What Not to Miss at Contemporary Istanbul 2015
This edition achieves a perfect balance between global and local art.
Today, the 10th edition of the fair Contemporary Istanbul (CI) opens its doors to the public, gathering 102 galleries from 24 countries, and welcoming 23 new entries.
CI is the older of the two fairs that now take place in the stunning city. Since Art International entered the picture in September 2013, the two fairs have been enmeshed in a tug of war over the top position in the Turkish art market.
“It’s so typical in Turkey to have this ‘dog eat dog’ mindset,” Serif Kaynar, who sits on the board of CI, told artnet News, referring to the two competing contemporary art fairs, scheduled, moreover, in close proximity to each other. “I have always championed the idea of having just one fair and uniting resources. But, having said that, I think that CI has a massive advantage over Art International: its strong network of returning galleries and collectors, forged over a period of 10 years,” he added.
The remits of the two fairs, however, are significantly different. Art International wants to position itself as a major event in the region on the increasingly globalized—some would even say homogenized—international calendar. Its recent third edition, for example, coincided with the opening of the 14th Istanbul Biennial, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, and featured international blue-chip dealers like Victoria Miro Gallery and Pearl Lam Galleries, as well as young, more experimental galleries like Tenderpixel and Waterside Contemporary, both from London.
CI, meanwhile, inhabits a true “glocal” position: fostering relations with international galleries (64 out of the total 102, in this edition) and collectors via a strong VIP scheme and curated programs, while truly championing the local scene and its national talents. As the fair’s founder and chairman Ali Güreli aptly put it during the press presentation—not glossing over the complicated geopolitical situation that the country is going through—“CI recognizes the value of embracing the productive chaos of this region.”
This year, the fair recruited the services of Marc-Olivier Wahler, former director of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris and of the Swiss Institute in New York, as artistic advisor, which resulted in the inclusion of a number of renowned international galleries participating in the fair for first time, such as Berlin’s König Galerie.
“Marc-Olivier invited us, so we came to see what the fair was like,” gallery director Gregor Hose told artnet News during the preview evening. König Galerie’s booth certainly was one of the highlights of the fair, with a sleek group presentation of works by gallery artists that included two ink-on-paper drawings and a small bronze sculpture by current art fair darling Camille Henrot (with prices ranging from €20,000 to €40,000), as well as works by Alicja Kwade, Annette Kelm, Jorinde Voigt, Henning Bohl, Tatiana Trouvé, Michael Sailstorfer, and a sexy mirrored sculpture by Jeppe Hein, which, with a price range between €80,000-100,000, was the most expensive item at the booth.
Nearby, the booth of Galerie Bernard Ceysson, also a first timer, delivered a fascinating presentation of recent works by two artists from the Supports/Surfaces movement, which began in the south of France around the 1960s. Exploring the material aspects of painting—simultaneously celebrating and challenging the medium—the works of Claude Viallat and Noël Dolla (among other group peers) have been referred to as the French response to Italian Arte Povera or American (post)minimalism. But, in truth, the radical deconstructions of these artists, of whom Bernard Ceysson showcased a superb selection (with prices ranging from €6,500 to €35,000), sometimes recall more strongly the work of their “arch-rivals” BMPT, the coeval French movement led by Daniel Buren (alongside Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier, and Niele Toroni), which sought the “death of painting.”
Meanwhile, many local galleries had focused their presentations on Turkish artists. Pg Art Gallery for example, offered a booth full of national artists (or artists of Turkish origins) including Kemal Tufan, Jak Baruh, Kerem Ozan Bayraktar, Elsa Ers, Günnur Özsoy, and Devran Mursaloglu. Over at Marlborough Gallery, a balanced nod to the Turkish scene had been achieved by staging a two-person booth of works by Spanish artist Juan Genovés and Turkish art star Ahmet Güneştekin, whose wall sculpture Istabul’la Yüzlesme (2015) was much instagrammed during the preview evening. “We love doing this fair,” Marcia Gail Levine, the gallery’s special projects director, told artnet News. “There are many great, serious collectors in Turkey, and they are loyal to this fair,” she explained.
A great discovery came courtesy of Istanbul’s Galeri Zilberman which, among other works by international and local artists, presented a fantastic series of four images (€10,000 each) by Sükran Moral, entitled Married with Three (1994). In it, the artist, one of Turkey’s most respected (and controversial) performance artists, responds to the thorny issue of marriages of convenience by “marrying” three grooms instead of just one.
Also from Istanbul, Galerist convinced with a strong presentation combining local and international artists, including Jake and Dinos Chapman‘s debut at the fair and the young London-based painter Daniel Crews-Chubb, who presented two fantastic works on paper. One of the best pieces at the fair, for my money, was also found at Galerist: a superb drawing and collage work by Turkish conceptual legend Seza Paker, whose concerns with the taxonomies of everyday experiences reminded me of the obsessiveness in the works of Hanne Darboven, only here, Darboven’s compulsiveness has been replaced by a restrained nuance and a beautiful interplay of materials.
Galerist’s booth oozed chutzpah and its keen international outlook was most probably spearheaded by creative director Nick Hackworth, who joined the gallery six months ago, swapping London for Istanbul after his gallery Paradise Row closed its doors in the summer of 2014.
Attesting to the diversity of galleries, artworks, and artists gathered under the roof of CI at Istanbul’s Convention and Exhibition Center, Barcelona’s Joan Gaspar has brought a selection of etchings and lithographs by Spanish modern masters Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Eduardo Chillida, with prices ranging from €4,000 to €13,000. “We participated in Art International in September, and we liked the city’s art scene so much we decided to come back,” gallery co-director Nuria Ridameya told artnet News. Their booth was heaving with people from the get-go, both Gaspar and Ridameya busy attending collectors and journalists, proving that there can be more than just contemporary art to a “contemporary art” fair.
On my way out towards the warm Istanbul night, a set of four exquisite small works by Etel Adnan caught my eye. Part of the fantastic presentation of Paris’s Galerie Lelong—which also included works by Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, and Rebecca Horn among a few others—the beguiling watercolors and oil on canvas works by the Lebanese-American poet and artist made for a perfect ending to an evening of surprises and discoveries.
With its balanced mixture of the discoveries (both in terms of galleries and artists) and the cozily familiar for the Western fair-goer, the presentations at CI confirmed Istanbul’s crucial position as the meeting point between Eastern and Western artistic sensibilities and markets, as well as politics. Sales appeared to be happening at a brisk pace last night, the fair’s aisles heaving with enthusiastic collectors. But whether the geopolitical tensions brewing both domestically and on Turkey’s vast southern border with Syria will impact the country’s ambitious and burgeoning art market still remains to be seen.
Contemporary Istanbul takes place from November 12-15, 2015.
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