Contemporary Istanbul 2014 successfully contributes to Istanbul’s status of “art capital of the future”.

The 9-year-old art fair in Turkey’s art hub closed on Sunday, 16 November 2014, once again bringing art from around the globe with inspiring, innovative and experimental sectors that set it apart. Art Radar rounds up the key points of its success this year.

View of Rampa Istanbul's booth at Contemporary Istanbul 2014. Image courtesy Rampa Istanbul.

View of Rampa Istanbul’s booth at Contemporary Istanbul 2014. Image courtesy Rampa Istanbul.

The ninth edition of Contemporary Istanbul (CI) was launched on 12 November 2014 with 108 galleries and 520 artists from 23 different countries. The fair took place during one of the most important contemporary art events of the year, the week-long Art Istanbul. This year’s fair drew an average of 75,000 visitors over the weekend, with sales at around 70 percent and received positive feedback from participants, collectors and the media alike.

Participating galleries from home this year were evenly matched in number with those from abroad, and included names like Galerie Lelong (Paris), Kashya Hildebrand and Marlborough Gallery (London), Opera Gallery (Dubai), Rampa Istanbul, C24 Gallery (New York), Galleria Russo (Rome), Mark Hachem Gallery (Beirut/Paris), Schultz Berlin and Yavuz Gallery (Singapore), among others. The fair also featured an emerging galleries section with 12 exhibiting art spaces, of which eleven were from Turkey.

Hale Tenger, 'Mirror Mirror on the Wall / Tell Me Who is Fairest of Them All', 1992, chromed copper, gear-shift, each 40 x 23 x 50 cm. Image courtesy Galeri Nev Istanbul.

Hale Tenger, ‘Mirror Mirror on the Wall / Tell Me Who is Fairest of Them All’, 1992, chromed copper, gear-shift, each 40 x 23 x 50 cm. Image courtesy Galeri Nev Istanbul.

In a press release preceding the fair, CI Director Ali Güreli was quoted as saying:

CI stands truly behind the new and contemporary Turkish Art: We are not for yesterday, not even for today – but for tomorrow. That is also why we have opened the door for the other countries of the region – and when I say region, I mean a very large one: the Middle East, the Balkans, Caucasus and East Mediterranean as well as Europe.

Jesse Fleming, 'Apart / Together', 2009, single channel video, 5 min. 12 sec., colour, sound, edition of 5 + 2 AP. Image courtesy Art ON Istanbul.

Jesse Fleming, ‘Apart / Together’, 2009, single channel video, 05m:12s, colour, sound, edition of 5 + 2 AP. Image courtesy Art ON Istanbul.

Showing the way for experimental and new media

CI 2014 had plenty of innovative ideas and included experimental print and new media sections, such as:

  • the newly launched CI Editions – a platform for the production, mediation and sale of art editions
  • Plugin, this year in its second iteration, showcasing new media art and sound and light design
  • CI’s latest curated exhibition project – CI 90 Minute Shows – curated by Dr Marcus Graf, the project featured ninety-minute site-specific solo exhibitions, back to back, and provided an experimental platform for alternative artistic and curatorial practices.
Ozan Turkkan, Curving time', 2012, interactive digital installation at CI Plugin 2013. Image courtesy Contemporary Istanbul.

Ozan Turkkan, ‘Curving time’, 2012, interactive digital installation at CI Plugin 2013. Image courtesy Contemporary Istanbul.

A local affair

CI has been the subject of comparison and discussion about its place in the Istanbul art world and the global stage in relation to ArtInternational, its foreign-run competitor that closed its second edition on 28 September 2014. CI successfully sued ArtInternational in 2013 for breach of copyright, forcing the fair to change its original name, Art International Istanbul, to its present one.

Co-founded by Sandy Angus, who is also co-founder of ART HK (now Art Basel Hong Kong) and Director of India Art Fair, Art International seems to have stolen much of the limelight from CI by attracting blue-chip Western galleries such as Pace, Leila Heller, Lehmann Maupin and Paul Kasmin from New York, Vienna’s Galerie Krinzinger, London’s Lisson Gallery and China’s Pearl Lam Galleries.

Yet, as Artnet News points out, neither CI nor Art Istanbul have so far attracted some of the most influential names in the art market, such as Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth, David Zwirner or White Cube.

Dilek Öztürk, 'Monumental', 2014, C-print, 66 x 100 cm. Image courtesy MIXER.

Dilek Öztürk, ‘Monumental’, 2014, C-print, 66 x 100 cm. Image courtesy MIXER.

Even though commentators such as Nafas claimed that, because of the calibre of its participants, Art International had “unmistakably established itself as the more substantive of the city’s two art fairs,” others have come into CI’s defence. Quoted by Artnet News, Co-founder of the Moving Museum Aya Mousawi pointed out:

Contemporary Istanbul is difficult to judge by Western standards, but it caters to a local audience.

