By Jac Kuntz
Today, there are over one hundred art bi and triennials around the world. Born out of an era of dazzling world expositions, the Venice Biennale was the first in 1895, though this millennia has seen a proliferation of them in cities both large and small. Tri/biennials today are so multifaceted—they don’t just showcase contemporary art, but are catalysts for large-scale public work, audience engagement, collaboration, and dialogue.
At a contrast to fairs, the objective of a bi/triennial is not sales, but rather to stand as a representation of a contemporary moment. This particular moment is one in which a multiplicity of perspectives has become invaluable; a moment in which artists are choosing to live outside of major art cities and markets and (because of the internet and economical travel) are thriving there. In this moment, the country’s mid-sized cities – outer loci of the art world – are garnering attention for their local artists’ approaches and testaments. It is fitting, then, that a triennial is being established in Tennessee.
The inauguration of the Tennessee Triennial is momentous not just for what it means to the region, but that it will be the first exhibition of its kind to span a state. This will undoubtedly increase accessibility and add diversity to the exhibition as each city will be a different iteration of the triennial itself. This multi-location showcase will function in the spirit of its founding non-profit, Locate Arts (now Tri-Star Arts), which aims to “serve Tennessee by anchoring and spotlighting the contemporary visual art scenes in each region and fostering a unified, statewide art scene.” Through the triennial, it will continue to “promote art dialogue between the different cities in the state, and between the state and the nation.” Carolyn and Brian Jobe, founders of the Tri-Star Arts, and Andrea Zieher, cofounder of New York’s ZieherSmith gallery, are teaming up to organize and lead the triennial, which will open February 5, 2021, and run through May 2, 2021.
A curatorial theme is yet to be announced, but Director Zieher has shared the objective of the triennial:
Tennessee is an interesting microcosm for our country and has been characterized by its three regions: East, Middle, and West – historically known at the “Grand Divisions.” These regions have distinctions in culture, racial makeup, geography, and more. It is our hope that the show will be one that both highlights our differences and provides unity. We feel this idea will be needed countrywide, and we hope the Tennessee Triennial will lead the way in showcasing that we can find healing, understanding and celebration of our differences through contemporary art.
Tri-Star has announced the curatorial duo who will provide the vision for this inaugural art event, Lauren Haynes and Teka Selman. Haynes is the Curator of Contemporary Art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas and former Associate Curator at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Selman is an independent curator based in Durham, North Carolina and the founding Associate Director of the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts at Duke University. She has also worked in galleries, museums, and as a freelance writer.
The curators have started traveling the state to research local artists who will exhibit alongside the emerging and established artists brought in nationally. Though they have worked with institutions and organizations across the country, both have ties to Tennessee and live in neighboring states, which the organizers have emphasized is an important balance of experience. “We were specifically looking for curators who had a proven track record of addressing current cultural considerations in a visually engaging way,” said Carolyn. “To us, their careers seem to be marked by visionary perspectives, intensive research and a commitment to making sure important artistic work is acknowledged and celebrated.”
The Tennessee Triennial will run February 5 to May 2, 2021. Venues and cities will soon be announced. For more information, visit www.tennesseetriennial.org.
Jac Kuntz is an arts writer and editor based in Atlanta, GA.