Transporting delight: The 14th Cuenca Biennial

Cecilia López,  Red , 2018, installation view, Museo del Monasterio de las Conceptas, 14th Cuenca Biennial, 2018; audio cables, double basses, stereo; photo: Natalia Ottolenghi Bradshaw

Cecilia López, Red, 2018, installation view, Museo del Monasterio de las Conceptas, 14th Cuenca Biennial, 2018; audio cables, double basses, stereo; photo: Natalia Ottolenghi Bradshaw

How refreshing to attend an art biennale that isn’t an identikit model of international art events. In Ecuador, the Cuenca Biennial is one of the world’s oldest-running such surveys, and one that is consistently original and arresting – with the current fourteenth iteration (until 3 February) not disappointing.

Aptly reflecting the region, the Cuenca Biennial focuses primarily on Latin American art, and miraculously – given a total budget of less than US$1million – includes significant works by major international artists.

As previous director of the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation in Miami, Venezuelan-born Chief Curator Jesus Fuenmayor is one of Latin America’s leading art figures, and he here delivers a biennial that is thoughtful, unique and exciting – no opening week parties and public programs required.

Thankfully the artworks escape the pretension of the edition’s title ‘Living Structures. Art as a plural experience’. In total, 53 artists have work displayed at 24 sites across Cuenca – some of them the most charming venues imaginable. For example, works by Patricia Dauder, Cecilia López and Juliana Vidal are set in the sixteenth-century Museo del Monasterio de las Conceptas. As DJ, López provides an outstanding example of site-spedificity with Red’s audio cables and musical instruments creating a memorable transportation in what once served as a crypt. Vidal’s work won the prestigious ‘Premio Paris’ residency prize for her sublime Geographies of Mortality (2018) – 123 seemingly simple plaster casts that embed the walls of a former nun’s study.

Though both continents straddle the Pacific Ocean, it is surprising that there is not more dialogue between Australia and Latin America. This significant biennial art event, in one of the world’s most fascinating university cities with such a rich melding of Inca and colonial histories, has the potential to attract far wider audiences.

Natalia Ottolenghi Bradshaw, Cuenca