Istanbul’s Most Prestigious Cultural Event: Biennial

The Istanbul Biennial has been organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts every two years since 1987 and brings together artists and audiences from different cultures. Considered one of the most prestigious biennials in the world and comparable to those in Venice, São Paulo, and Sydney, the Istanbul Biennial enables dialogue between artists and audiences. The Biennial curator, selected by an international advisory board, invites a variety of artists and projects to the exhibition in accordance with that particular years theme.

1. Gifts from Biennial to Istanbul

After the 15th Istanbul Biennial, held in 2017, an art installation by world-renowned artist Ugo Rondinone, originally exhibited in Taksim Square at the 6th Biennial in 1999, was brought back to Istanbul and presented to the city as a gift by the Biennial Board. In this work, which was placed on the roof of the Mustafa Kemal Cultural Centre “Where Do We Go From Here?” is written in neon lights. The installation can be seen by drivers and passengers passing from the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge to the Asian continent.

This years’ Biennial includes a piece specially prepared by Monster Chetwynd for Istanbul and children. The work, edited by Chetwynd, is an outdoor installation called “Gorgon’s Playground.” The installation is placed in Maçka Art Park.

2. “The Seventh Continent”

The title of the 16th Istanbul Biennial, held between 14th September and 10th November 2019, is ”Seventh Continent”. The title is based on the idea, supported by many scientists, that the world in which we live is entering a new geological age called “Anthropocene”. The key feature of this new era is that the geological activity is carried out by man, not by nature. One of the most devastating consequences of this is the plastic island in the Pacific Ocean, formed of plastic discarded by mankind. This ecological event that the biennial focuses on determines the position of art, the world of thought, the world of science and the anthropologist, and forms a starting point for research.

3. Venues

The venues for the 16th Istanbul Biennial are as follows:

MSFAU Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture:

Meclis-i Mebusan Street No: 2 Tophane, Beyoğlu

Pera Museum:

Meşrutiyet Street No: 65 Tepebaşı, Beyoğlu

Anadolu Club (Yellow House):

Yirmiüç Nisan Street. No: 44 Büyükada

Hacopulo Mansion:

Çankaya St. No: 44 Büyükada

Mizzi Mansion:

Çankaya St. No: 31 Büyükada

Taş Mektep (Sophronius Palace):

Büyükada-nizam, Türkoğlu Sk. No:2, 34970 Adalar/İstanbul

İskele Meydanı:

In front of the IDO Dock, Büyükada

4. Visit Informations

Entry to the Biennial exhibitions is free.

Open from 10.00 to 18.00 every day except Mondays.

Pera Museum is open until 19.00 on weekdays and until 22.00 on Fridays. On Sundays, it opens at 12.00 and closes at 18.00.

5. Visitor Registration

To enter the exhibitions you must have a special QR code which can be obtained by completing a digital form before going to the venue, or from the entrance to one of the venues. You will then receive an email containing the QR code which will allow you acces to all venues.

6. Meeting Points

During the Biennial some restaurants and bookstores offer discounts. To benefit from these discounts you need only show biennial publications. In addition to many venues in Beyoğlu, you can also benefit from Biennial discounts at various venues in Şişli and Kadıköy. These places are called “meeting points”.

7. Guided Tours

You can also take a guided tour throughout the Biennial with a team led by instructor and museumologist Mine Küçük. The guide team consists of students of art history and visual arts, who have detailed knowledge about all the works. Tours, which take just under an hour, run every day except Monday and start at 11.00, 14.00 and 16.00. The tours on Büyükada are held on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 11.00 and 15.00. Click here to get detailed information and ticket prices. There is also a free guided tour for people with babies every Wednesday at 10.00am throughout the Biennial.

8. Film Programme

The Biennial is not just limited to the exhibition. During the Biennial period selected film screenings are free of charge at the Pera Museum Auditorium on certain Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The films are selected according to the theme of the Biennial and include long and short films. For detailed information about which films are on when see the Pera Museum website.

9. Public and Learning Programmes

Throughout the Biennial, chats and performances are held with instructive and informative themes appropriate to the title of the Biennial. Almost all of the activities are free of charge and detailed information is provided for each of them. As the title of this year’s Biennial is “Seventh Continent”, a programme of ecological interviews and performances will be available. Click here for details of the programme.

10. Parallel Events

Exhibitions and performances are organised in various Istanbul art galleries throughout the Biennial, where you can chat with artists. Click here for more information on this years’ Biennial parallel events.

11. For Children and Young People

Throughout the Biennial, various activities, interviews and workshops are organised for children and young people. All of these events are prepared within the framework of the Biennials’ theme. For the 16th Istanbul Biennial, participants are encouraged to ask questions and to discuss climate change, endangered species, energy resources and the global impact of humans on the ecosystem. They will also have the opportunity to create their own works of art.

12. Study and Research Programme

The programme, which has been created for young artists and researchers, consists of consultancy, workshops and seminars. It provides technical and intellectual support to participants from different disciplines while creating space for in-depth research and study in a critical atmosphere. The participants look at different fields of study and learn about basic methodologies.

13. Previous Biennials

The theme of the 15th Istanbul Biennial was ‘a good neighbour’. All the works in the Biennial encouraged visitors to think about what makes a good neighbour. Throughout the Biennial, we talked about a comprehensive “neighbourhood relationship” ranging from organs that are adjacent to each other in our bodies to things we are neighbouring in our lives.

In the 14th Istanbul Biennial the whole city was decorated with Salt Water – the title of the exhibition. The Biennial which was described as a theory on the forms of thought, was focused on living all emotions within art, and on the beauty of art spreading through various frequencies such as the changing waves of water.

The title of the 13th Istanbul Biennial was “Mother Am I Barbaric?” During the Biennial, contemporary forms of democracy were questioned, spatial-economic policies were discussed, and the place of art between civilization and barbarism was considered.

The main themes of almost all Biennials so far have been focused on the question of ones’ own existence. The Biennials encourage visitors to ask philosophical questions such as why we live and where we are in life.

Every two years, the Istanbul Biennial is a time of culture and art. If you missed this Biennial, we’ll be here again in two years time!

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Levent Ege Balci

Enjoying the city at its full. Traveling all around the world to find adventures. Keeps coming for more and more.
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