Natalie Göltenboth (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität)


From 13:30
to 15:00
From 13:30
to 15:00

Anthropology of Art at la Biennale

The aim of this course is an anthropological approach to the famous platform of the global art world. The course follows an interdisciplinary concept, highlighting the interface between anthropology and art. As a classical space of westerness and whiteness, La Biennale di Venezia with its national pavilions reflects an old world order, in which the dominance of the central domains of power – Europe and the USA – is clearly represented. In a kind of ‘show of the nation states’ the art exhibited in the pavilions is intended to represent the participating country. “Viva Arte Viva” – is the concept of this year’s Biennale, which is supposed to be an ode to art itself. Nine curators’ trans-national pavilions confront different themes, some of which immediately suggest an anthropological approach: shamanism, rituals, an engagement with tribes from Amazonia and a participative refugee project in the central hall. 120 artists and 81 national pavilions accompanied by numerous collateral events in the city of Venice will make this year’s biennale a challenge for interested researchers.

We will start out with some general questions about the relationship of biennales in general, and the Biennale di Venezia in particular, with their cities.  In a second step we will focus on the intertwining of the local and the global in the realm of art. By looking at contemporary art from a postcolonial perspective, can we speak of a globalization of the term art? How do local art productions in Africa, Asia and Latin America relate to the global platforms of art? What do we know about the implicit power relations in the biennales’ structure: who decides, who is invited and who are the spectators? What kind of contact zones are created through these biennial events and in what different ways can we approach artworks and exhibition spaces sensorially?

After reading the introductory texts we will step directly into the field of La Biennale and explore the realities of the event. Groups of students will choose a special social situation related to La Biennale, do fieldwork and reflect on their findings. Possible fields of research are: a particular pavilion and its concept and perception, interactions of artworks and visitors, the perception of La Biennale from the point of view of visitors, staff members, city residents or tourists etc. as well as the sensorial anthropology at exhibition spaces.
The outcome will be discussed in an open seminary at the Biennale. The course will be held in cooperation with La Biennale Sessions.

Course Requirements:

  • The course is a seminar. Each session is organized around readings that must be completed before class. Students have to be prepared to discuss the texts and physically bring them to class (either on paper or on screen) so that we can re-read certain passages.
  • prepare one oral presentation (alone or in a group) accompanied by power point presentations, based on the readings
  • do fieldwork (alone or in a group) and present and discuss the research
  • write one final essay. The essay must include bibliographical references and notes. The topic will be chosen in agreement with the professor and may range from one of the topics of the seminar to reflections on the student’s own research experiences.

Detailed information about the course, guidelines and articles will be available during the semester in the e-learning platform, which students will be asked to consult regularly.



  • Introduction, getting to know each other, brainstorming, own experiences and ideas
  • Biennials and their cities. Positioning between politics and policies: Venice, Istanbul, Havana/Cuba, Dakar/Senegal,  Port au Prince/Haiti
  • Guided tour around La Biennale di Venezia
  • Local art- global art.  Art in globalizing art worlds
  • Anthropology of art: introductory texts
  • Anthropology of the senses: La Biennale as contact zone and sensorial space
  • The ethnographic turn in contemporary art, examples at La Biennale di Venezia
  • Participation and collaboration art: examples at La Biennale di Venezia
  • Introduction into research methods and fieldwork
  • Presentation of own research projects
  • Fieldwork at La Biennale di Venezia (three days)
  • Reflecting on fieldwork and concepts
  • Preparation and conceptualization of La Biennale Session: The Ethnographic Café at La Biennale di Venezia” as lively discussion space


30%  attendance and participation
30%  oral presentation in class
40%  written final essay



The weekly reading texts will be a selection of texts and text extracts from the following books and articles. 


- Hans Ulrich Obrist. 2010 Biennial Manifesto in: Log.No. 20 Curating Architecture (fall 2010) p. 45-48
- John Miller. 2003. The show you love to hate. A Psychology of the Mega-Exhibitions. In: Bruce Ferguson & Reesa Greenberg (eds.) Thinking about Exhibitions. London. Routledge

Biennials and their Cities:

- Charlotte Bydler. 2004. Rise of the international biennial format. La Biennale di Venezia, /La Habana/Istanbul p. 96-123 in:  The Global Art World Inc. On the Globalization ofContemporary Art. Stockholm, Uppsala: Uppsala Univ. Press.
- Elena Filipovic & Mareike Van Hal. 2010. The biennial reader. An Anthropology on large-scale perennial Exhibitions of Contemporary Art. Bergen: Kunsthalle Bergen.

Art in Globalizing Art-Worlds:

- Hans Belting. 2009. Contemporary Art as Global Art. A Critical Estimate in: Hans Belting and Andrea Buddensieg (Eds.) The Global Art World. Audiences, markets, museums. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.
- Scott McQuire & Nikos Papastergiadis (eds.). 2005. Empires, Ruins & Networks. The Transcultural Agenda in Art. London, Chicago: Rivers Oram Press.

Anthropology of Art:

- Arthur C. Danto. 1992. Art and artefact, Chapter 6 in: Beyond the Brillo Box: The visual Arts in Post-historical Perspective. NY: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Anthropology of the Senses:

- Sarah Pink. 2009. Doing sensory ethnography. London: Sage Publications.

Ethnographic Turn in Contemporary Art:

- Arnd Schneider & Christopher Wright.2010. Between Art and Anthropology. Contemporary Ethnographic Practice. Oxford, NY: Berg.
- Kris Rutten, An van Dienderen and Ronald Soetaert.2013. Revisiting the Ethnographic Turn in Contemporary Art. In: Critical Arts. South- North Cultural and Media Studies.

Participation- and Collaboration Art:

- Claire Bishop (Ed.). 2006. Participation. Documents of Contemporary Art. London. Whitecapel Gallery: MIT Press.

Fieldwork and Research Methods:

- Russel Harvey Bernard. 2006 (4. Aufl.) Research Methods in Anthropology. Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. New York.
- James P. Spradley. 1979. The Ethnographic Interview. Melbourne: Wadsworth Thomson Learning.
- James P. Spradley. 2008 [1980]. Participant Observation. Melbourne: Wadsworth Thomson Learning.
- Paul Kutsche. 1998. Field Ethnography. A Manual for Doing Cultural Anthropology. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.



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