Protocinema Founder Mari Spirito on the Manifold Challenges Facing Istanbul’s Art Scene

Conceived as an artistic wormhole connecting New York and Istanbul,Protocinema is the highly unconventional brainchild of the equally unconventional curator Mari Spirito, a former 303 Gallery dealer who in 2011 decided to parlay her voluminous Rolodex of art connections into the kind of free-floating, no-holds-barred platform that artists dream of. Now nearing its fifth anniversary, the nonprofit has staged politically piquant, opinion-changing shows by Western artists such as Trevor Paglen, Dan Graham, Jacob Kassay, and Thief in Istanbul, and by Turkish artists including Ahmet Ögüt, Can Altay, and Köken Ergun in Manhattan. With each iteration a connection is forged, importing internationalist art tactics into Turkey and broadcasting that country’s artistic avant-garde into the West.

Now, with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s Istanbul Biennial once again turning Turkey into a cynosure of the global art elite’s attention, Artspace editor-in-chief Andrew M. Goldstein spoke to Spirito about the ideas behind Protocinema, the perilous politics (and plentiful other dilemmas) of the Istanbul art scene, and what that confusingly titled biennial is all about, anyway.


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