Istanbul Biennial’s governing body draws up new selection guidelines following curator row

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The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and the Arts (İKSV) has brought in new measures in a bid to improve transparency following a row over the appointment of Iwona Blazwick as curator of the next edition of the Istanbul Biennial (September 2024). The move comes after more than 80 artists and curators signed an open letter calling on İKSV to disclose the selection procedures for appointing the curator of the biennial.

In February, the Istanbul Biennial’s advisory board unanimously chose the Turkish curator Defne Ayas as the best candidate to curate the next biennial. But the İKSV, a private foundation which administers the show, rejected the board’s recommendation and instead appointed Blazwick, former director of the Whitechapel Gallery. At the time of her selection, Blazwick was a serving member of the advisory panel tasked with choosing a curator for the biennial.

In an İKSV statement, the organisation says that it has carefully assessed recent criticism of how the curator of the 18th Istanbul Biennial in 2024 was selected. “Over the years, we have continuously sought to improve our procedure for selecting the biennial curator and made many adjustments to this process. That said, curator candidates have always been evaluated solely on the basis of their artistic vision for the Istanbul Biennial, their proposed approach to the biennial, and the compatibility of their approach with İKSV management’s expectations,” it says.

The new procedures will be implemented for the 2026 Istanbul Biennial when İKSV management will only be able to invite a curator from among three candidates proposed by the Istanbul Biennial advisory board.

“If none of the proposed curators offer an approach aligned with the foundation’s vision, İKSV management can ask the advisory board to reconvene and propose different candidates. An additional change to the regulations prohibits Istanbul Biennial advisory board members from being invited for curatorial posts during their term of office. Even if they resign from the board, they cannot be considered as candidates for the biennial in question,” İKSV adds.

Preparations for the 18th Istanbul Biennial, to take place in 2024 with Blazwick still in place, will continue as planned. “In the months ahead, we will share with the public the conceptual framework of this biennial, its participants, and the new members of the advisory board,” İKSV says.

The Turkish curators Sarp Renk Özer and Merve Elveren, and the filmmaker Mustafa Emin Büyükcoşkun, tell The Art Newspaper: “This announcement does not address any questions that the [aforementioned] open letter is posing… the content of this announcement raises further questions: why does the [İKSV] institution make promises for 2026 instead of taking immediate action towards changing the biennial for the better? […] The Istanbul Biennial is taking a historic downturn and if the management doesn’t understand what’s at stake now, it will eventually lose its international relevance.”

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