Despite unrest Contemporary Istanbul reports healthy sales.
Art Radar takes a look at the unusual circumstances surrounding this year’s art fair, including the storming of the fair by conservative militants on 3 November 2016, and rounds up the fair’s exhibitions and events that went on despite the growing political unrest in Turkey.
Contemporary Istanbul 11: the show must go on
2016 for Turkey has so far been a year marred by a summer of terrorism, a failed military coup, continued persecution of journalists, academics and artists, and a recent ban on the use of social media – all reflecting increasingly repressive crackdowns on freedom of speech. While the reason for the closure of Istanbul contemporary art museum SALT remains unclear (curator Vasif Kortun has insisted that it is due merely to technical issues), a number of Turkey’s arts and cultural projects including this year’s Çanakkale Biennial and Moving Image have been cancelled as a result of the political unrest. Among the institutions showing a brave face is Contemporary Istanbul, an art fair in its 11th edition in 2016.
Pelham Communications, the public relations company that represents Contemporary Istanbul, confirmed to Art Radar that the political unrest had already had a significant impact on the course of this year’s fair before the opening, stating:
CI had 102 exhibitors in 2015 and 70 in 2016. CI had expected a reduced number of exhibitors in 2016 since the beginning of the year in light of circumstances facing Turkey.
Talking about the international makeup of the participating galleries and artists, Head Coordinator of Contemporary Istanbul Marcus Graf also confirmed to Art Radar that
Out of the 30 galleries that did not participate this year, most were foreigners, but there were also some Turkish galleries did not join us this year. Some named the political or social difficulties in Turkey as reason, others had financial problems, and did not believe that the sale would be good enough. Also, some experts as well as foreign collectors feared to come to Turkey. Besides this, a great number of foreigners and local experts, gallery owners and artists came to CI 2016.
Healthy sales despite unrest
Tension continued to build across the course of the fair: in an early morning government raid on 4 November, 11 members of Turkey’s leftist, pro-Kurdish opposition party HDP were detained in their own homes, while Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp were blocked across the country. Despite this alarming crackdown on freedom of speech, Contemporary Istanbul continued as scheduled, with many local and international galleries reporting surprisingly healthy sales.
Speaking to Art Radar Contemporary Istanbul confirmed:
The 11th edition of Contemporary Istanbul (CI) ended on 6th November, having seen strong support from philanthropists, collectors and the public, strengthening the fair’s vision of solidarity at this time. Bringing together 70 galleries from 20 countries exhibiting over 1,500 artworks by 520 artists, the fair attracted a record number of 90,000 visitors with 62% of exhibited artworks sold.
The following works were sold at top prices:
- Jaume Plensa, White Forest (Lou), €280,000, Galerie Lelong, Paris
- Janis Kounellis, Untitled, €220,000, Galeri Artist, Istanbul
- Wolfgang Stiller, installation of a series of Matchstickman, €130,000, Galerie Mark Hachem, Paris/ Beirut
- Son Seock, 25-RHNO, €38,000, Galerie Mark Hachem, Paris/ Beirut
- Gülay Semercioğlu, A Sip of Water, USD 50,000 , Pi Artworks, Istanbul/ London
- Christiaan Lieverse, Labiatae, €38,000, Villa del Arte Galleries, Barcelona
- Niloufar Banisadr, Voiles aux vents, €25,000, Galerie 55 Bellechasse, Paris
As reported on Artnet News, Istanbul and London-based Pi Artworks sold a Gülay Semercioğlu wire painting for USD50,000 and four Kemal Seyhan works for between USD5,000 and USD20,000, as well as several other works for between USD2,000 and USD5,000.
Local galleries Zilberman and Art On, who have exhibited at the last 10 or 11 editions of the fair, reported sales of Turkish artists from around EUR2,000-30,000 and EUR20,000-35,000 respectively, while the Italian Liquid Art System similarly sold ten works (by European artists) for EUR9,000-EUR12,000. Among the most expensive works sold at the fair was a large Jaume Plensa sculpture entitled White Forest (Lou), which Paris’ Galerie Lelong sold for EUR280,000 within the first two hours of the fair.
Censorship, withdrawal and re-installation
On 3 November members of a conservative religious group Erbakan Foundation II angered by a sculpture depicting Abdulhamid II, the last Ottoman sultan, stormed the fair.
Exhibited at the booth of Chilean gallery Isabel Croxatto, I Can’t Reciprocate Your Feelings Osman III (2016), by Ali Elmaci, consists of a wooden sculpture of a woman with two heads, one of which holds a knife in her teeth. Standing on a table, the woman is dressed in a bikini and has an image of Abdulhamid II painted on her torso.
After the confrontation caused fairgoers to panic, the artist removed the sculpture from the booth to prevent the situation from escalating, saying in a statement:
I have followed the reaction towards my artwork exhibited as part of Contemporary Istanbul and have decided to withdraw it from the exhibit in order not to create further tension, which distracts us from the joy of life and wears out our society to a great extent, especially during the current situation our country is experiencing. I am truly thankful to Contemporary Istanbul and all of the people who continually and enthusiastically contribute to the art scene as well as my friends for their support.
Ali Güreli, Chairman of Contemporary Istanbul, later reinstalled the work and said in a statement that it would remain on view until the closing of the fair, stating:
As a patron of the arts I cannot underline enough how artistic expression must be supported, celebrated and encouraged. We have always been opposed to censorship and support the gallery in their selection as well as the artist, who has exhibited his work at Contemporary Istanbul in previous editions.
Special projects and artwork highlights
This year, the fair launched the Best Curated Booth Award, which was won by Istanbul-based gallery The Pill gallery, despite being only six months old. Their booth held a concrete floor installation from Deniz Gül, work by Ali Emir Tapan and an Eva Nielsen diptych. Berlin’s xavierlaboulbenne gallery showed Lions, Adrian Hermanides’s remarkable new assemblage of paving stones from Taksim square and steel scaffolding, along with a silver gelatin print from the same artist and a 1992 police poster from Elaine Sturtevant. These works seemed especially poignant in the context of the fair, whose glamour and glitz was pitted against the tension outside.
Talking to Art Radar about which special projects were particularly significant, Marcus Graf stated:
Besides the CI Dialogues, a three day long international panel with more than 50 speakers, and the start-up of CI-Design, a new initiative by Contemporary Istanbul for creating awareness of the importance of collectible design, the new venture “CI Collectors’ Stories” was the greatest new addition to the fair. It showed 120 artworks by 60 prominent Turkish collectors, and so reflected the state of collecting contemporary art in Turkey. It became a museum show on the fair ground, and was well received by collectors, artists and art lovers. During the fair, we always had a long queue before its entrance, which proved that there is a great interest in collecting contemporary art. The project can be understood as a “Who is Who” of collecting contemporary art in Turkey. At the same time, it understands itself as inspiration and motivation for younger collectors or people who are thinking about starting a collection. In the end, it shall help foreign galleries and collectors to understand what Turkish collectors are interested in.
Asked whether Contemporary Istanbul 11 was a success this year, Marcus Graf added:
We are going through a time of multiple crisis here in Turkey, as well as in the world. That is why I feared that the quantity and quality of the fair would be in danger. However, quite the opposite was the case. Although 30 galleries less participated, the quality of the fair did not decrease, as the leading galleries in Turkey and long-term gallery friends from abroad joined us and supported us. Also, a lot of foreigners, as well as the foreign press came to visit. In the end, the high number of visitors and the great interest in the CI Collectors’ Stories exceeded my expectation. As far as I can tell, sales were good as well. So, all in all, CI 2016 was successful, and continues the important work it started 11 years ago.
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