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In spite of strong criticism about its anti-biennial "In Living Contact" theme, the 28th São Paulo Biennial nevertheless seemed to please attendees at the kickoff last Saturday, probably due in part to the hands-on participation element. Everyone left with tons of reading material in their hands, from little art books to mini posters.

Curated by Ivo Mesquita and Ana Paula Cohen, this year's biennial is the talk of the art town because the duo developed the 42-day event around what they see as a general crisis in art biennials: that they've lost their purpose as cutting-edge exhibitions and instead just serve as jumping off points for artists to sell their work. Coupled with this statement was the daring Open Plan on the second level, also dubbed "The Void." Consisting of an entire floor of the vast Oscar Niemeyer-designed building left completely empty, it's supposed to provoke new ideas rather than make a statement about art (or, more to the point, the lack thereof).

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As a break from the usual art biennial model, the curators organized the show into works that would instigate reflection about the very theme, with interactivity the key to the success of their chosen direction. On the first floor, visitors can exchange a copy of their key for one that opens one of the building's doors for the duration of the event at a booth by artist Paul Ramirez Jonas. Carsten Höller's giant, steep and curvy slides (above right) got even those decked out in high heels for a ride. The third floor is dedicated to an archive of sorts, with catalogs from international art biennials (below left).

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Video is an integral part of this São Paulo Art Biennial and televisions spread throughout different areas of the building show old works, chief among them a tribute to legendary Yugoslavian performance artist Marina Abramovic (middle row, right).

In addition to the exhibits, music, performance and discussions will take place. Other international artists from the 42 chosen include Fischerspooner, Sophie Calle and Allan McCollum, with the national round-up comprised of names like Mauricio Ianes (installation pictured top right) and Iran do Espirito Santo.

The 28th São Paulo Biennial
Through 6 December 2008
Ibirapuera Park, Gate 3
São Paulo, Brazil map

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