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How contemporary is Istanbul?

A week ago in Istanbul, perhaps the less influenced by global economical crisis city between the USA, Europe and Asia, the eighth edition of the Contemporary Istanbul closed, one of the most attended Turkish contemporary art fairs. Its chairman Ali Gürelisaid to be satisfied with 72,000 visitors from 22 countries, 748 artists presented by 95 art galleries and 13 art spaces and foundations.

It goes without saying that Contemporary Istanbul is a unique art fair, due to its geographical position and cultural background, in prism of which visitors should come to understand local Turkish contemporary art and appreciate its national connotations. The Marlborough Gallery, New York, participated for the second time; Galerie Lelong, Paris was at CI for the first time. The two prestigious galleries respectively presented Turkish artists Ahmet Gunestekin (The Marlborough Gallery) and Ramazan (Ramazan Bayrakoglu, Galerie Lelong). Andipa Gallery, London, selected Banksy, while gallery C24, New York, exhibited Robert Montgomery and Ali Kazma, who represented the Turskish Pavilion at the 55th edition of the Venice Biennale 2013.

The fair counted 3,000 artworks with a total value of $92,000,000 (180,000,000 TL) and even if it was less than its previous edition (more than $100,000,000), Mr Güreli sees it as a good sign of growing enthusiasm of the new middle-class collectors. In fact, he noticed that the number of Turkish art collectors has increased from 50 in 2005 to 700-800 this year, from which 20-30 are “serious” ones who are ready to invest in contemporary art an average of $100,000-150,000 a year. Moreover, Contemporary Istanbul 2013 invited members of International Association of Corporate Collections of Contemporary Art, trying to unite local Turkish art map with the Global one; following the good tradition of last year, 67 % of the art works was sold this time.

Prominent Turkish galleries gained the public attention presenting Shirin Neshat (Dirimart), Kendell Geers (Galerist), Aras Seddigh/Ali Kazma (Galeri Nev), Murat Akagunduz (Galeri Mana), Marc Quinn (Krampf Gallery), Michael Comte (Elipsis), Vahap Avsar (Rampa), Ali Elmaci (Xist), Zeynep Kayan (CDA Projects), Orhan Cem Cetin (Sanatorium) and Nezaket Ekici/Nancy Atakan (Pi Artworks, which recently opened a London office, becoming the first Turkish gallery to go abroad).

Some well-known international art galleries at Contemporary Istanbul were Gallery Tammen & Partner (Berlin) with Volker Marz, Opera Gallery (Geneva) with Robert Longo; Galerie Edition Purrmann (Grefrath) with Anselm Kiefer, Fabbirca EOS (Milan) with Robert Gligorov; Galeria Filomena Soares (Lisbon) with Shirin Neshat and Carlos Motta; Galeria Javier Lopez (Madrid) with Alex Katz; Michael Schultz (Berlin/Seoul/Beijing) with Gerhard Richter.

The “New Horizons” section this year was dedicated to Russia, a country that has deep cultural intersections with Turkey. Very noteworthy works by Pavel Pepperstein and Nikita Alexeev (all sold during the opening) were presented in Galerie Iragui (Moscow-Paris), while Pop/off/art (Moscow-Berlin) presented Eric Bulatov and Olga Chernysheva (all the four artists will be present in London on November, 25th during “Contemporary East”, an innovative Sotheby’s sale that will bring art from Russia and Eastern Europe together to the international market for the first time). Saint Petersburg’s galleries presented Oleg Khvostov (AL gallery), Maria Arendt (ART re.FLEX Gallery) a controversial work of Kerim Ragimov: a portrait of the Obama family (Marina Gisich Gallery). Only one Russian gallery did not present national artists, Tatiana Kourochkina art gallery (Barcelona) with Turkish artist Yigal Ozeri.

One remarkable potential of Contemporary Istanbul is to be a catalyst for different inputs. The multiplication of art events, galleries, cultural institutions, such as Elgiz private museum, Pera museum, Borusan Contemporary, Barut Collection, Modern Istanbul Museum and Sakip Sabanci Museum, the raise of middle-class collectors next to the established ones who form the basis of Turkish contemporary art private collections (Borusan, Elgiz, Barut), can be seen positively in terms of internationalization of Turkish contemporary art.

In addition, Contemporary Istanbul has been the first art fair to ideate the residency program in Bodrum Contemporary Art Campus BCAC for young Turkish artists, as well as introducing DIYALOG: art from Vienna, inviting 10 Wien curators to select 20 Wien artists to answer about how the Viennese art can gain potential within the international art scene (among the curators were Edelbert Köb, former director of MUMOK and Nicolaus Schafhausen, Director of Kunsthalle Wien).

This potential and enthusiasm for contemporary art in the last years through CI art fair has raised the attention of international press, art collectors and critics/curators, and has contributed in making a city with great historical traditions like Istanbul, one of the most interesting contemporary European destinations.

Tatiana Martyanova

, Human project, Episode #46, 2013