In conjunction with its annual publication of a yearbook-mag, The Economist sponsored a series of speakers and panels  two weeks ago in New York as part of its “World in 2011 Festival.” MoMA Director Glenn Lowry ’76 (who was taken down three notches in this year’s Art Review Power 100, Art Review Power 100 , dropping to #5) spoke about “Painting the Picture for Next Year” and identified his top four biennials for 2011:

First, in March, is the tenth edition of the Sharjah Biennial, in the UAE (http://www.sharjahart.org/biennial/sharjah-biennial-10/welcome.) The region will orchestrate a crescendo of culture in the coming years, as ambitious new museums open in Abu Dhabi.

The Venice Biennale (http://www.labiennale.org/en/Home.html) runs between June and November. This is the grandest and most global of the bunch. This year, for the first time in since its beginning in 1895, it will be curated by a woman, Bice Curiger.

The 12th Istanbul Biennial  (http://www.iksv.org/bienal/english/bienal.asp?cid=105) kicks off in September. With Turkey placed strategically between east and west, and on the front line between Islamic and Western cultures, this may well be the most politically edgy of the four. According to Mr Lowry, the country’s cultural scene is fizzing.

Lastly, also in September-November, there’s the 8th Mercosul Biennial (http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/bien/mercosul_biennial/2011), in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Its speciality is a focus on Latin America.

In another panel sponsored by the Economist, Alex Pollock ’65 of the American Enterprise Institute weighed in on “Finance in 2011,” suggesting that you might want to save your money rather than rush to all four of those events by emphasizing that he remains bearish on the world economy:

Pollock believes there will still be struggle with debt overhang and the recession is playing out with political reaction, it is a “bull market of democracy.”  Pollock predicts there will be a triple bubble in the United States and a quadruple bubble internationally, the bubbles being that of 1-housing, 2-commercial real estate, 3-EU sovereign debt and 4-confidence in central banks.

But back to Lowry, who also gave a lengthy interview in conjunction with his appearance to Harvard’s Rahim Kanani. It’s a good recap of much of the discussion this year about MoMA, especially the topics of performance and interactivity that were highlighted in this year’s exhibition by Marina Abramovic. Lowry also shared these thoughts on his education:

Rahim Kanani: Having focused your graduate studies on Islamic art many years ago at Harvard, how has that study inspired your work at MoMa and how does it feed into the experience of the museum itself?

Glenn Lowry: One of the great things about being trained as an art historian is that you learn to process knowledge and information and how to ask questions and think through possible answers.  And if you are lucky enough to study a field outside your own culture it inevitably makes you very sensitive to the complexity and diversity of artistic practices around the world.  And I hope that has made me especially open to, and interested in, the range of what’s happening now, in terms of contemporary art from Cairo, Damascus, Istanbul, and Paris to Berlin, London, New York, Los Angeles, and Sal Paulo and well beyond that to Australia and Africa and China. Every culture has something to offer if you are willing to look closely and with fresh eyes. This doesn’t mean that everything is of the same importance, but it makes you think hard about how you engage those many voices in a larger conversation about what is happening in modern and contemporary art.

That’s a good summary of how multiculturalism should work: “Every culture has something to offer,” but not “everything is of the same importance.”

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