artistic social reality that the art work addresses or in which it embeds itself. The act of exhibition makes something/the work present but, at the same time it creates a distance, precisely because the appearance of the work has been arranged and addressed to someone/us; what is exhibited is given as having been organised and deliberately made available to appear to us (cf. Tristan Garcia). This distance installs a difference, a pensive image in the language of Jacques Rancière, which is what allows for reflexive transformation. When Forensic Architecture, for instance, make use of reenactments in their investigations of human rights violations, real space is turned into a model of itself, and a negotiation of what it means can begin. An agency like Forensic Architecture, however, operates in a number of different forums to communicate and exhibit their investigations, of which the forum of art is but one as they consider each forum, i.e. place of exhibition, as a distorting lens of its own kind. A decisive aspect of what then still makes their work—and many other contemporary practices that expand their field of operation beyond the dedicated spaces of art—aesthetic is a certain mode of exhibition or exposition and address, which invites the addressees to take part in a process of sense-making.