I never think of art in the way everyone else thinks of art,” says Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the curator of this year’s Istanbul Biennial. The veteran Italian American experimenter, who organized a widely praised Documenta in 2012 and who will soon direct Turin’s Galleria d’Arte Moderna and the Castello di Rivoli, has brought to Turkey not only contemporary artists like Pierre Huyghe and William Kentridge but also projects by oceanographers, physicists, and other natural scientists—to explore, in her words, “the complicated ways in which different areas of knowledge can be equated.” It’s an unconventional show, spanning more than 30 venues on both the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus.
The Istanbul Biennial has become one of the most important exhibitions on the international art calendar, paralleling the rise of Turkey as a major geopolitical power. This June’s historic Turkish election, which saw voters rebuke President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and endorse secular and pro-Kurdish parties, guarantees that this year’s biennial will be even more important than past iterations for both the local art world and Istanbul itself. Instead of resorting to East-meets-West clichés, Christov-Bakargiev wants to frame Istanbul as a place of action, transformation, joy. “It expresses vitality. It’s a metaphor, but also a reality, of a continuous state of change.” From September 5 to November 1; bienal.iksv.org.