07/07/2010 12:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Biennial "Already a Success"?


The Denver Biennial opened on July 1 featuring art exhibits, performances and political roundtables. Also included are a hot pink fabric tent and a plant intervention by Mexican artist Jeronimo Hagerman that attempts to turn the Greek Revival pillars of the McNichols Building into psuedo palm trees. I interviewed Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper on a recent campaign stop in SW Colorado and he said the biennial was already a success because it's "brought the community together in new and fresh ways...What we are really doing is trying to draw attention to the fact that we have these incredible opportunities in our own hemisphere."

Watch the complete video interview:

I've been reporting on the biennial since June of 2009 and it's been far from a pleasant or successful experience. And the resulting exhibitions are disjointed and disconnected from the original concept. That said, the month is filled with possibility. From Energy Effects at MCA/Denver to Guillermo Gomez-Pena, youth projects, murals, a Native American expo and what I most look forward to seeing, "The Nature of Things" exhibition where 24 artists fill the McNichols building with art that promises to challenge, puzzle, intrigue or perhaps do none of these things. Curator Paola Santoscoy has done the impossible and pulled off an international exhibition in less than six months. Hats off to her for even attempting such a risky task. Plus Gallery is the only partner to turn their eyes north, and will exhibit five artists from Canada. Local artist Lauri Lynnxe Murphy has curated the second largest exhibit space with more than 45 artists, most local and regional in a show called "Objectophillia", and nearly every cultural venue in town has something to offer biennial related.

My hunch is this will be the first and last Denver Biennial of the Americas. Mayor Hickenlooper may well be our next Governor and the city has come late to the game of biennials. SITE Santa Fe is hosting their 8th incarnation of a biennial called "The Dissolve" featuring video work curated by Sarah Lewis and Daniel Belasco. Jerry Saltz, art critic for New York magazine speaking at SITE Santa Fe on June 29 called biennials a machine for sleepovers. Yawn.

Mayor Hickenlooper is counting on his biennial to increase sales tax dollars, even predicting tens of millions of benefit as reported here.

But I'm not willing to declare Denver's Biennial of the Americas a success or a failure. I'm waiting for the actual numbers (which I predict will be well below the mayor's hopeful figures). And if the slow trickle of visitors to the McNichols Building yesterday is any indication and the dismal turn out for the first lectures in the series is any indication, the Denver Biennial may not be the success the mayor hopes. That said, success if determined by many a differing criteria and while it may not succeed financially, "The Nature of Things" exhibit does succeed in being visually and intellectually intriguing.