The 12th Istanbul Biennial will explore the relationship between art and politics, focusing on works that are both formally innovative and politically outspoken. The work of the Cuban-American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996) is a clear example of this kind of artistic practice, and a primary inspiration for the biennial. The title of the biennial, "Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011", deliberately references the way in which Gonzalez-Torres named most of his works: "Untitled" followed by a description in parentheses.
The 12th Istanbul Biennial will include five group shows and approximately 45 solo presentations. Each of the group shows will feature a large number of artists' works brought together under a particular theme. The theme titles - "Untitled" (Passport), "Untitled" (Ross), "Untitled" (Death by Gun),Untitled (Abstraction), and Untitled (History) - refer to works by Gonzalez-Torres. The group shows will have the character of intimate cabinet exhibitions, each occupying a distinct space, and together they will function as thematic anchors for the biennial as a whole. Around them will be the solo presentations. Each solo presentation will be linked to the subjects of the group shows but will push the themes decidedly further, exploring the broader issues the group exhibitions have introduced.
In response to those today who devalue the exhibition as the primary format of artistic and curatorial expression, favoring instead ancillary events and programming (especially in a biennial context), the organizers of the 12th Istanbul Biennial advocate for renewed attention to the importance of the exhibition itself. The biennial will be precisely installed in a single, carefully constructed space, privileging above all else the display and juxtaposition of the artworks. Special attention is being given to the exhibition’s architecture, designed by Ryue Nishizawa (Office Of Ryue Nishizawa, Tokyo), with graphic design developed in collaboration with Jon Sueda of Stripe, San Francisco.
Outside of the dates of the biennial, a range of events are planned to enhance its reach and scope. The first is a unique collaboration with the Istanbul Film Festival in April 2011. Untitled (Film) was a cinematic preview of Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011. It featured 10 films that relate aesthetically and politically to the subjects under examination in the biennial. It is inspired by a desire to widen the format of the biennial beyond its usual focus on the visual arts into a larger cultural manifestation that encompasses other artistic fields (specifically those represented by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts).
An ambitious education program will be realized over the course of the biennial, which will involve bringing a large number of the participating artists to Istanbul to conduct workshops, talks, and tutorials with young artists based in Turkey.
The publication program of the biennial encompasses three volumes: a book documenting the November 2010 conference Remembering Istanbul, which looked back at the history of the Istanbul Biennial; a short guide with full-color photographs and interviews with the artists; and a catalog that will feature six new essays on the topics of the exhibition as well as installation images of the biennial.