Oslo on the Hudson: Performa Plans National Pavilions Program

Goldberg. (Courtesy PMC)

Goldberg. (Courtesy PMC)

The Performa biennial, which begins its monthlong run on Nov. 1, always brings some surprises—performances, often by artists trying their hands at the genre for the first time, that send art types to every corner of New York. The latest news is that this year’s edition will mark the debut of a national pavilions program, called Performa Pavilions, with artist and curatorial representatives from Norway and Poland as the inaugural participants.

“The starting point was considering the pavilions at the Venice Biennale, and the fact that they are an ongoing responsibility of the nations that sponsor them,” Performa’s founder, RoseLee Goldberg, told Gallerist in a telephone interview. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting to consider a more permanent relationship with a country rather than a one time sponsorship, and thus forge a deeper relationship with that country’s art, culture, and politics?’”

The term ‘pavilion’ is meant only in spirit. As with Performa itself, which Ms. Goldberg refers to as “a museum without walls,” the pavilion projects will take place throughout New York. The two countries will work with Performa to commission a major new work from an artist and will support various other curatorial and educational projects as part of the biennial. Norwegian curator Randi Grov Berger will join Performa for six months leading up to the biennial.

She’ll “be familiarizing herself with New York and how we create this biennial in the city,” Ms. Goldberg said. “She’ll learn about our journey to this point, how a nonprofit works, how we educate the public, how we work with artists. Randi will be an integral part of the team. We then turn it around and ask her and the Norwegian team, ‘What pieces might we want to take back to Norway?’” The process, she hopes, will facilitate a broad cultural exchange, which is already a hallmark of the biennial. (As it happens, the work that Polish artists Christian Tomaszewski and Joanna Malinowska made for Performa’s 2009 iteration will appear in Warsaw next month.)

Sissel Breie, the consul general of Norway in New York, told Gallerist in an email that the partnership grew out of the nation’s involvement with duo Elmgreen & Dragset’s commissioned piece for the 2011 biennial, Happy Days in the Art World. (Ingar Dragset is Norwegian.) “It was beautifully executed,” Ms. Breie said, adding, “Norway is delighted and honored to be a part of Performa’s inaugural Pavilions Without Walls program. The timing is perfect—the Norwegian art scene is more vibrant and exciting than ever.”

Ms. Goldberg and her curators have made research trips to Oslo and Warsaw. “It was thrilling to visit Poland,” she said when asked about the latter trip. “It’s the best way to really grasp the inner workings of some recent history. We met all of the key players, heard their thoughts, learned how they see New York from afar. This program is about creating relationships in really, really exciting ways.”

Thinking back to when she initially conceived of the idea to involve nations in the biennial, she said, “I wanted to find a way to involve other countries, other cultures, in a profound way. How do we get as close as possible to what this moment is about?”