Feza Velicangil, Director of the young Istanbul gallery Sanatorium, also told Artnet News:

You have to do it if you want to be a contemporary art gallery here.

Seyit Mehmet Buçukoğlu, 'Undermine The History', 2013, installation, wooden suitcase, axe, 47 x 60 x 43 cm. Image courtesy Cep Gallery.

Seyit Mehmet Buçukoğlu, ‘Undermine The History’, 2013, installation, wooden suitcase, axe, 47 x 60 x 43 cm. Image courtesy Cep Gallery.

On the opening night, the fair welcomed 13,000 visitors. One of the VIP guests, Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism Ömer Çelik, was quoted by Today’s Zaman as commenting:

Thanks to this fair, Istanbul is becoming increasingly shaped by contemporary art. This is operating at a global standard.

Artnet News states:

Now in its ninth year, Contemporary Istanbul remains the contemporary art market highlight of the year in Turkey.

While the Daily Sabah wrote:

With jaw-dropping new editions such as Plugin, 90 Minute Show and CI Editions, the fair was a magnificent event.

Sibel Diker, 'Tower of Babel Or A Lost Case', 2009, sugar, neon, plexiglass, 60 x 60 x 60 cm. Image courtesy artnivo.com.

Sibel Diker, ‘Tower of Babel Or A Lost Case’, 2009, sugar, neon, plexiglass, 60 x 60 x 60 cm. Image courtesy artnivo.com.

Established and emerging collectors

The Turkish art scene is run, fuelled and supported by Istanbul’s elite: wealthy families of collectors who, in the absence of public funding for contemporary art, have dedicated their efforts to the development of both the market and the institutional art scene, and have been collecting contemporary art for decades. CI’s vernissage night saw the attendance of all these powerful families, making it an opening that, although dominated by Turkish VIPs and lacking in international collectors, was nonetheless a success.

Long-time collector Sevda Elgiz, who with her husband founded the Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art,  the first private museum in Istanbul in 2001 (PDF download), was among the VIPs, alongside the Eczacıbaşı, who are behind both Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) and Istanbul Modern, as well as the Koçs who support Arter.

Buğra Erol, 'Soul', 2014, lightbox with 238 dias, 49 x 99 cm. Image courtesy Daire Sanat.

Buğra Erol, ‘Soul’, 2014, lightbox with 238 dias, 49 x 99 cm. Image courtesy Daire Sanat.

The fair also benefitted from the presence of a new breed of younger and curious collectors from Turkey’s growing, cosmopolitan middle and upper classes. Being an event with a lower price point compared to Art International, CI is a fair ground for these young collectors.

CI Director Güreli told Artnet News how he wants to ensure the loyalty of these young collectors:

It’s a learning stage. The purpose of CI Editions is to encourage them to buy more art. And we expect, we hope, that they’ll become very strong collectors in the future.

View of Galeri NEV's booth at Contemporary Istanbul 2014. Image courtesy Galeri NEV.

View of Galeri NEV’s booth at Contemporary Istanbul 2014. Image courtesy Galeri NEV.

Sylvain Gaillard, Manager of Opera Gallery’s Dubai branch, the only UAE gallery at the fair, told The National:

The reason for Opera Gallery to be here is that Turkish people are cosmopolitan and they have an eye for quality art that has been well curated.

Haldun Dostoğlu, Founder of Galeri Nev, Istanbul, told Art Radar:

As a 30-year-old gallery in the contemporary art scene of Turkey, since we almost already know the entire scene we did not have special expectations from the fair. But still we had a chance to meet with some new generation collectors.

Lalla Essaydi, 'Harem 1', 2009, chromogenic print, 102 x 229 cm. Image courtesy Kashya Hildebrand Gallery.

Lalla Essaydi, ‘Harem 1’, 2009, chromogenic print, 102 x 229 cm. Image courtesy Kashya Hildebrand Gallery.

Strength in the middle market

Unlike Art International, which aims to attract the international collecting elite and sell high-end, blue-chip art, CI relies on the strength of the middle market, with mid-range prices that suit both established and emerging collectors in Turkey, but favour the latter, which according to Artnet News, constitute promising portion of the art market:

This larger but more modest base is a solid foundation—one which has a realistic potential for growth.

Rampa Istanbul, returning to CI for the fourth time, showed a selection of works by Nilbar Güreş, Güçlü Öztekin, Ergin Çavuşoğlu, Vahap Avşar, Ahmet Oran, Çağdaş Kahriman, Erinç Seymen and Canan. Speaking to Art Radar, Üstüngel Inanç, Rampa’s PR Manger, said that sales were made to local collectors and among the pieces sold were Nilbar Gureş’s collage Imprısoned Ghost and Erinç Seymen’s oil on canvas The Voulenteer, which both went for approximately EUR15,000.

