BUCHAREST BIENNALE 7 – What are we building down there?
May 26 – June 30 2016
Bucharest Biennale – Bucharest International Biennial for Contemporary Art

Curator: Niels Van Tomme

- What is the difference between a fairytale in the West and a fairytale in the East?

- A fairytale in the West starts with the words “Once upon a time there was…” A fairytale in the East starts with the words “Once upon a time there will be…”*

Once upon a time there will be a Bucharest that positions itself as a model city for privatization processes worldwide…

In order to grasp this fairytale-proposition, we first need to go back in time.

In 1999, ten years after state socialism’s collapse had caused a series of relentless societal and economic transformations, an ambitious business transaction was unfolding in Bucharest. It was akin to a fairytale. The America’s Partners investment group launched the radical plan to drastically transform the People’s House, Romania’s most famous, gargantuan public edifice whose construction was started under the Ceaușescu regime, and which accommodates since the mid-90s the seats of the country’s political and administrative powers. In this fairytale business transaction, the investors proposed to build a theme park alongside the House, which was to be funded by Michael Jackson, as well as casinos financed by American indigenous tribes and commercial galleries for which Persian Gulf investors would provide financial support. Although this plan appears unsettling in both scope and content, there is also a certain beauty emanating from this outlandish business proposition. It is a beauty that keeps the symbolic function of the People’s House intact, while expanding its public appeal through privately managed entertainment facilities.

Is there a more symptomatic merging of political and corporate imaginaries conceivable?

…in the meanwhile, Michael Jackson has died, and this fairytale has been abandoned…

Still, a wide variety of other, more humble yet equally eager corporate and private investors continue to build and shape post-socialist Bucharest’s architecture of privatized pragmatism. It is an architecture that celebrates industrial real estate, a rich variety of corporate spaces, big-box retail, shopping malls of different sizes, warehouses, and gated communities. It nestles itself in-between, on top of, and adjacent to the already existing, historically layered city infrastructure. In this way, it creates ever more hybrid approaches to what is considered public and what is not, while reversing the power relationship from formerly government-controlled to a predominantly corporate and privately maintained urban environment.

Yet this fairytale doesn’t merely consist of construction builders and corporate entrepreneurs.

There are also entrepreneurs of a different kind, concerned with a different mode of construction, one that engages with the social configuration of the city. They lay out hidden actions for those who currently inhabit contemporary Bucharest. They accommodate modes of non-oppositional dissent, which in turn can nestle themselves in-between, on top of, and adjacent to the new architecture, and do so from critical, poetic, and contagious points of view. They propose strategies of movement, translation, trickery, and distraction. Scripted across three main settings – Public Space, Office Space, Domestic Space – they forge unfamiliar relationships between humans and non-humans, corporations and organizations, objects and ideas, returning a sense of publicness to the otherwise privatized and corporatized urban realm.

And so a fairytale becomes something that once upon a time will be…
(Niels Van Tomme)

Program and list of participants to be announced in 2016.

Curatorial team

Niels Van Tomme

Assistant Curator:
Charlotte Van Buylaere

Curatorial Advisors:
Sarah Demeuse
Hou Hanru
Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy
Prem Krishnamurthy
Nat Muller

* C. Banc and Alan Dundes, eds. You Call This Living? A Collection of East European Political Jokes, Athens: The University of Georgia Press (1990), 81.

Niels Van Tomme (BE, 1977) is a New York-based curator, researcher, and critic working on the intersections of contemporary culture, politics, and aesthetics. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Studies from the University of Leuven, Belgium. Currently associated with the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture at UMBC in Baltimore, he merges academic research with accessible, and often confrontational exhibition making. His exhibitions and public programs are shown at venues such as The Kitchen (New York), Värmlands Museum (Karlstad), National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), Contemporary Arts Center (New Orleans), Gallery 400 (Chicago), and Akademie der Künste (Berlin). His most recent exhibition project Visibility Machines: Harun Farocki and Trevor Paglen opened at the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture in late 2013 and is currently touring internationally, while an edited volume is available through D.A.P., Distributed Art Publishers. His curatorial endeavours have received grant awards from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, Lambent Foundation, and The Nathan Cummings Foundation, as well as critical press in publications such as Afterall, Artforum, Art in America, Afterimage, and The Wall Street Journal. Van Tomme is a Contributing Editor at Art Papers magazine, while his writings in a wide variety of publications explore contemporary art, literature, and music in relationship to broader societal and cultural developments. His latest book, Aesthetic Justice, Intersecting Artistic and Moral Perspectives, co-edited with Pascal Gielen, is forthcoming as part of the Antennae Series, Arts in Society by Valiz, Amsterdam


PAVILION – center for contemporary art & culture – will reformulate the permanent exhibition premises – generating a curatorial office.

PAVILION will also become a curatorial partnership following the original idea of the organization since 1999. As PAVILION’s name alludes to the relative temporary structure of contemporary art, our projects will continue to contain a range of multi-disciplinary and comprehensive content as it carries various formats of articles, essays, interviews, events and artistic projects. In an age of specialization, PAVILION aims to be a new type of institution, one that addresses the inquisitive intellectual.

PAVILION – center for contemporary art & culture – will manifest its production act in the new physical location functioning as base for operations or flexible international conduit and local reception site.

Our office will be located at 29 Băiculești St., Bucharest, with the precious support of UAP (Union of Artists).

PAVILION is the producer BUCHAREST BIENNALE, BUCHAREST FILM BIENNALE, FREE ACADEMY, PAVILION – journal for politics & culture, REFORMA and PAVILION – center for contemporary art & culture.

The PAVILION curatorial office is formed by Răzvan Ion, Eugen Rădescu and Gergő Horváth.