Coronavirus Postponements Hit Biennial Circuit as Africa’s Biggest Exhibition Delays Opening of 2020 Edition

As numerous major art fairs, museums, and galleries change their programming in an effort to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, two art biennials have announced the postponement of their openings, while one that opened earlier this month continues to remain on view.

The Dak’Art Biennale of Contemporary Art, which was set to open its 14th edition in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, on May 28 and run through June 28, has been postponed, according to a statement released by Abdoulaye Diop, the country’s minister of culture and communication. No new dates for the biennial were provided. A news release from the Senegal health ministry, dated Friday, March 20, advised that the country has 47 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 5 recoveries.

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Similarly, the second edition of the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art, or RIBOCA2 for short, will not open as scheduled on May 14. As of Friday, Latvia has 111 confirmed cases of coronavirus. In a statement, biennial officials said they were looking into presenting the exhibition online in some form; it was to have featured the work of 48 artists and collectives. The biennial said it would honor financial support of artists’ work that had been commissioned.

In a statement, Agniya Mirgorodskaya, founder of the Riga Biennial Foundation, said, “In the words of RIBOCA2’s curatorial concept, we continue to ‘seek an alternative to the deluge of hopeless narratives’ by using this situation as an opportunity to ‘transform fear into possibility and peril into exuberance.’ We see this as an unprecedented opportunity to rethink existing formats of exhibition design.”

While many of the world’s major art institutions have closed, Australia’s biggest museums remain open. Currently on view is the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, curated by artist Brook Andrew, which opened on March 14. In a statement, the biennial confirmed that the exhibition, which features more than 700 works by 101 artists and collectives in numerous venues across the city, will remain on view, though many of the scheduled public programs at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Powerhouse Museum have been canceled. The biennial added that it was monitoring the situation daily and had increased its cleaning protocols, adding additional hand sanitizer dispensers throughout its locations.

In a statement, organizers of the biennial said, “the 22nd Biennale of Sydney is one of the most important cultural events of 2020. Nevertheless, we understand there are concerns regarding coronavirus and its impact on the Biennale of Sydney. We are closely monitoring what the World Health Organization, local and state government agencies, and other health organizations are saying regarding the spread of Covid-19. We continue to work closely with the City of Sydney and all of our exhibition and event partners to ensure attendees are safe.”


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