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The Istanbul Biennial and the reproduction of the urban public space

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Initiated by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts in 1987, the Istanbul Biennial is the product of a period in which many cities of the Global South started their own biennials. With the participating ‘star’ curators and artists, the Biennial gradually sparked attention from the international art world. Yet, it also received occasional negative responses from the local art world. Critics stressed the problematic relationship of the Biennial with one of the key players behind the urban regeneration process in the city. Designed as a wide-reaching contemporary art event in a city of an enormous scale, a vast population and contested histories, the Biennial was set in a range of venues throughout Istanbul over the years. This not only led the Biennial to continuously reframe Istanbul through the selected new locations and unwittingly reproduce the urban public space but also to redefining the way in which the visitors relate to both the city and the event per se. This article discusses the re-organization of the public space by the Istanbul Biennial in the backdrop of contemporary art practices, the art historical discourse and the changing social and political context of the last 30 years in Turkey by drawing on the theories of Michel de Certeau, Chantal Mouffe and Sibel Yardimci among others.
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Keywords: Istanbul Biennial; city; contemporary art; exhibition venues; gentrification; urban public space; visitors

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Brighton

Publication date: July 1, 2018

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  • Art & the Public Sphere provides a new platform for academics, artists, curators, art historians and theorists whose working practices are broadly concerned with contemporary art's relation to the public sphere. The journal presents a crucial examination of contemporary art's link to the public realm, offering an engaged and responsive forum in which to debate the newly emerging series of developments within contemporary thinking, society and international art practice.
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