Jonathan Watkins, director of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England, has curated international art events in Sydney, Turin, Sharjah and Guangzhou, among other global locales.
But he’s never had to deal with Bonhomme Carnaval as parallel programming before—and he’s rarely had to worry about getting public artworks installed and maintained in minus-16-degree weather.
All that will change when Watkins’ curatorship of Manif d’art 2019, the ninth iteration of the Quebec City biennial, opens to the public on February 16, 2019—the same day as Carnaval’s massive closing-night parade. (Carnaval officially continues to February 17.)
“We are one of the only winter biennials in North America,” says Manif d’art assistant curator Michelle Drapeau in a phone interview. “It starts in February and goes until April. So it’s a pretty interesting context for those who have to figure out how to work with a Canadian winter for the first time.”
Drapeau, along with Watkins, is part of the programming committee for the biennial, which also includes artistic director Claude Belanger and Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec curator of contemporary art Bernard Lamarche.
“We work together with the international curator to develop the programming,” Drapeau explains of the committee. “It’s pretty balanced [geographically]: about 50% of the artists are international and the other 50% are Quebecois and Canadian.”
It’s possible more eyes will be on the biennial this year given that it is now the only major such event for contemporary art remaining in the province. The Biennale de Montréal, despite strong critical reviews, filed for bankruptcy in February. And the other remaining biennials don’t capture the wider swath of contemporary art: MOMENTA focuses on photo, video and image arts, while BIAN looks exclusively at digital art. In contrast, in 2017, Manif d’art found greater stability in partnerships with the Musée national des beaux-arts du Quebec, which will continue to host the biennial’s central group show. 2017 was also the first time Manif d’art invited an international curator to participate—in that case, Alexia Fabre of MAC/VAL near Paris, who helped bring in globally known artists like France’s Annette Messager.
Accordingly, Manif d’art is continuing to try new things in 2019, bringing 12 young curators on board to interpret Jonathan Watkins’ chosen theme, “Small Between the Stars, Large Against the Sky,” at smaller venues throughout the city. (The theme is paraphrased from lyrics of the 1967 Leonard Cohen song “Stories of the Street.”)
“These [young curator] shows will all be with local artists,” Drapeau explains, and “at parallel spaces a little more on the periphery,” thereby bringing biennial programming to more spaces and audiences.
The biennial’s public art program will also have roughly 10 works in place at various outdoor locales during the run of Manif d’art, which continues until April 21, 2019.
A full list of participating artists for Manif d’art 2019 will be announced on December 4, 2018, at the MNBAQ in Quebec City.