Highlights of the Istanbul Bienial

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I have to admit, I was surprised. This year’s Istanbul Bienial was hailed as ‘the best’. It was meant to be provactive, emotionally-charged and politically motivated at every turn. I will admit, it’s best parts were. The work of the late Cuban-American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres served as the heart and soul of the exhibit. His work explored the destructive nature of gun violence, and the corruptive way in which history has been packaged to tell a superficial story. However, the rugged minimalism of the interior, as well as the absence of any text or explanation about most works contributed to my own dissapointment and frustration in regard the exhibition as a whole. Many of the exhibits seemed inaccessible, dry and presumptive.

However, there were some thought-provoking pieces that made the visit worthwhile. One room was full of metal soldiers, all in marching position, ready to engage. Another room, featured the work of Martha Rosler. In ‘Bringing the War Home’, Rosler integrated the gruesome images of innocent Vietnamese into the House Beautiful photoshoot of the First Lady as she walked through her tranquil home, as a means of protest against the Vietnam War. One captivating video presented every cover of Time magazine in quick seccession, as a means of showcasing the popular images and media coverage that compose our collective memory,  and simplified conception of history. Another room showcased the remains (clothing, toys, shoes, table legs, etc…) of bombings throughout the West Bank in the same way the British Museum displays precious artifacts from ancient civillizations. These displays were thoughtful and powerful. However, the collective exhibition failed to achieve this response on a massive scale. The diverse historical and geographical origins of the artwork featured in the Istanbul Bienial made this a notable international art exhibition. Perhaps, simply the union of politically-minded art and artists in Istanbul is significant enough to deserve praise and international attention…

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