The Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts is one of the oldest biennials in the world; it was founded in 1955. With its activities, it positioned Ljubljana and Slovenian art into a global context, influenced the development of many similar events around the world and created an active network for the exchange of experience in the field of the graphic arts.
The international community recognised the Biennial as a high-quality event, and thanks to it, Slovenian art also established itself abroad, where it is represented in the museums of the world mainly through graphic prints. Since its foundation, it has strengthened and supported the quality of Slovenian art and artists. By regularly presenting the works of artists from different cultural backgrounds and artistic environments, it also influenced local developments. At the same time, it played a significant role in the formation of the Ljubljana school of graphic arts and the works that are included among the highlights of classical printmaking production. The Biennial emerged at a time when printmaking and its reproductive techniques fully resonated with the general state of art and society. It was precisely at this time that Pop Art had already established itself in Great Britain and the United States. Post-war capitalism, consumer society and the uncertain division of so-called high and low culture had a strong influence on the production of art.
From the late 1970s to the late 1980s, art trends changed; the original hand of the artist, as it was called, came to the fore again and pushed printmaking as a mass production technique into the background. As a result, the Ljubljana Biennial experienced a period of crisis. In the 1990s, a regard for art that favoured printmaking resurfaced. The focus was on the attributes of post-industrial society, ecological awareness, the political correctness of various ideas and the communicativeness of art. This revived the importance of the International Biennial of Graphic Arts. During the sixty years of its activity, the Biennial presented the graphic arts in two divergent artistic paradigms – between 1955 and 1999 it was the bearer of the modern and, after 2001, of the post-media paradigm.
In 2001, the 24th International Biennial of Graphic Arts introduced the transition to the paradigm of post-media art by initiating the process of revitalisation, reviewing the structure, organisation, attitude towards the local and international audience, curatorship and the medium itself. Self-reflection and the questioning of its role became an integral part, followed by new content and image with each edition of the Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts. While it previously consisted of the main exhibition, solo exhibitions or retrospectives of prize winners and honorary jubilee exhibitions, it has since been accompanied by various curated exhibitions in addition to those already mentioned. It abandoned the traditional system of public invitations and ventured beyond the field of the graphic arts by using new reproduction techniques and expanding the exhibition space into urban spaces, the media and billboards. The International Centre of Graphic Arts, which took over the organisation of the Biennial from the Museum of Modern Art when it was founded in 1986, became the producer of the exhibition and for the first time also the producer of art projects.
In 2003, the 25th International Biennial of Graphic Arts was conceived as a complex whole consisting of an exhibition of contemporary graphic works, a documentary exhibition on the historical run-through of the International Biennial of Graphic Arts from 1955 to 2003, and a symposium on the relationship between publisher and artist. The exhibited works included artists’ books, newspapers and magazines, photocopies, art posters, newspaper interventions, as well as newspaper projects and prints, which are linked by the fact that they document artists’ ideas about their realized or unrealized, past and future projects. In 2005, the Biennial was given a title for the first time, it was the 26th Biennial of Graphic Arts Thrust. Conceived as a point of intersection between the history of the Biennial and a reflection on its future, it offered seventeen complex and diverse exhibitions under one roof, each of which provided a unique answer to the question of what the graphic represents today. The main gallery exhibition of the 27th Biennial of Graphic Arts was entitled The Unbound Eyes of Anxiousness. Through the works of the selected artists, it showed the different creative worlds that exist side by side and form the different contexts in which art lives and presents itself. The Biennial paid special attention to the exhibition spaces; it addressed not only the public in the galleries but also in the public and media space, in the Biennial catalogue and even in private homes. This was followed by the 28th Biennial of Graphic Arts The Matrix: An Unstable Reality (2009), whose main exhibition responded to current issues, which were presented to art and society in no uncertain terms with the cult film trilogy The Matrix. The exhibition attempted to answer many questions, including whether the medium remains the same even when it incorporates new technologies into its language, and what the social power of those who have the matrix is. A selection of works by more than eighty internationally established and emerging artists was presented, ranging from traditional and contemporary print and artists’ books to interventions in the public space, mass media and computers. The art event was then the central theme of the 29th Biennial of Graphic Arts The Event in 2011. The exhibition presented a selection of art events in four different groups on themes typical of contemporary art: generosity, violence, emptiness and the search for the sacred and ritual. The 30th Biennial of Graphic Arts Interruption (2013) returned to consider the nature of the graphic processes based on reproducibility and spoke about the way contemporary artists respond to communication tools and processes. This was followed by the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts Over you/you, which examined the socio-political specifics of the graphic arts, particularly in relation to reproduction, publicity and community.
The 32nd Biennial of Graphic Arts Birth as Criterion (2017) introduced a conceptual novelty as it abandoned the framework of the thematic exhibition and the central role of the curator. The starting point was a simple mechanism: the recipients of the Grand Prize from the previous five Biennial editions were asked to nominate one artist each to participate in the Biennial; they, in turn, were asked to name the next five participants. The process consisted of five more rounds and finally presented a total selection of twenty-seven artists. The latter also received the poem Birth as Criterion by Jure Detela with their invitation, which was supposed to speak to them in the creative sense. The starting point of the 32nd Biennial of Graphic Arts was therefore a transgressive moment aimed at radical change – not only in the theme of the event but also in its structure. With its post-curatorial approach, the Biennial showed how it is possible to avoid the established ways of creating exhibitions and approach art differently.
The 33rd Biennial of Graphic Arts Crack Up – Crack Down thematised satire; it presented the intersection between satire and the graphic arts, which were in the past linked to the belief that they are the tools of democracy, that they are the genre and the medium through which the voice of the people trickles into society. The Biennial attempted to highlight how to understand graphic language as a tool for transmitting satirical content, or how the graphic can instigate the emergence of this highly resilient and topical form of criticism through the use of irony and ridicule. In addition to the historical part, the exhibition also presented works by contemporary artists, publishers, theorists, activists, new media personalities, stand-up comedians and others. It was conceived as a travelling exhibition and was on view in Warsaw a year later.
Each edition of the Biennial of Graphic Arts in Ljubljana is accompanied by numerous events and a varied programme for all generations and structures of visitors (guided tours, workshops, scientific symposia, lectures, artist talks, art events and similar). Of particular interest are the traditional awarding of international prizes, the shifts in aesthetic criteria and the moving away from the confines of a single medium. The Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts is a vibrant, constantly changing platform of artistic creation and a critical analysis of events in society and art, following the impulse of the contemporary, which is increasingly characterised by the elusiveness of categories and overlapping of different types of knowledge, experience and art practice.
As the organiser of the Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts, the International Centre of Graphic Arts (MGLC) takes care of the preservation and research of the heritage of this event. It is a member of the International Biennial Association (IBA) and has been part of the international Perennial Biennial project since 2018.