Artist Duo to Curate 15th Istanbul Biennial
By HG Masters
The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) announced on April 13 that the artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset will curate the 15th Istanbul Biennial, which opens in mid-September 2017. The two artists, Michael Elmgreen (b. Denmark, 1961) and Ingar Dragset (b. Norway, 1969), have worked together since 1995, and their appointment in Istanbul offers the possibility of a different kind of biennial than recent editions. The duo suggested as much in the statement released by İKSV, in which they said: “In light of the current global geopolitical situation, in which we’re experiencing a new rise of nationalism, it will be important for us to curate a biennial based on collaborative efforts and processes.”
Known for their humorous and slyly subversive projects, like setting up a replica Prada store in the Texas desert or staging an ersatz art fair inside a private museum, both Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset had non-traditional paths to contemporary art. Before they began collaborating, Elmgreen was a poet and Dragset studied acting. Their artistic projects have frequently involved actors, scripts and even traditional theater productions, like Happy Days in the Artworld (2011), a two-actor self-portrait that premiered at Performa, in New York, in 2011. Even their installations have a theatrical quality, as with "The Collectors," their project for the Danish and Nordic Pavilions at the Venice Biennale in 2009, where they reconfigured the pavilions using other artists' works and their own to recreate fictious murder scene—which culminated in a mannequin floating face-down in a pool.
The subject of many solo exhibitions and participants in biennials around the world, Elmgreen & Dragset have been included in three editions of the Istanbul Biennial, including in 2011 and then again in 2013, where, at the Galata Greek School, a room full of old school desks was occupied by men who were contracted to write in diaries every day. In the 2001 edition, curated by Yuko Hasegawa, their Traces of a Never Existing History / Powerless Structures, Fig. 222 (2001) appeared to be a Kunsthalle sinking into the earth.
The announcement of the artist duo to curate the Istanbul Biennial comes as the practice grows increasingly common among museums, galleries and mega-exhibitions. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, co-founded by artists Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu, has been curated by artists since its inception in 2012, with Jitish Kallat at the helm in 2014 and Sudarshan Shetty overseeing the 2016 edition. The 2016 Berlin Biennale, opening in early June, is being directed by DIS, a New York-based collective. The curator of this year’s Manifesta 11, taking place in Zürich, is German artist Christian Jankowski. In 2003, Elmgreen & Dragset contributed an essay to the E-Flux project called “The Next Documenta Should Be Curated by an Artist” in which they proposed that all the mega-exhibitions should switch cities every ten years. They even suggested that the Berlin Biennale should move to Istanbul in order to “include a bigger number of Turkish artists than it has managed to until now.” We'll see where they take the Istanbul Biennial in September 2017.
HG Masters is editor at large at ArtAsiaPacific.