The surprise guest of the 14th Istanbul Biennial: Trotsky

The surprise guest of the 14th Istanbul Biennial: Trotsky

No doubt, one of the most interesting exhibitions at the 14th Istanbul Biennial organized by the Foundation for Istanbul Culture and Arts (İKSV) sponsored by Koç Holding is the house of Leon Trotsky, who lived on Büyükada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara Sea, in 1929. 

I spent a major part of my childhood summer months on Büyükada but I never knew where this house was. 

The İKSV, with the sponsorship of Koç Holding, has chosen “Saltwater” as this biennial’s theme, which is quite suitable for a unique city divided by the sea.  

The head of the executive committee of Koç Holding, Mustafa Koç, said the holding’s sponsorship has been extended for 10 more years, until 2026. This coincides with the 100th anniversary of Koç Holding. 

What it means is that Koç Holding is sponsoring the biennial, İKSV General Manager Görgün Tasner explained. 

“With Koç’s sponsorship, people had the opportunity for free admission to the exhibitions. The number of visitors of the biennial was 50,000 in 2007; now it has reached 350,000. We expect 500,000 people this year. Some 5,000 of them are foreigners including gallery owners, international art fair managers, curators, artists and journalists,” he said.

The Istanbul Biennial has become the third most important biennial after Venice and Sao Paulo. 

Free admission and interested foreigners are important in our country, where the state allocates a very small budget to arts and culture.

The 2015 budget of the Tourism and Culture Ministry is only 2.3 billion Turkish Liras. Consequently, would the Istanbul Biennial have come to this stage in Turkey without the material and moral support of the private sector? 

Let’s go back to the surprise guest of the 14th Istanbul Biennial, the important figure of the 1917 Soviet revolution, Trotsky, who lived on Büyükada before he went to Mexico. 

The person who mentioned to biennial curator Carolyn Christov Bakargiev about the house on Büyükada was Nobel laureate writer Orhan Pamuk.

According to stories, the house was built by an Anatolian Greek master in the 1850s and sold to Anatolian Greek families. Trotsky settled in the house in March 1929 when he went into exile. He left the house for some time due to a fire, before coming back in 1931 to stay until 1933. Only the walls of the mansion are erect today. 

On the sea side of the mansion, there are giant animal sculptures by Argentinian artist Adrian Villar Rojas. Art critics consider Villar Rojas’ work at Trotsky’s house as the most ambitious work of the biennial. 

This exhibition actually sheds light on the rich, colorful history and cultural past of Istanbul we tend to forget. 

One of the greatest buildings which will host the biennial in Büyükada is the towered Mizzi Kiosk, which was built by Italian architect Raimondo d’Aranco at the beginning of the 20th century. 

It is narrated that Dr. Lewis Mizzi, a famous lawyer and publisher of the Levant Herald daily, was interested in astronomy and asked for the Italian architect to add an observatory tower to the kiosk. 

Let me get back to Trotsky again. His residence in Mexico City was declared a historical monument in 1982 and turned into a museum complex in 1990. The site is one of the city’s most visited touristic spots now. 

His residence in Büyükada is now for sale.