These shows are worth seeing, even if the Biennial itself had problems. Denver tried its hand at hosting an event with international pretensions, and clearly, that hand folded quickly.
Despite all the cash and effort expended, the world did not come to Denver for the Biennial; in fact, it barely noticed. Worse still, the Biennial was hardly even recognized by most of the people who live here. It came and went quietly.
"No. 4 'Bonneville' series," Gary Huibregtse, color photograph.
"Packages," Emma Hardy, brown paper and mixed materials.
I believe the reason for this lack of excitement was because the event was not what we traditionally think of as a biennial — typically an art fair — but instead was a nebulous and uneasy combination of academic conference and art festival. There were too many themes; just about anything with some American content could be bent to qualify as part of it. And if nearly everything is a theme, then nothing is. On the other hand, the Biennial was too limited in its scope. By zeroing in on the Americas, many art events that went on this summer were needlessly left out of the festivities.
I'm tempted to say the problem with the Biennial was that it was a half-baked idea, but that would be wrong, since it was a catalogue of them. If I had to pinpoint the key deficit, though, it would be the almost complete disconnect with the actual cultural world that already exists here. By leaving out this essential component, there was nothing "Denver" about the event, so it was essentially meaningless from a local perspective. It could have been anywhere, so why have it here?
I'm not sure there will be a second biennial in 2012, but despite its false start this time, it really could be something big if only it were done the right way.