Istanbul biennial rejects unanimous election of the advisory board

Istanbul biennial rejects unanimous election of the advisory board
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Iwona Blazwick appointed despite serving on the selection committee

The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and the Arts (IKSV) has rejected the unanimous recommendation of its advisory board to appoint Defne Ayas as curator of the next Istanbul Biennial in 2024. Instead, it chose Iwona Blazwick, even though she was a member of the advisory board tasked with selecting the curator.

After reviewing the proposals of the shortlisted curators, the advisory board of international specialists unanimously chose Ayas, an experienced curator who has organized exhibitions in complex contexts. However, the IKSV overruled the choice without explanation.

Critics believe Ayas was deemed too risky after an artwork she commissioned for the 2015 Venice Biennale referenced the Armenian genocide, leading to the withdrawal of catalogs. The opaque process raises concerns about self-censorship and institutional transparency.

Three advisory board members resigned when Blazwick was appointed because she had not recused herself from the selection process. Blazwick, a former director of the Whitechapel Gallery, declined to comment. Turkish artists and curators heavily criticized the decision on social media.

The IKSV said the advisory board only provides non-binding advice. It said Blazwick had been chosen as an "internationally renowned curator with deep knowledge of the context in Turkey".

But others warn that self-censorship is a slippery slope, and Ayas was able to navigate the environment. They call for more transparency, equity, and regional diversity in the biennial's leadership.

*This article was initially published in The Art Newspaper on August 10, 2023.