The moment that a biennial’s artist list is released these days, the press begins to go over it with a fine-toothed comb: How does the size compare to past editions? What is the gender breakdown? The geographical demographics? The emerging versus the established? Judgments are made. This magazine has engaged in that process a fair amount. But the organizer of this year’s Istanbul Biennial, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, is not having it. She recently told Inferno magazine, “Avec moi il n’y a pas de liste d’artistes, il n’y aura jamais de liste d’artistes.” In English, “With me there is no list of artists, there will never be a list of artists.”
And so the press has only been able to guess at who will be included in the show, going off of hints and rumors. Christov-Bakargiev, for her part, has thickened the plot by having the biennial release a statement that says (with italics in the original) that it:
will be drafted by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev with a number of alliances. She will seek the artistic advice of Cevdet Erek, the intellectual rigor of Griselda Pollock, the sensitivity of Pierre Huyghe, the curatorial imagination of Chus Martinez, the mindfulness of Marcos Lutyens, the acute gaze of Füsun Onur, the political philosophies of Anna Boghiguian, the youthful enthusiasm of Arlette Quynh-Anh Tran, the wise uncertainties of William Kentridge and manifold qualities and agencies to come as the process develops.
Will Kentridge contribute actual artworks along with his “wise uncertainties?” It remains to be seen, but the word on the street is that Huyghe, at least, will definitely have work on view in the show.
The accompanying graphic takes a look at the recent history of the exhibition, which began in 1987. (There was a three-year gap between both the second and third and the third and fourth editions, which explains why it’s only now on number 14.)
It’s perhaps worth noting that Christov-Bakargiev’s obfuscation is not a new strategy. A number of major international shows (including Christov-Bakargiev’s own Documenta 13—or dOCUMENTA (13), as she styled it—in 2012) did not provide a list of artists until the show opened. And in 2011, the curators of the 12 Istanbul Biennial, Jens Hoffmann and Adriano Pedrosa, also declined to offer an artist roster.
“We are avoiding the traditional marketing strategies of biennials, with their obsession with numbers and the use of names as brands,” Pedrosa told The New York Times just before the show’s opening. “Thus we decided not to compile nor to release a list the artists in the exhibition…We honestly don’t know how many artists we have.”
Eventually, though, a book was published with a complete list of artists.