International Biennial of Contemporary Art Ljubljana,
23 June - 24 September 2000
News Archive
Micro Talks
Cankarjev Dom
M1 & M2

A Short History of Manifesta
by Henry Meyric Hughes

Manifesta was a Dutch initiative for a new, pan-European Biennial of Contemporary Art, whose concept was developed from initial discussions between representatives of the Netherlands Office for Fine Arts and a number of colleagues from West European countries. It was conceived in response to dramatic political changes in Central and Eastern Europe, in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 1989), and to the perceived inability of traditional large-scale events, such as documenta and the Venice Biennale to respond adequately to the new circumstances.

Manifesta was to be a nomadic event, whose operational base would move from one city to another within Europe, every two years -- Europe, being interpreted in the most generous spirit possible, to encompass all the territories covered by the current signatories of the Council of Europe's Cultural Convention, and beyond. Its aim was to provide a platform for young artists, who were already launched on their professional careers, but who not yet been given widespread international exposure or commercial backing. (In this sense, Manifesta was intended, in part, to fill the gap left by the demise of the Paris Biennale des Jeunes). It was to be interdisciplinary and cross-cultural, to the extent that this reflected the current state of artistic concerns. The emphasis was to be placed on inclusivity, rather than exclusivity, and on collaboration between artists and theoreticians, rather than on factional representation, competition, commercialisation and prizes. It was to be a process, as much as a product, and it was to take full advantage of the latest developments in information and communications technology, in building up a cumulative network of contacts and activities.

Robert de Haas, the director of the Netherlands Office for Fine Arts, convened the first meeting of the International Advisory Board of Manifesta in The Hague, on 8 November 1993. At a subsequent meeting in The Hague, on 27-28 January 1994, the final composition of this Advisory Board for Manifesta 1 was established, as follows: Els Barents (The Netherlands), René Block (Germany), Svenrobert Lundquist (Sweden), Henry Meyric Hughes (UK), Katalin Néray (Hungary), Anda Rottenberg (Poland), and Lilijana Stepan~i~ (Slovenia).

At the same time Hedwig Fijen, working as a curator at the Netherlands Office for Fine Arts, was appointed the full time Co-ordinator (effectively Director) of Manifesta 1, and Katalin Néray undertook to lead the formation of a curatorial team for the first event in Rotterdam, in 1996. At the close of this two-day meeting, the outcome of these deliberations and the establishment of the Foundation European Art Manifestation, registered in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, were presented to the diplomatic representatives of some 30 European states.

The original structure of the Foundation European Art Manifestation which was presented to the representatives of the foreign governments, envisaged that the International Advisory Board, would have responsibility for the artistic profile and the integrity of the event, as well as the nomination of the curatorial team; a National Committee would assume overall responsibility for financial and organisational matters; and the Director would be in charge of the day-to-day financial management and liaison with the National Committee, Board members, curators and representatives of the foreign and national institutions.

In the summer of 1995, The International Advisory Board announced the names of the five curators who had been selected for Manifesta 1: Rosa Martinez (Barcelona), Viktor Misiano (Moscow), Katalin Néray (Budapest), Hans-Ulrich Obrist (Paris) and Andrew Renton (London). In the following six months, the members of this team travelled the length and breadth of Europe and organised a series of discussions (open and closed houses) in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Budapest, Lisbon, London, Ljubljana, Moscow, Rotterdam and Vienna, in the course of elaborating their plans for the first edition of Manifesta.

Manifesta 1 was held in 16 different institutions in Rotterdam, from 9 June to 19 August 1996. It involved 72 artists from 30 different cities in Europe and 5 from elsewhere. Total attendances were in the region of 20,000. 350 accredited journalists and art critics attended the opening event and there was widespread, overwhelmingly positive, coverage in the national and international media. All the works exhibited were created especially for Manifesta and a number of projects were organised on a collaborative basis. Many of the artists who showed work there for the first time in an international context went on to exhibit extensively in public and commercial galleries in Western Europe. The total budget of Manifesta was 2 million Guilders (800.000 Euros).

For Manifesta 2, in Luxembourg, in 1998, a new International Advisory Board was assembled, combining two old members (Henry Meyric Hughes and Lilijana Stepan~i~), the former Director of Manifesta 1 (Hedwig Fijen), a representative of the previous curatorial team (Hans-Ulrich Obrist) and two new members Chris Dercon (Director of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, which hosted a part of Manifesta 1) and Kasper König (Rector of the Städelschule and Director of the Portikus Gallery in Frankfurt). Together with Enrico Lunghi (Casino Luxembourg), the newly appointed Director of Manifesta 2, this Board selected a new team of three curators, comprising Robert Fleck (Paris and Vienna), Maria Lind (Stockholm) and Barbara Vanderlinden (Brussels). Manifesta 2 was to be held from 28 June to 11 October at the Casino Luxembourg and at 5 of the other principal artistic institutions in the city of Luxembourg, under the immediate patronage of the Minister of Culture and the Mayor of Luxembourg. It included work by 47 artists from 35 different European countries, most of whom created new work in situ.

Distinguishing features of Manifesta 2 included the series of international discussions and debates and the institution of a cumulative Infolab, with up-to-date printed and audio-visual material about artistic developments in all parts of Europe. There was also the welcome organisational involvment of some 30 trainee assistants (stagiaires) from Luxembourg and many parts of Europe with the assistance of funding from their national governments and from the Soros Centers in Central and Eastern Europe.

Address: Manifesta 3, Cankarjev Dom, Prešernova 10, SI - 1000 Ljubljana. Slovenia
phone: (+386 61) 1767143, 210956 fax: (+386 61) 217431 e-mail: