By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – With the title “How to … things that don’t exist” the 31st Bienal of São Paulo is underway and invites visitors to fill in the sentence with words such as ‘struggle with’, ‘use’ and ‘write about’ – demonstrating that art constantly changes, creating new objects, thoughts and impressions.

Space to Abort exhibit at São Paulo  Bienal
‘Space to Abort’ by Mujeres Creando is causing a stir at this year’s São Paulo Bienal, photo by Leo Eloy/Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.

“In the 31st Bienal we have tried to bring together artists that tackle the complexities of today when the end of the modern meets the still uncertain beginnings of a new system of thinking,” states the press release written by the exhibition’s curatorial team. “Artists no longer need to claim a special area of skill or knowledge.”

With many more videos installations and fewer paintings than in previous bienals, this year’s showcase was not what many expected. “It’s culturally different from what I expected,” said Yolanda Silvi, from Bogota, Colombia as she was leaving the exhibition. “I liked the few paintings in the upper floors more than the videos; I did not understand many of them, did not know what the artist was trying to tell us,” she added.

Those in line to enter the exhibition, however, had high expectations. “I’m curious about the entire exhibit,” said Leticia Kamada of São Paulo, who along with her sister Lidia had taken the afternoon off to come and see the bienal. “I have heard there are some controversial works this year, but I guess that is expected. Not everyone likes contemporary art because of its lack of boundaries; it is constantly changing,” she concluded.

Among exhibits causing controversy at the exhibit is the project Space to Abort by the Bolivian anarchist-feminist group Mujeres Creando. Here visitors enter ‘uteruses’ and listen to women narrate their experiences with abortion. Another project which received a lot of attention is a video by Yael Bartana dubbed “Hell” which shows the implosion of Salomon’s Temple, built by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in the center of São Paulo. What remains, according to the video, is a replica of the Wailing Wall.

interaction by public at Bienal de São Paulo
One of the 31st Bienal’s main characteristics is its interaction with the public, photo by Leo Eloy/Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.

The exhibition includes two hunderd works within 81 projects with more than one hundred artists from 34 countries, with spaces for performances and group discussions. Many of the projects are exhibitions within exhibitions, with corroborations of artists from different cultures and backgrounds coming together to show their take on contemporary life and its complexities. According to curators the idea is to ‘create a distance from the traditional idea of an autonomous artwork made in a studio by an artists and look at the network of connections’.

Organizers say that more than half of the projects were done specifically for this exhibit. “The influence of the collective imagination, social activism and political conflict is as significant as the heritage of artistic practice to the artists in the 31st bienal,” say curators.

What: 31st Bienal of São Paulo
When: September 6th – December 7th, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and holidays, 9AM-7PM; Wednesdays and Saturdays, 9AM-10PM.
Where: Parque Ibirapuera, Gate 3, Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavillion
Entrance: Free


  1. I went there this past Saturday evening drawn by the intriguing theme. I came into the park by taxi in the dark of night expecting wonder, contemplation, doubt, mystery, searching…but mostly found works by preachy artists filled with themselves as if they had all the answers.

    Probably the most gripping, emotional moment came as I was leaving by taxi – as we pulled up to the first traffic red light, the cluster of cars waiting for the light to change was swarmed by a wolf pack of gun-wielding young thugs who suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Brazenly waving their big menacing shiny handguns.

    We were all sitting ducks. So many cars to rob and so little time. And in that moment I completely forgot about all that forgettable, self-indulgent “art.”

    Nice job Sao Paulo! What will 2015 Sao Paulo Bienal bring?


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