The Lyon Biennale stemmed from a project by Lyon's Museum of Contemporary Art, directed by Thierry Raspail since its inception in 1984. From 1984-1988, the Biennale was preceded by an annual event entitled "October of the Arts", which ended with the exhibition "Colour Alone": The Experience of Monochrome". This retraced the adventure of monochrome, from the beginnings of Impressionism and the historical avant-gardes to topical work by artists ranging from Malevitch to Anish Kapoor. Staged in various venues around the city, "Colour Alone" was highly successful, making its mark and illustrating Lyon's potential for hosting an international event, following the Paris Biennale's closure in 1985. The event gave rise to the inaugural Lyon Biennale in September 1991.
The desire to create an event capable of artistic self-renewal while building a stable, long-term project that bonded with its host territory led to an organisational model specific to the Lyon Biennale: an Artistic Director builds the event's identity over time, and for each edition chooses a curator/ curators with whom he collaborates closely to devise an artistic project.
The Lyon Biennale is therefore truly an authorial biennale and, as Jean-Hubert Martin noted, "a clever way of having themes addressed through the personalities of others". Each biennale provides the opportunity to explore a specific issue. Its nine editions thus far have formed three successive trilogies: the first devoted to History, the second to Globalisation, and the third to Temporality. They have been curated by an international array of art historians, critics and professional curators including: Harald Szeemann, Jean-Hubert Martin, Le Consortium (with Robert Nickas and Anne Pontégnie), Stéphanie Moisdon and Hans Ulrich Obrist, and now, in 2009, Hou Hanru.
The Biennale of Lyon is a Les Biennales de Lyon event