The Denver Biennial

Mayor John Hickenlooper and Erin Trapp, director of the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs will announce today -- from New York, no less -- that Denver will host a biennial art extravaganza beginning in 2010. (The pair is in the Big Apple for a confab of the tourist press.) The idea, which has been kicking around for a while, is that once every two years, the city would host an exhibit featuring contemporary art from the Americas -- along the lines of SITE Santa Fe (a catalogue from it is pictured at left).

The Biennial of the Americas, as it is being called, will either be fabulous or a civic embarrassment. Guess which one I think has the edge considering that the city administration is in charge? Here’s a clue: think about the cascade of disappointments coming out of the Justice Center, notably the removal of lead architect Steven Holl. That was about fifteen minutes before Holl achieved international fame with his Nelson-Atkins Museum addition in Kansas City.

The biennial’s success or failure will all depend on the curator who is hired to select the pieces to be included. With the Office of Cultural Affairs leading the campaign and the Western States Arts Federation coming in as a partner, things don’t look so good; the list of successes in the aesthetic arena for either organization would be one of those world’s shortest books.

The City has already raised $2.5 million for the cause, but estimates are that it will take $5 million or more to do a biennial right. (Hey, couldn’t the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, which receives nothing from the city, use that money? Or more to the point, doesn’t it desperately need that kind of money to survive?) So far, a variety of sources has been tapped, but the lion’s share of the cash, about $2 million, is coming from the Boettcher Foundation.

As for a venue or venues for the event, none has yet been announced. -- Michael Paglia