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São Paulo Biennial Curators Join Artists in Repudiating Israeli Sponsorship

by Mostafa Heddaya on August 29, 2014

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31st São Paulo Biennial sponsor board on the ground floor of the main exhibition hall, Tuesday August 19 (photo by Willis Besara)

The curators of the 31st São Paulo Biennial have supported the artists’ call on the organization to return Israeli sponsorship funds, a demand they believe “should also be a trigger to think about the funding sources of major cultural events.” Their stance, articulated in a three-paragraph statement sent to Hyperallergic earlier this evening (and reproduced below), endorses the broader strategy undertaken by the open letter the objecting artists released yesterday. That letter featured 55 signatories; the Biennial lists 68 participating artists and collectives.

In their statement, Biennial curators Charles Esche, Galit Eilat, Nuria Enguita Mayo, Pablo Lafuente, and Oren Sagiv write, in part: “[S]ources of cultural funding have an increasingly dramatic impact on the supposedly ‘independent’ curatorial and artistic narrative of an event. The funding, whether state, corporate or private, fundamentally shapes the way the public receives the work of artists and curators.”

The title of this year’s São Paulo Biennial is  “How to (…) things that don’t exist,” which according to a news release “is a poetic invocation of art’s capacities and its ability to reflect and act upon life, power and belief.”

The Biennial is set to open to the public on September 6 after a preview period beginning September 1. The Biennial’s administration has not responded to a request for comment sent yesterday.

Update, 9:45pm ET: An early draft of the statement was sent in error and has subsequently been corrected by the authors. The quotation appearing above has been revised to reflect the change and the text below updated with the statement as signed by all five curators.

Here’s the full text of the statement from curators Charles Esche, Galit Eilat, Nuria Enguita Mayo, Pablo Lafuente, and Oren Sagiv:

We, the curators of the 31st Bienal de São Paulo, support the artists and understand their position.

We believe that the statement and demand by the artists should also be a trigger to think about the funding sources of major cultural events. In the 31st Bienal, much of the work seeks to show that struggles for justice in Brazil, Latin America and elsewhere in the world are connected. The idea of living in transformational times is fundamental to this Bienal, times when old patterns of behaviour are exhausted and long-held beliefs are questioned. This transformation also affects the relationship between curators and organisers of major cultural events such as this Bienal. At the outset, we accepted the traditional agreement in which curators have artistic freedom and the Foundation has responsibility for the financial and administrative affairs. The Bienal de São Paulo Foundation has very correctly kept to this agreement throughout. In our turn, we assisted in international fundraising.

However, as a consequence of this situation, alongside other incidents at similar events worldwide, it is clear that the sources of cultural funding have an increasingly dramatic impact on the supposedly ‘independent’ curatorial and artistic narrative of an event. The funding, whether state, corporate or private, fundamentally shapes the way the public receives the work of artists and curators.

While this is a wider issue than the 31st Bienal de São Paulo, we ask that the Foundation revise their current rules of sponsorship and ensure that artists and curators agree to any support that is forthcoming for their work and that may have an impact on its content and reception.

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