Chairman of Sydney Biennale steps down to remove ‘dark cloud’ threatening event

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Artist-led boycott due to controversial sponsor ends

By Pac Pobric. Web only
Published online: 07 March 2014

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis says he hopes his resignation will allow “some blue sky” to open over the Biennale of Sydney

The threatened artists’ boycott of the Biennale of Sydney has been called off after the chairman of the exhibition’s board, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, stepped down today. He left as more artists said they would pull out of the event in protest over its main sponsor, his family’s construction company Transfield Holdings. The firm provides services for the Australian government’s controversial immigration detention centres. Belgiorno-Nettis’s resignation severs all ties between Transfield and the biennial, which his father helped found in 1973.

The board released a statement saying they “reluctantly accepted” Belgiorno-Nettis’s decision but that they “listened to the artists who are the heart of the Biennale” in ending their relationship with Transfield.

In a separate statement, Belgiorno-Nettis, who served on the board for 14 years, said that with ten out of 92 artists withdrawing, “there would appear to be little room for sensible dialogue, let alone deliberation”. He added that, “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.” He hopes, however, that his resignation would remove the “dark cloud” that has shadowed the event in recent weeks and “that some blue sky may open up over this 19th Biennale of Sydney”.

A few of the artists that had already withdrawn from the exhibition voiced their surprise at Belgiorno-Nettis’s resignation but said it made them reconsider their decision. “This changes everything,” the artist Nathan Gray told the local radio station, ABC, but added that he wants to make sure the biennial has really ended its association with Transfield. “It’s pretty overwhelming news,” Gabrielle de Vietri told Australia’s Daily Telegraph. “It has shown that the public outcry has registered and been listened to.”

The biennial’s board is due to appoint a new chair after the close of this edition. Deputy chair Andrew Cameron will fill the post until then.

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