Following a recent trend of artist-turned-curators, Scandinavian artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset prepare to take on the 15th Istanbul Biennale.

The artist duo’s curatorial theme will focus on the act of collaboration in the context of global geopolitics. 

Artist duo Ingar Dragset (left) and Michael Elmgreen (right). Photo by Elmar Vestner. Image courtesy Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts.

Artist duo Ingar Dragset (left) and Michael Elmgreen (right). Photo: Elmar Vestner. Image courtesy Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts.

Taking the helm

The acclaimed artist duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset are nothing short of biennale veterans. The pair has taken part as artists in three previous editions of the Istanbul Biennale as well as biennales in Venice, São Paulo and Gwangju, among others. Earlier this month they were tapped as curators of the 15th Istanbul Biennale, becoming the first artists to take the helm of the international mega-exhibition. Past curators include Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (2015), Fulya Erdemci (2013), and the duo of Jens Hoffmann and Adriano Pedrosa (2011).

While Elmgreen and Dragset brand themselves as artists they are in fact “no strangers to curating”. Since the mid-1990s the pair have organised numerous exhibitions and festivals around the world starting from “Update” (1996), a performance-based festival in Copenhagen. Most notably, in 2009 the artists curated “The Collectors”, an exhibition that merged the Danish and Nordic Pavilions at the 53rd Venice Biennale; and in 2013 the duo organised “A Space Called Public”, a public art project in Munich, and “Tomorrow”, an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The artists state in the press release:

We are honored to be appointed curators of the 15th Istanbul Biennial, having previously taken part as artists in three editions of the biennial.

Elmgreen & Dragset, 'Deutsche Scheune / German Barn', 2011, steel, plywood, concrete, hay, taxidermied goat, tyre, tools, farming tools, antlers and performers with typical German-style farmers costumes, 800 m x 700 m x 1400 m. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Elmgreen & Dragset, ‘Deutsche Scheune / German Barn’, 2011, steel, plywood, concrete, hay, taxidermied goat, tyre, tools, farming tools, antlers and performers with typical German-style farmers costumes, 800 m x 700 m x 1400 m. Image courtesy Art Radar Asia.

Curating geopolitics 

While details of their curatorial concept will only be announced later this year, artnet News states that the duo “plan[s] to respond to the waves of nativism that have risen in response to economic recessions and the Middle Eastern refugee crisis”. Elmgreen and Dragset hint at their politically oriented framework in the press release:

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 provocative and playfully subversive oeuvre, Elmgreen and Dragset’s projects have included a mock Prada store in a desert and an installation of a swimming pool in the shape of Vincent van Gogh’s ear in New York. Art Asia Pacific states that the duo’s appointment in Istanbul “offers the possibility of a different kind of biennial than recent editions”. The artists continue in the press release:

A biennial can be a platform for dialogue, and a format in which diverse opinions, perspectives, and communities can coexist.

Pelin Tan & Anton Vidokle, '2084: a science fiction show / Episode 2: The Fall of Artists' Republic', 2014, video, sound. Installatio view at 14th Istanbul Biennale. Photo by Fatih Kucuk. Image courtesy the artists and Istanbul Biennale.

Pelin Tan & Anton Vidokle, ‘2084: a science fiction show / Episode 2: The Fall of Artists’ Republic’, 2014, video, sound. Installatio view at 14th Istanbul Biennale. Photo: Fatih Kucuk. Image courtesy the artists and Istanbul Biennale.

Artists-as-curators trend

As The Art Newspaper observes, the appointment of artists as curators of biennales is a growing trend. Recent such appointments include:

the Delhi-based artist group, Raqs Media Collective, were appointed last month as curators of the 11th Shanghai Biennale at the Power Station of Art (opens 11 November), the New York art collective DIS will organise the forthcoming Berlin Biennale (opens 4 June) while the Indian artist Sudarshan Shetty is the curator of the third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which opens in Kerala, south India, in December.

Art Asia Pacific further notes that the practice is becoming increasingly common among museums and galleries as well. Notably, the rise of the artist-turned-curator was foretold by Elmgreen & Dragset in a 2003 E-Flux project entitled “The Next Documenta Should Be Curated by an Artist”. An excerpt from the notoriously mischievous duo’s contribution reads:

Maybe all the major art events should change locations in the next 10 years. In the name of true globalism, all the venues could undergo a big rotation – just to keep the audiences awake a little longer […]. Documenta would certainly get spiced up a bit if it took place in Venice instead of Kassel […]. Maybe the São Paulo Biennial, with its strangely corrupt internal conflicts, would function perfectly in Kassel, where decisions seem to be made in the German way […]. Maybe the Sydney Biennial should relocate to Berlin so that the lazy European audience would get to see it for once […]

Michele Chan

1119

Related Topics: biennales, curatorial practice, artists as curators, events in Istanbul

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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