Why the Pune Biennale is not an exercise in art appreciation


Through: Lalitha Suhasini & Ketaki Latkar

The art festival is a mismanaged debacle and organizers have no defense but promise to make amends this week

Last week we visited the showcase of Berlin artist and graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee, which is part of Habit Co-Habit, the flagship project of the Pune Biennale. Although there is a lot of talk about the work in artistic circles, the Pune Biennale website had no information on where it was being presented. A glance at Banerjee’s social media page indicated that his work was posted at Modern school PES in Shivajinagar. On the site there was no signage pointing to the school – there are two PES Modern Schools, so we asked around and found that PES Modern Boys School was where the exhibit was held. After a few laps around the school campus, we find a single standee in the playground, next to the basketball court. The room, where the exhibition takes place, is locked from the inside. Finding no volunteers from the Pune Biennale, we ask everyone from the school librarian to the teachers how we might access the exhibit. The teachers tell us to come home after 6 p.m., and that the exhibition would only be open after school hours. In the same week we go back to school hoping that it is a one-time oversight on the part of the Pune Biennale, but there is still no signage, no volunteers and the room remained closed. With 26 locations and works of art from 20 countries, the third edition of Pune Biennial is a great example of how not to organize an art festival.

A biennial, especially in India, which hosts the impressive curation and very frequented Kochi Muziris Biennale, should meet a standard. Even if the comparisons are discarded, a biennial is intended to engage audiences, promote dialogue and transform the city into a canvas for celebrating art, history and heritage. The Pune Biennale lacks the focus and discipline to achieve any of these goals at the moment.

For art lovers in the city and beyond, the festival was spread over too many venues with too little information in the form of a printed catalog or even online updates. Noted Shanaz Sarin, who traveled from Mumbai to Pune for the Biennale, “For someone visiting Pune, it would have been more convenient if the Biennale had been concentrated in two or three locations. We hadn’t realized that it was so scattered and that we wouldn’t cover it in a day. Sarin, who was the project manager of the art project at the Mumbai International Terminal, regularly visits the Kochi Muziris Biennale and said, “There was not a lot of signage and we were exhausted to go from one to the next. place to place. ”

At JM road Chhatrapati Sambhaji Garden, another main venue for Habit Co-Habit, there were rows of banners advertising the Pune Biennale with pomp, but no volunteers. Most of the installations, including the work of internationally renowned artist Shilpa Gupta entitled “Deep below, the sky flows under our feet” are all supported by electric lighting fixtures. Said Sarin, “I was told when I visited Sambhaji Garden that the exhibit was best viewed at night. Had this information been made available on the website we could have better planned our trip to Pune.

Architect based in Pune Yashoda Joshi, who also participated in the Venice Biennale, 2016, argued that for a festival that has performances across the city, the Pune Biennale has been lackluster. “The whole city usually comes together to celebrate a biennial. When music festivals are held in the city, everyone knows what’s going on and the event is accessible. Such a connection does not exist for the Biennale. I don’t even see any enthusiasm. A good example is the Mahatma of the road to Ghole Phulé Museum, which is not only an important landmark of the city, but also a location for the Biennale. The place was closed when we arrived without volunteers. The Biennale showcase at the museum is open for viewing according to museum hours, another detail that has not been updated on the event’s website.

Mirror contacted the general director of the Pune Biennale Foundation, Dr Kiran Shinde, he informed that 170 students of Bharati Vidyapeeth College of Architecture were supposed to be hired as volunteers, but this exercise, he admitted, clearly failed. As part of Habit Co-Habit, the Phule Museum hosts acrylics and oils by a Delhi-based artist Smita rajmane, a 40-minute city-centric documentary titled
Z bridge by Chennai-based filmmakers Anushka Meenakshi and Iswar Srikumar, and the art of Mumbai-based artist Amol Patil.

The arrangement which was agreed by the administration of the Museum of Phule and the Foundation of the Biennale was that the museum offered its space and that the management of the Biennale organized the presentation of the works and guided the visitors. A member of the museum staff said on condition of anonymity: “We gave two rooms and a space on the ground floor to the Biennale Foundation to present whatever they wanted. The least they can do is use it well and make sure their volunteers are in place. But that didn’t happen, which adds a lot of workload to our staff.

Artist Abir Patwardhan, who is also the curator of the exhibition at Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir urges the public and critics to give the Pune Biennale a chance to find its feet. “He’s only in his third year, which I think is an early stage. Attendance has been better than last time, “said Patwardhan,” Without being critical I would like to say that if more information was printed in Marathi on the Biennale and maybe stuck on each bus it would be more inclusive.

Little or no initiative to attract the local audience is also the reason why most places are almost empty. Attendance at the Phule Museum, for example, is around five to ten visitors a day. TO Kothrud‘s Yashwantrao Chavan Natyagruha, there were no takers for a showcase that featured some of the country’s most famous artists, including SH Raza, one of Bombay’s progressives, KG Subramanyam, and Krishna Reddy, two influential figures of the modernist movement.

The participation rate in Pt Jawaharlal Nehru Sanskrutik Bhavan to Ghole road also. The venue is home to the My City / My Art exhibition, which focuses on the Mula-Mutha rivers. Not only was the place completely uninhabited, there was no signage or public when we visited.

Another management fiasco was listing a venue on the site, removing it from the list and not making any changes to the festival venue map or website. This was the case in Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (YASHADA), which did not have an exhibit but was on the map.

With less than two weeks of the event’s end, organizers say they plan to make things better from now on. Dr Shinde said: “Certainly there have been some gaps, including the shortage of volunteers. We are working on it and now plan to appoint paid guides instead of volunteers for more responsibility. Further, he added that as the grandeur and breadth of the third season is far greater than previous editions, it affects management and execution to some extent. “Plus, with an event of this magnitude, the list of things to do and check out is huge. So some mistakes do happen, however, I make sure we get the details sorted out, ”he said, adding:“ The priority is to update the website and add a section on timetables. of each site. ”

Photo caption


The entrance to the gallery was blocked. There were no volunteers to guide us


The exhibition was only accessible during the opening hours of the Museum. There were no volunteers on the NG site


There were no volunteers when we visited and garden security had no idea that the Pune Biennale was taking place at the site.


Although this has been canceled as a venue by the Biennale Foundation, the official site has not been updated.


The hall exhibiting one of the Habit Co-Habit shows was closed during school hours. No signage or volunteers were present at the school.


No volunteers and no signage on this site.


This venue had no exterior signage, but there was a volunteer on site as well as printed information about exhibitions in the other galleries, but no information about Habit Co-Habit, the flagship project of the Pune Biennale.

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