Sydney Biennale 2014 cuts ties with controversial sponsor, chairman resigns

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, CEO of Transfield, leaves biennale board

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, the chairman of the Sydney Biennale, who is also the CEO of what was the event's controversial major sponsor Transfield Holdings, has resigned his position with the festival, the Guardian reports. The festival now say they have, reluctantly, cut all ties with Transfield.

Transfield Holdings is a private company owned by the Belgiorno-Nettis family, who are the founders of Transfield Services, a publicly-listed logistics company which manages offshore mandatory detention centres for those seeking to migrate or asylum in Australia under contract to the Australian government. (Transfield Holdings is also a shareholder in Transfield Services).

Last week artists Agnieszka Polska, Sara van der Heide, Nicoline van Harskamp, Nathan Gray, Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Charlie Sofo, Gabrielle de Vietri and Ahmet Öğüt pulled out of the event in protest to the link. In a statement the biennale said 'We have listened to the artists who are the heart of the Biennale and have decided to end our partnership with Transfield effective immediately. With deep regret, the board reluctantly accepted the decision of the chair to resign. We gratefully acknowledge the personal contribution of Luca as chair over the past 14 years. We also acknowledge the enormous contribution of the Belgiorno-Nettis family over 41 years.'

In a statement, Belgiorno-Nettis added, '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.'

On 21 February the biennale were standing by Transfield and stated 'The Biennale's ability to effectively contribute to the cessation of bipartisan government policy is far from black and white. The only certainty is that without our founding partner, the Biennale will no longer exist'.

Read ArtReview's interview with the biennale's curator Juliana Engberg here

7 March 2014