September 20

ISTANBUL BIENNAL (REPORT)

The paparazzi never write about art or for that matter even show any interest. Fortunately, however, they are traveling with The Social Secretary who was more than happy to provide this short but perceptive report on the 2011 Istanbul Biennale.

Isimsiz (12 Istanbul Bienali), 2011

Wandering through the five exhibitions based on works by the late Felix Gonzalez Torres that make up the 2011 Istanbul Biennale I realised it was better to be underwhelmed by something in Istanbul than overwhelmed by nothing in Venice. But underwhelmed is unfair. Jens Hoffmann and Adriano Pedrosa have produced exhibitions that avoid flamboyance and where even themes of violence “Untitled” (Death by Gun) and homosexuality “Untitled” (Ross) seem understated. Most of the 50 artists have their own room in the warehouses next to Istanbul Modern and each contributes to an exhibition that maintains an even tone throughout. There are no emotional roller coasters here. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish where artists and exhibitions begin or end.  For the critics of spectacle there is none to be found; there are few “big names” and most of the work leans towards povera. Drawings and collage on note-paper, brown paper and various scraps are de riguer. There’s found objects, personal archives, old photographs, magazine covers, record covers, lots of typed text, used frames and precious little colour save the fresh fruit in two or three installations. There are some effective moments of contextualisation with works by Tina Modotti, Weegee, Roy Lichtenstein and Mathew Brady. And just enough video to enable the audience to actually look at them.

While Isimsiz is clearly thought through  it lacks any spontaneity or surprises. The idea of generating an entire biennale around Felix Gonzales Torres is an interesting one and makes a great deal more sense than many of the dubious thematics we are accoustomed to from biennale uber curators. While there are a few things to like about this quiet, modest and serious exhibition, I feel that the pervasive restraint is not that of the artists. Hoffman and Pedrosa’s vice like curatorial grip is clear at every step and while many people might consider this a plus, I fear that a show with no high or low points will ultimately become a blur and eminently forgettable – that is, except for the iconic images of other eras already imprinted on the collective memory. The Social Secretary 20.9.11

Eylem Aladogan Listen to your soul, my blood is singing iron triggers that could be released wood and iron 2009 -11 (detail) from “Untitled” (Death by Gun)

the gun room “Untitled” (Death by Gun) with Kris Martin’s Obussen II (2010)

Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor Land Distribution ( 2010) from “Untitled” (Abstraction)