The biennial is generally perceived to be an international festival of contemporary art that takes place once every two years, though this definition is frequently extended, as a convenient generic term, to include the triennial, as well as Documenta in Kassel, Germany, which occurs once every five years. Historically, the biennial traces its origins back to 1895, which saw the inauguration of the Venice Biennale based on the model of the world fairs of the 19th century.
Over the two decades straddling the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, biennials and art fairs mushroomed across the globe. While art fairs have a specific commercial interest, which biennials do not necessarily possess, both are institutional structures designed to display art works on an impressively large, transnational scale. They comprise often hundreds, if not thousands, of distinct exhibits ranging from painting and sculpture in traditional modes to avant-garde installations and post-modern films and videos. While biennials and art fairs both have histories dating back many decades, the progressive globalization of the contemporary art world since the 1980s profoundly modified these two means of exhibiting art in the public arena, and, particularly in the case of biennials, radically re-orientated their forms as well as their functions. Whether or not such changes have been accompanied by a measure of democratization or by a meaningful re-alignment in the power structures of cultural politics, as has sometimes been maintained, remains an open question.
Wu, Chin-tao. "Biennials and art fairs." Grove Art Online. 2010. Oxford University Press.
A BIENNIAL is a periodical that:
What is the benefit a biennial catalogue?