Four artists invited to participate in the 18th Istanbul Biennial next year have withdrawn from the exhibition. Their departure follows a row over the appointment of Iwona Blazwick as curator of the 2024 edition by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and the Arts (İKSV).
In a statement posted on Instagram the artists—Ates Alpar, Bengü Karaduman, Kerem Ozan Bayraktar and Yasam Sasmazer—say that they were invited to participate over the summer but have since decided to pull out of the biennial, adding that the controversy does “not provide a favourable ground for art production and sharing”.
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, the 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.
“We hope that our decision will be beneficial for the creation of transparent and inclusive institutional cultures open to criticism where freedom of artistic expression is at the forefront, and that it will establish grounds for dialogue in this direction,” the artists add in the Instagram post. It is unclear which curator selected the four artists.
A spokesperson for İKSV tells The Art Newspaper: “We were very sorry to learn about the decision of four artists not to participate in the 18th Istanbul Biennial. We greatly value our collaboration with artists and all biennial stakeholders and make every effort to maintain open channels of dialogue on every issue; on this matter too, we will continue to exchange ideas.”
The artists’ decision comes after more than 80 artists and curators signed an open letter calling on İKSV to disclose the selection procedure for appointing the curator of the Istanbul Biennial. The foundation subsequently brought in new measures in a bid to improve transparency, saying that that it has carefully assessed recent criticism of how the curator of the 18th Istanbul Biennial was selected.
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. The aforementioned four artists say that such measures regarding upcoming biennials are a “positive step”.