Kerem Ozan Bayraktar, 'Waiting Woman, '2014, computer generated image, 25 x 41 cm. Image courtesy PG Art Gallery.

Kerem Ozan Bayraktar, ‘Waiting Woman, ‘2014, computer generated image, 25 x 41 cm. Image courtesy PG Art Gallery.

Asked how 2014 compared to previous editions, in terms of sales, Inanç told Art Radar:

I believe 2014 is generally a hard year for galleries all over the world. There seems to be a drawback as for the middle size collectors [sic]. The bigger blue-chip galleries are doing well, but I believe the market for more concentrated middle size galleries are getting smaller. […] our sales are not as bright as compared to previous years.

Nevertheless, Rampa will be back at CI next year, which means the fair promises a successful future.

View of C24 Gallery booth at Contemporary Istanbul 2014. Image courtesy C24 Gallery.

View of C24 Gallery booth at Contemporary Istanbul 2014. Image courtesy C24 Gallery.

C24 Gallery from New York had approximately thirty works on view, including Irfan Önürmen’s new works, Katja Loher’s video sculptures, a Robert Montgomery light piece and two prints, a Nick Gentry portrait made of floppy discs and a portrait made of 35 mm film, along with Ryan Perez’s photography and Martin Durazo’s abstract paintings. Gallery Manager Michelle Maigret told Art Radar:

This is our third time participating at Contemporary Istanbul and yes, we will be back again next year. This was the best year yet as far as traffic, art in the booths and sales- wise. We are very happy with sales as we sold over 15 works and made a numerous amount of new contacts.

According to The National, Kashya Hildebrand attracted collectors’ attention with an exquisite triptych from the young Moroccan artist Lalla Essaydi, while Anima from Doha offered works by more established Qatari artists Ali Hassan, Yousef Ahmad and the French-Moroccan artist Najia Mehadji.

Ali Hassan, 'Traces', 2014, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy Anima Gallery.

Ali Hassan, ‘Traces’, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy Anima Gallery.

Galeri Nev told Art Radar that they sold a significant part of the works in their booth and did not notice much difference from previous editions. The highlight of the fair for them was selling two works by one of the young generation artists, Aras Seddigh, whose works went for EUR20,000 on the first day of the fair to Polimeks Collection. The gallery manager further confirmed that they will continue to participate in CI in the future, as they have attended since its beginning.

Artnet News reported one of the highest sales on the first day as coming from Galerie Lelong from Paris: a picture by Ramazan Bayrakoğlu, Wet Leaves (2014) for EUR48,000.

A neon artwork by Fırat Engin, Istanbul 2024, representing the Olympic rings as coffee cups, sold for USD7,346 at Art ON Istanbul, while Georgia’s Project Art Beat rapidly sold young artists Sopho Chkhikvadze, Maka Batiashvili and Irakli Bugiani’s artworks in the EUR1,500 to 5,500 range.

Irakli Bugiani, 'Untitled', 2013, oil on canvas, 130 x 180 cm. Image courtesy Project Art Beat.

Irakli Bugiani, ‘Untitled’, 2013, oil on canvas, 130 x 180 cm. Image courtesy Project Art Beat.

Chinese art in focus

As for opening up to other countries in the “region” as Fair Director Güreli mentioned, CI dedicated its 2014 New Horizons section solely to China, including internationally celebrated artists such as Liu Bolin and Liu Dao. Chinese contemporary art was also at the centre of discussions in CI Dialogues, in talks such as “The Future is Now – Contemporary Art in China” and “Art Scene, Market, Institutions in China”, which featured experts from Christie’s, collectors, curators, artists and other professionals, such as Editor-in-Chief of Randian David Szehin Ho and curator and critic Qilan Shen.

Liu Dao, 'All You Remember', 2014, laser projection, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Island 6.

Liu Dao, ‘All You Remember’, 2014, laser projection, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Island 6.

Additionally, an exhibition entitled “Now You See” featured Chinese contemporary video art, with eighteen artworks by ten young artists, including multi-screen projective installations, animations, single screen projections and monitor works. Selected entirely from the collection of Dr Michael I. Jacobs, who has been collecting these works with in-depth research and knowledge since 2010, the exhibition featured works by Chen Xiaoyun, Jiang Zhi, Liang Yue, Wang Xin, Cheng Ran, Kan Xuan, Liu Shiyuan, Hu Xiaoyuan, Li Ming and Sun Xun.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Turkish artists, Chinese artists, new media, video, curatorial practice, emerging artists, promoting art, market watch, art fairs, round ups, events in Istanbul

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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