Contemporary Istanbul: Art in the Shipyard
Elsa Sahal. The pill. Courtesy of the artist
Turkey’s leading fair for contemporary art that brings together galleries from across Asia and Europe.
Over the past decade modern and contemporary art has been shaping the Turkish capital. Most notably there is Istanbul's striking new Modern Art Museum, a project by Renzo Piano which is part of a larger development in the Galata Porta neighborhood, and over the past three years Istanbul Contemporary fair has brought new life into Tersane, a neighborhood in the city’s old shipyard.
Çağla Ulusoy. Peeled, 2023. Dirimart. 18th Contemporary Istanbul. Istanbul, 2023. Courtesy of Contemporary Istanbul
Since it was established nearly two decades ago, Contemporary Istanbul has attracted participation from galleries abroad keen to connect with local Turkish collectors and just over half of this year’s crop came from outside Turkey. Indeed, the geography of the fair is exceptionally diverse, embracing galleries and dealers from across the traditional European art centres, such as England and France, as well as from parts of the world which are often less represented at international fairs. There were galleries from Georgia, Kazakhstan, Iran, Tehran, Mexico, South Korea and South Africa as well as galleries from six countries taking part for the first time including the Czech Republic and Colombia. It was priced to appeal to new collectors, ranging from 500 Euros to 60,000 Euros.
Gülsün Karamustafa. Promised Paintings, 2023. BüroSarıgedik. 18th Contemporary Istanbul. Istanbul, 2023. Courtesy of Contemporary Istanbul
The Aspan Gallery from Almaty, Kazakhstan, brought artists from across Central Asia like Saodat Ismailova (b. 1981), Almagul Menlibayeva (b. 1969), and Bakhyt Bubikanova (b. 1985). Askhat Akhmedyarov’s (b. 1965) portrait of a girl called Sayora from 2015 made a particularly strong impression and on a monumental scale, it was priced at $15,000. The artist used his feet to paint it, inspired by a childhood memory of helping his father - who was a buider - to mix clay with his feet.
Slava Nesterov. Under the polar moon I will become as hard as the tree, lest I drown in its permeable decay. SISTEMA GALLERY. 18th Contemporary Istanbul. Istanbul, 2023. Courtesy of SISTEMA GALLERY
From Russia, Moscow-based gallery Sistema took part in Contemporary Istanbul. Alina Kugush’s (b. 1994) paintings from the ‘Alternative Methods of Mobility’ series stood out. There are satellites in the centre of Kugush’s paintings, evoking the some two dozen satellites which were constructed in the Soviet Union. Born in 1994 the artist grew up surrounded by abandoned buildings which had been left scattered around the country: institutions, factories, bomb shelters, and top secret scientific towns. For Kugush the ‘secret’ buildings that still exist are shrouded in a kind of inexplicable mystery. “We always hear about secret documents from the Soviet period, and this makes people create conspiracy theories.”. Sistema Gallery also showed surrealist objects made of solid oak by artist Slava Nesterov (b.1989), resembling baroque frames with photos and long, poetic titles.
Mojjoker and Ekaterina Doronina. Fun Real = Funreal & Wedding = Waiting, 2022. Omelchenko Gallery. 18th Contemporary Istanbul. Istanbul, 2023. Courtesy of Contemporary Istanbul
Also from Moscow, Omelchenko Gallery took part in this year’s fair showing an installation called ‘Hamlet’ created by artist Katya Doronina (b. 1978) which morbidly describes how each character in the famous play by Shakespeare died - all depicting using diagrams.
Rashid Nurekeyev. Olive Grove, 2018. Aspan Gallery. 18th Contemporary Istanbul. Istanbul, 2023. Courtesy of Contemporary Istanbul
Another stand out booth in the fair was from Tbilisi: 4710 Gallery which was established in 2019. It focussed on younger artists born in the early 1990s and included works by Merab Gugunashvili (b. 1990), Tamar Nadiradze (b. 1991), and Irakli Mereli (b. 1992).
Wim Delvoye. Concrete Mixer, 2020. Pilevneli. 18th Contemporary Istanbul. Istanbul, 2023. Courtesy of Contemporary Istanbul
At the heart of the fair were local, Turkish artists who represented many different generations, shown by Istanbul's top galleries, Dirimart, Zilberman, Anna Laudel, and Nev Gallery. Turks rank among some of the best and most successful media artists in the world. Refik Anadolu's (b.1985) works, represented by Pilevneli Gallery at the fair can be found in the collection of MOMA, New York. Another superstar of Turkish media art, architect and artist Alper Derinbogaz (b.1982), collaborated with TAEX platform creating a spectacular project, Neogene collection.
Contemporary Istanbul Art Fair