Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wondering: Whither the Toronto Biennial Report?

Lately, I've been wondering what happened to the Toronto biennial report that was due to be released months ago by the MOCCA and the Power Plant.

The report was due to be released on the heels of the biennial-themed symposium that MOCCA and the Power Plant sponsored way back on April 17. In a MOCCA press release dated April 27, these same institutions promised to make the report—a summary of the day penned in large part by critic/panel moderator Peggy Gale—available by the end of May.

Yet there's no sign of the report six months later. Nor any sign of the video footage of the daylong event that they had also promised to put online. At least (isn't this always the caveat with Unedit My Heart?) as far as I can tell.

I have inquired repeatedly with the press people at these institutions, who have politely said "we'll tell you when the report is available" and I asked Gale herself in October, when she told me she had filed her part of the report some time ago.

I have also asked the institutions' press folk what the status is of a potential Toronto biennial event. Many I've spoken with in the wider art community believe the biennial to now be a "done deal," with the "community panel" in April, as well as any promises of further dialogue or reports, simply window dressing. But the institutions, as far as I can tell, are still mega-mum on this point.

The result is a bit of a disappointment for those who want to have some faith in our publicly funded art institutions. I know planning takes time, and institutions have their reasons for embargoing upcoming show information. And I have enjoyed a lot of the shows at these institutions, and respect a lot of the curatorial work that happens there.

But when you promise to make a summary report—basically meeting minutes—available online after a day where the community has come out in good faith, it's really nice to see that followed through. Same goes for the video footage. This isn't rocket science. And the longer these institutions delay posting the report, the harder it is to tell whether the cause is incompetence, subterfuge, disregard/contempt for audiences or some combination of all of the above.

So--Murphy's Law being what it is--I have a sneaking suspicion that I will publish this post and then immediately will receive a press release to the effect that the report is now online. A collary to this is that tomorrow I will look through the paper and someone will have published a big scoop on "Toronto biennial 2011." But this roadblock to information has persisted for so long, hey, I'm willing to play the fool to point it out.

If you are wondering what happened at the panel in the first place, feel free to consult my (noncomprehensive) take from earlier in the year as well as that of Richard Rhodes.

For some opinionated background on the much-tortured issue of whether a Toronto biennial is in order, also check out Murray Whyte's piece on the subject from last year.

Also of interest: Terence Dick reflects the views of many when he writes that the biennial is a foregone conclusion.

Anyone with questions, insides or psychic hunches on the matter, feel free to comment.

Image from Ragtimepiano.ca


Anonymous said...

Honestly, how can Toronto expect to host a biennial under the bloated asinine buffoonery that has metastasized at City Hall?? The entire idea of biennial hinges on one thing -- funding. With no support from the city, you can count on zero federal support as well, who knows provincially and even with all three it wouldn't be enough anyway. Any biennial would simply be mirroring TIAF (or whatever it's called now) and be a shitty dealer- driven rental event. We should focus on improving what we have such as the presence at Venice (also terribly under supported, NGC I think has recently taken it back, but still).

Leah Sandals said...

Hey anonymous,

Thanks for your comment.

Personally, I don't really care whether a Toronto biennial happens either.

As I believe I alluded to in my April notes, there were a number of criticisms or cautionary points that others raised about the idea as well.

Also, I believe I indicated that, in my opinion, existing resources could perhaps be better used simply by doing more shows of Ontario and/or Toronto artists on a regular basis.

(Sorry for all the typos and "I believes" but I'm on the go right now.)

In any case, I'm with you on questioning how worthy a use of resources any hypothetical Toronto biennial would be.

So it's not lack of action on the biennial front in general that I feel disappointed about.

What I feel diappointed about is two major institutions promising to do something that is really quite simple and that they said repeatedly asserted they were going to do--making a report on the biennial panels and related video footage available to the public in May (a full month later).

That they have not followed through on this entirely doable promise to the public is really sad to see.

Leah Sandals said...

Sorry that should be "that they have not followed through on this entirely doable promise some six to seven months later"

Gareth Bate said...

Leah, thanks for following up on this, I've been wondering what happened to this idea!

It really doesn't bode well that nothing seems to have come out of that panel discussion.

The sense I got at the event was that no one really wanted to be in charge or take the initiative to lead it.--And no one wanted someone else to take charge!

Personally I think we shouldn't bother and should instead come up with some really great NEW IDEA!

Instead of having a single person or organization lead, it should be like our other city events where people join on with their own projects.

But yes, as Anonymous said above our current Toronto political climate is a real issue.

----Or is it? Perhaps having to deal with the situation and the lack of funding could be interesting? It doesn't always have to cost a lot of money to make art.

Leah Sandals said...

Hi Gareth,

Thanks for your comment. Those are all interesting angles on the situation.

I have heard more recently as a ****TOTALLY UNVERIFIED RUMOUR*** (I put that in caps and asterisks because I want to be clear that this is exactly that--unverified, a rumour, and therefore likely to be taken with ***a bazillion rocks of salt*** as ***quite possible to never happen***) that the AGO might be doing something on a biennial-type front with Luminato.

But we'll see! My opinion remains that part of the reason there's so much pressure from some quarters to have a biennial type event is that Toronto institutions generally do a poor job of exhibiting contemporary Ontario art.