Almost 20 years after its humble beginnings, Manifesta has definitely become one of the most important contemporary art biennials in Europe, and a famous one around the world. Its nomadic nature and the fact that it is so deeply concerned about the geopolitical situation in Europe set it apart from other, older and more established biennials, like Documenta and the Venice Biennial, to name only a couple. However, it is still a difficult project to understand, its process and so-called goals are fluid and constantly debated, and every edition has its own vicissitudes and subjectivities. This is why I picked up this book, and why it was so interesting to read.
The book itself is a bit like Manifesta: a complicated, at times confusing and apparently self-contradicting, open process. The essays vary wildly in their quality and style, but they all maintain a critical stance towards Manifesta and the so-called art world. Frankly, after a while all the negative criticism begins to feel a bit forced and superfluous, but I admit my point of view might be biased. I am, after all, reading this seven years after the book came out, a time when the biggest challenges that Europe is facing aren't exactly about bridging the gap between East and West (there is one essay that speaks about the North-South divide, but that's about it). Perhaps even more important, this book came out when the Manifesta Foundation was preparing its Nicosia edition, which ended up never happening for several reasons. Had this most interesting landmark in the history of Manifesta happened before this book was published, it would certainly have changed it a lot.
Still, this is an indispensable read if you want to learn more about Manifesta and contemporary art in Europe, specially concerning the period after 1989.