Contemporary Istanbul 2015 draws crowds with ‘glocal’ programme – round-up

The 10th edition of Contemporary Istanbul scores points with bold and unique positioning.

Surpassing expectations, Contemporary Istanbul 2015 closes with outstanding attendance and sales.

Jake & Dinos Chapman, 'Little Miss McMuffet Sat On Her McTuffet', 2015, resin, metal, wood, enamel, oil paint, 25 x 29 x 22 cm. Image courtesy GALLERIST and Contemporary Istanbul 2015.

Jake & Dinos Chapman, ‘Little Miss McMuffet Sat On Her McTuffet’, 2015, resin, metal, wood, enamel, oil paint, 25 x 29 x 22 cm. Image courtesy GALLERIST and Contemporary Istanbul 2015.

Record attendance figures

For its landmark 10th anniversary, Contemporary Istanbul brought together 102 leading and emerging galleries from 24 countries to present more than 700 artworks. The fair wrapped up on 15 November 2015 reporting attendance of more than 86,000 visitors from around the world – up from 74,000 in 2014, “when it was the fifth most visited fair in the world”.

According to BlouinArtinfo, Contemporary Istanbul has always been one of the biggest art fairs worldwide in terms of visitor numbersArtsy reports that “crowds packed the fair’s 102 gallery booths like sardines during the vernissage”, with attendance remaining high on subsequent days.

Ghassem Hajizadeh, 'Untitled', 1974, oil on canvas, 135 x 135 cm. Image courtesy The Mobarqa Collection and Contemporary Istanbul 2015.

Ghassem Hajizadeh, ‘Untitled’, 1974, oil on canvas, 135 x 135 cm. Image courtesy The Mobarqa Collection and Contemporary Istanbul 2015.

While BlouinArtinfo reports that the fair “lack[ed] some of the big international collectors”, the extraordinary enthusiasm of local art lovers, academics and museum groups proves its success in targeting a different type of audience. Comparing Contemporary Istanbul to the smaller but more elitist Art International held in September this year, BlouinArtinfo cites gallerist Johann König’s views:

Johann König says that he decided to take part in [Contemporary Istanbul] instead of rival Art International […] because he wanted to connect to the local community instead of catering to the few international collectors who visit the city.

Ihsan Oturmak, 'Untitled', 2013, mixed media on wood, 80 x 60 cm. Image courtesy Karavil Contemporary and Contemporary Istanbul 2015.

Ihsan Oturmak, ‘Untitled’, 2013, mixed media on wood, 80 x 60 cm. Image courtesy Karavil Contemporary and Contemporary Istanbul 2015.

Unique ‘glocal’ position

Artnet News writes that Contemporary Istanbul “inhabits a true ‘glocal’ position: fostering relations with international galleries […] and collectors […] while truly championing the local scene and its national talents”. Turkish artists shone in the fair; emerging and established talent highlighted by Artsy include İhsan Oturmak, presented by young gallery Karavil Contemporary, as well as Yaşam Şaşmazer, Eda Soylu and Bahadır Baruter. Speaking to Artsy, gallerist Giulia Campaner of six-month-old London space Karavil Contemporary said:

I think this year, buyers were more receptive to emerging artists rather than established ones.

For established artists, the two headlining works sold include Tony Cragg’s Mixed Feelings, worth EUR130,000, and Greek artist Jannis Kounellis’ Untitled, worth EUR110,000. The fair’s balanced mix between emerging local art and blue-chip Western pieces boded well for sales, with an encouraging 64 percent of artworks sold (PDF download), according to the press release. In an interview conducted prior to the fair, Marcus Graf, Director of Programs for Contemporary Istanbul, said:

Contemporary Istanbul is an international art fair that is deeply rooted in its local scene without neglecting the regional as well as global. […] This is a special characteristic detail of the fair. It is a powerful platform for the presentation, communication and sale of contemporary Turkish and international art.

Ali Akbar Sadeghi, 'Animal Hunt from the Unwritten Series', 2010, ink, acrylic, gold & silver leaf on canvas, 126 x 237 cm. Image courtesy Shirin Gallery and Contemporary Istanbul 2015.

Ali Akbar Sadeghi, ‘Animal Hunt from the Unwritten Series’, 2010, ink, acrylic, gold & silver leaf on canvas, 126 x 237 cm. Image courtesy Shirin Gallery and Contemporary Istanbul 2015.

Spotlight on Tehran

This year’s Focus section spotlighted Tehran, presenting a varied selection of exceptional Iranian art. Artists include Ali Akbar Sadeghi from Shirin Gallery, Morehshin Allahyari from Lajevardi Foundation, Nasser Bakhshi from Aaran Art Gallery, Houman Mortazavi from Dastan’s Basement, and Babak Roshaninejad from Assar Art Gallery.

For many galleries, the dedicated spotlight on emerging artists is a bold and long-term strategic decision, rather than a short-term financial one. Speaking to Artsy, Shirin Gallery’s Hormoz Hemetian commented:

We’re not going to break even, even if we sell everything. […] Our artists deserve the exposure.

Nasser Bakhshi, 'Devoid of All Desires', 2015, drawings and paintings in a found suitcase and objects, 87 x 47 x 24 cm. Image courtesy Aaran Gallery and Contemporary Istanbul 2015.

Nasser Bakhshi, ‘Devoid of All Desires’, 2015, drawings and paintings in a found suitcase and objects, 87 x 47 x 24 cm. Image courtesy Aaran Gallery and Contemporary Istanbul 2015.

The Focus section also showcased 12 works from the distinguished Mobarqa Collection owned by Nadeer Mobarqa and his wife. The Iranian modern and contemporary art on display included drawings, installations, paintings, photographs, prints, sculpture and video art. Founder and Chairman of Contemporary Istanbul Ali Güreli told Artnet in September:

We are thrilled to have Tehran as this year’s focus for Contemporary Istanbul […] This city has an incredible history and a strong emerging contemporary art scene which we want to present to the world. It has always been the interest of CI and its collectors to discover new artists and promote exciting art scenes from around the world.

Putting Istanbul on the map

Over in the Plugin New Media section, cutting-edge sound and light installations, interactive and generative art projects, indoor mapping and holographic art works attracted a lot of interest. Highlights included Nihat Karataşlı’s Mneumonic, Casey Reas’ Todays Ideology and Mo H Zareei’s mechatronic sound sculpture series.

While BlouinArtinfo observes that the fair can still go some way to increase its profile by including more big-name galleries, Graf reaffirms Contemporary Istanbul’s intentional unique positioning:

The multilayered syntax of the fair, which gives it a festival-like character, differentiates it from other art fairs that mainly focus on the sale of art and the happiness of an exclusive and elitist group of collectors.

And Artnet News concludes:

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 [Contemporary Istanbul] confirmed Istanbul’s crucial position as the meeting point between Eastern and Western artistic sensibilities and markets, as well as politics.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Turkish artists, Iranian artists, fairs, market watch, galleries, new media, art and globalisation, connecting Asia to itselfevents in Istanbul

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