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SITE Santa FeThe biennial will relaunch in 2025 to mark the 30th Anniversary of the founding both of the show as well as the New Mexico museum that hosts it. The biennial will now be called SITE SANTA FE International. The 2025 edition—the first since 2018—will be curated by Cecilia Alemani.
Alemani is the director and chief curatorial of High Line Art, New York. She has commissioned work by artists such as Simone Leigh and Meriem Bennani. She also curated the 2022 Venice Biennale’s main exhibition, “The Milk of Dreams,” and has more recently organized a Tetsuya Ishida survey for Gagosian gallery in New York, an Anu Põder survey at the Muzeum Susch in Switzerland, and “Making Their Mark,” the first public presentation of the Shah Garg Collection.
Louis Grachos, SITE Santa Fe’s director, said that Alemani’s Venice Biennale was one of the reasons he wanted her to organize his museum’s biennial. She had never before organized a US Biennial.
“One of the things that I so admire about Cecilia is the complex nature of how she constructs exhibitions—it’s a rich methodology,” Grachos told ARTnews. “It’s not what I’d call a common in the curatorial world. She does a lot research on history. She brought history to Venice. She brought in artists that we knew—or we thought we knew—into a context and a theme that was really rich.”
Alemani said, “The way I try to work is always starting from the artists and starting discussions with the artist to understand what’s at the heart of what they’re thinking about right now. That’s what drove the Venice Biennale in a much different scale. But, especially here, it’s about understanding what motivates artists.”
Both Grachos, and Alemani, said that the upcoming International would be different than what Alemani did two years ago in Venice. This one will take Santa Fe’s history into consideration and place it in a broader perspective.
When the SITE Santa Fe Biennial launched its first edition in 1995, the art world was very different from what it is today. It has been billed as the first US international biennial of contemporary arts because, at the time, only two major recurring exhibits existed, the Whitney Biennial focusing on contemporary American art and the Carnegie International that took place every 3 to 5 years.
Over the years, it has attracted a cohort of highly respected curators, several of whom had also previously organized the Venice Biennale: Francesco Bonami, Rosa Martínez, and Robert Storr. Dave Hickey, Candice Hopkins, José Luis Blondet, and Ruba Katrib have also organized the show.
“The interesting exercise for me is this continuous exercise of zooming in and out,” Alemani said. “You have to train this muscle of being very aware of the site and where the exhibition takes place, and understanding that the ambition of this exhibition is also to be on the world map—to be part of a larger discourse that is very different from when it started 30 years ago.”
In 2012, shortly after Irene Hofmann took over as director, SITE Santa Fe canceled its upcoming edition in order to rethink the biennial’s place in a crowded field. It was delayed to 2014 and renamed SITElines for its next three iterations. The focus of the biennial was on art from the Americas, and the venue was Santa Fe.
Grachos served as the director of SITE in Santa Fe from 1996 until 2003 and returned to the position in 2021. When he started, among the first things he did was start a strategic plan to map out the institution’s future. “The one thing that came out of those discussions that was crystal clear was the value of SITE Santa Fe’s International Exhibition, not just for the growth of the organization and in keeping us in, what I would call the global mix of what goes on in contemporary art, but it was also really important for the community,” he said. (SITE Santa Fe is also one of the two commissioning institutions of this year’s US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which will be done by Jeffrey Gibson.)
Alemani added, “It’s not necessarily to do something different, but it is the time to turn the page and to do something that might in a way reinsert the exhibition in a broader context.”
In the last 30 years, biennials worldwide have grown exponentially. Over 200 are indexed by the Biennial Foundation. Within the United States alone, there are at least a dozen recurring exhibitions, including Prospect in New Orleans, Made in L.A. at the Hammer Museum, the New Museum Triennial, the Front Triennial in Ohio, La Trienal at El Museo del Barrio, and the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time initiative. Some were launched even last year, including the Tennessee Triennial for Contemporary Art in St. Louis and Converge45 in Portland, Oregon.
“Personally, I don’t think there’s enough of those shows,” Grachos said. “The impact that these shows have locally in their communities is long standing. I still today see and talk to people who remember Dave Hickey’s biennial in 2001, for example, or Rosa Martínez’s project in Los Alamos in 1999. The format, where a curator is free of market issues and institutional goals that can often be based on collection, gives them the flexibility to really take chances to be a little bit more courageous and innovative in engaging in the community.”
“Santa Fe is kind of the opposite of what happened in Venice,” Alemani said. “I don’t think it’s an exhibition that wants to capture exactly a snapshot of the global art scene. It’s just very different in nature.”
Grachos says that while there are more opportunities to see art today in a biennial context, he believes what Alemani does next year will make it worth the trip. “The sensitivity in the way to Cecilia thinks—it’s going to be a unique project to this community,” he said. “As a longtime museum person, I really believe in the curated show. For me, it’s still really meaningful, and it’s a way that Santa Fe can contribute not just to our community here in New Mexico, but also to the bigger curatorial field.”