Sydney Biennial Chairman Steps Down, Transfield Ousted as Sponsor

One of the works planned for the 19th Sydney Biennale, now engulfed in controversy: Eglé Budvytytė, Choreography for the Running Male, 2012, performance, 30 mins. Courtesy the artist. Photograph: Ieva Budzeikaite. Commissioned by Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius
One of the works planned for the 19th Sydney Biennale, now engulfed in controversy: Eglé Budvytytė, Choreography for the Running Male (2012). Courtesy the artist. Photograph: Ieva Budzeikaite. Commissioned by Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius.

Just two weeks ahead of the Sydney Biennial’s opening on March 21st, its chairman Luca Belgiorno-Nettis has resigned. According to a report in the Guardian on Friday, biennial organizers have cut ties with their controversial major partner, Transfield Holdings. Belgiorno-Nettis also serves as Chairman of Transfield Holdings and its subsidiary Transfield Services. The latter came under the gun in recent weeks for its role as a contractor for immigration detention centers run by the Australian government. A group of artists participating in this year’s biennial had previously signed a petition threatening to boycott the festival. Last Wednesday five artists—Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Charlie Sofo, Gabrielle de Vietri and Ahmet Öğüt—followed through, withdrawing their work from the exhibition. Four more—Agnieszka Polska, Sara van der Heide, Nicoline van Harskamp and Nathan Gray—followed suit this Wednesday. Belgiorno-Nettis, whose father founded the Sydney Biennial in 1973, said in a statement published in the Guardian:

“With many of the participating artists now torn between loyalty to our creative director and wanting to make a stand against this government policy, the core spirit of the festival is under a dark cloud[…]There would appear to be little room for sensible dialogue, let alone deliberation. Yesterday I learnt that some international government agencies are beginning to question the decision of the Biennale’s board to stand by Transfield. Biennale staff have been verbally abused with taunts of ‘blood on your hands’. I have been personally vilified with insults, which I regard as naïve and offensive. This situation is entirely unfair – especially when directed towards our dedicated Biennale team who give so much of themselves.”

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