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Istanbul Biennial

Istanbul Biennial, full name INTERNATIONAL ISTANBUL BIENNIAL, contemporary art event organized every two years by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts. Plastic arts exhibitions previously held as part of the Istanbul International Festival were launched as a separate event, named the Istanbul Biennial, in 1987. The five biennials between 2006 and 2016 were funded by the Vehbi Koç Foundation (VKV) with Koç Holding as the main sponsor. The aim of this support was to widen engagement in contemporary art in Turkey, especially among young people, attract new audiences and stimulate greater overall interest. In 2015, it was decided to continue this support to include the next five biennials over the 2016-26 period.
Showcasing hundreds of local and international artists and art groups who represent the latest trends in contemporary art, the Istanbul Biennial aims to create a meeting point for visual artists and audiences from different cultures and build an international cultural network for artists, curators, arts circles and critics from Turkey and across the globe. Launched just before the 1990s, which saw a rapid increase in city biennials across the world, the Istanbul Biennial has become the most popular and internationally recognized arts event organized in Turkey. The tradition it has established, together with the city’s geographical and cultural position, have earned it an important place among international contemporary art biennials.

Rather than an exhibition approach based on national representation, the Biennial adopts a model using the exhibits to facilitate a dialogue among the artists and between them and their audience. The curator, who is selected through an international advisory board, invites contributions from artists and projects that fit the conceptual framework devised for each biennial.

Rapidly growing in popularity, the event now attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors and includes the publication of a biennial book containing exhibition photographs and articles relating to the conceptual framework of the exhibition.  In addition to guided tours around the exhibits, the Biennial hosts panels, conferences and workshops allowing both visitors and art students to follow the latest discussions and developments in the art world. There are also tours and activity programs aimed at children and young people.
Entry to the 13th Istanbul Biennial in 2013 was free of charge for the first time, due to the support of VKV and Koç Holding. As part of the event, a children’s book, A Colorful Journey In A Time Machine: Istanbul Biennials for Children was published narrating the journey of the Istanbul biennials for over almost a quarter of a century and aiming to stimulate interest in contemporary art among young audiences. 


International Istanbul Biennals 1987-2017

1. 1987: “Contemporary Art in Traditional Spaces”
General Coordinator: Beral Madra (Turkey)

2. 1989: “Contemporary Art in Traditional Spaces”
General Coordinator: Beral Madra (Turkey)

3. 1992: “Production of Cultural Difference”
Director: Vasıf Kortun (Turkey)

4. 1995: “ORIENT/ATION-The Image of Art in a Paradoxical World”
Curator: Réne Block (Germany)

5. 1997: “On Life, Beauty, Translations and Other Difficulties”
Curator: Rosa Mart
ínez (Spain)

6. 1999: “The Passion and the Wave”
Curator: Paolo Colombo (Italy)

7. 2001: “Egofugal - Fugue from Ego for the Next Emergence”
Curator: Yuko Hasegawa (Japonya)

8. 2003: “Poetic Justice”
Curator: Dan Cameron (USA)

9. 2005: “İstanbul”
Curators: Charles Esche (England) and Vasıf Kortun (Turkey)

10. 2007: “Not Only Possible, But Also Necessary: Optimism in the Age of Global War”
Curator: Hou Hanru (China)

11. 2009: “What Keeps Mankind Alive?”
Curators: Ivet ĆurlinAna DevićNataša Ilić and Sabina Sabolović (What, How & for Whom-WHW curator collective) (Croatia)

12. 2011: “Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011”
Curators: Adriano Pedrosa (Brazil) and Jens Hoffmann (Costa Rica)

13. 2013: “Mom, am I barbarian?”
Curator: Fulya Erdemci (Turkey)

14. 2015: “Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms”
Curator: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (USA)

15. 2017: “a good neighbor”
Curators: Michael Elmgreen (Denmark) and Ingar Dragset (Norway)

Abadan Unat, Nermin

Political scientist who received the Vehbi Koç Award for education in 2012.