With Sheila Leirner as curator, the Eighteenth São Paulo International Biennial introduced a radical phase in the event. Once and for all, the separation of works by techniques (painting, sculpture, printmaking, and/or drawing) and the separation by countries were abolished. In other words, the new times demanded an exhibition without fixed boundaries. In Leirner’s opinion, this would be the most “universal” São Paulo biennial of all time. This was an early manifestation of the concept of “the global” that would only appear in the next decade. The controversial show, under the title of Grande Tela, brought up for discussion a painting trend that would turn out to be universal. This was the idea of homogeneous painting without borders, which would become globalized in a bold way. Various canvases featuring abstract painting were placed near others, so that their similarities clearly emerged. The arrangement of the show turned the “exhibition space” into an “installation in itself,” which launched a new period of biennials in which the “curator/author” took center stage.
As a journalist and art critic, French Brazilian Sheila Leirner (b. 1948) was a member of the Conselho de Arte e Cultura da Bienal in 1982−83, and came to be the chief curator of two biennials in that period: the eighteenth (1985) and the nineteenth (1987). After studying the sociology of art in France, Leirner became an art critic for the daily newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo in 1975. She published a collection of her essays under the title Arte e seu tempo (São Paulo: Editôra Perspectiva, 1991). That was the year she moved to Paris, where she worked and specialized as an arts administrator. She represented the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in Latin America (1993−99), and became a member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) (French division). Leirner has contributed to countless journals and supplements in both countries, including Beaux-Arts Magazine, Europe Magazine Littéraire, Revista da USP, and Cadernos de Literatura Brasileira. She was also on the scholarship committee for UNESCO-Aschberg Bursaries for Artists.
To supplement the information about this biennial, see information about the next biennial (the nineteenth to be held in 1987), also directed by Leirner. The nineteenth biennial resumed the emphasis on universal themes and the centrality of the curator’s participation [see 11109010].