Istanbul’s art market has had a number of false starts. After a small boom in 2008, the market suffered major setbacks due to the political instability of the region. Collectors, dealers, and artists have been particularly struggling since a failed coup attempt in 2016, which has been followed by escalating inflation of the local currency.
Throughout the turbulent period, the Contemporary Istanbul art fair has been a mainstay. When the event started in 2006, it was a local market, where Turkish collectors were happy to buy Turkish art.
But after dealers and buyers began to recognize the power of the international art market, the tides turned. The fair is now in its 14th edition, and the city is about to enter a new wave of cultural development, as new and leading corporations have begun investing in culture. A new museum, Arter, has just opened in the city, and nine more museums are slated to open in the next few years.
This year the fair welcomes 73 galleries from 22 countries to present the work of 510 artists. Twenty-three newcomers to the fair include international galleries such as Galerie Krinzinger from Vienna, and Paris’s High Art. While the city is nurturing a homegrown collector scene, the fair is also strategically timed to capitalize on the international crowd in town for Nicolas Bourriaud’s much-anticipated Istanbul Biennial.
Below, read about some of the best artworks available at this year’s Contemporary Istanbul art fair, all priced under the $10,000 mark.
Apolonia Sokol at The Pill
Apolonia Sokol at The Pill. Photo by Naomi Rea.
The work of the French-Danish painter Apolonia Sokol is a standout at the booth for the Istanbul-based gallery The Pill. Born in 1988, the promising young artist populates her canvases with mixed-race people and body-positive beauties that radiate a captivating strength.
After finishing her MFA in Paris, Sokol moved to Los Angeles where she became friends with the likes of Henry Taylor and Elizabeth Peyton, and the energy of their approaches to portraiture is palpable in her work. Sokol is a relative newcomer to the scene in Istanbul, having had her first solo show in Turkey with the young gallery last year. The two paintings on the stand, priced between $6,600 and $8,800, were waitlisted in the early hours of the fair’s preview.
Manaf Halbouni at Zilberman Gallery
Manaf Halbouni, Battle of the West (2015). Courtesy Zilberman Gallery.
The Istanbul- and Berlin-based Zilberman Gallery is showing work by the young Syrian and German artist Manaf Halbouni, among others. Born in Damascus in 1984, the 34-year-old Halbouni fled his home country after skipping out on its compulsory military service; he now lives and works in Dresden.
Halbouni is a rising star. Earlier this year, he was included in the Havana Biennial, but he might be better known for causing a stir in 2017 when far right groups protested the anti-war installation he created to mark the anniversary of the Allied bombing of Dresden during World War II.
On the stand were works from his “Maps” series, which consists of maps found at flea markets and annotated by the artist according to his own imagined alternate histories. A defunct map of the German Democratic Republic, priced at $3,800, imagines a world in which Arabs ruled the country, with territories renamed and rearranged to suit the fictional history. (Also in the booth was Fragments, a concrete and stained glass sculpture made from demolished church in Dresden that was priced at S13,300.)
İz Öztat at Pi Artworks
İz Öztat, Whip of Justice (2019) at the Pi Artworks booth. Courtesy Pi Artworks.
The work of the Turkish artist İz Öztat in the booth of the London- and Istanbul-based Pi Artworks was striking especially for its poignant sense of political tenor. The sculpture on view, titled Whip of Justice, is made from security barriers similar to those those erected around Gezi park after the Turkish government introduced a controversial ban on public demonstrations. Suspended on metal hooks, the work also references the scales of justice.
Priced at $5,000, it is one of the few pieces in the fair that references the political situation in Turkey. Gallery director Jade Y. Turanli tells artnet News that the sculpture was “subtle” enough not to create censorship concerns, especially because it makes no explicit depictions of anyone in government.
Born 1981 in Istanbul, Öztat’s is currently enjoying her first solo show with the gallery. She was included in the 2017 Sharjah Biennial, as well as Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s 2015 Istanbul Biennial.
Gülsün Karamustafa at Sanatorium
Gülsün Karamustafa at Sanatorium. Photo by Naomi Rea.
Karamustafa, one of Turkey’s best-known artists, has spent much of her 40-year career continuously responding to the country’s political turbulence. Her presentation at the Istanbul-based Sanatorium gallery’s booth (in collaboration with the BüroSarıgedik gallery) spans painting and multimedia installations to photography and video, and touches on many of her recurring themes: sexuality, gender, ethnicity, the treatment of women, and displacement and migration.
As one of the most influential Turkish artists of the 20th century, her work is in numerous institutional collections, including the Arter museum. (She also has 15 works in the Tate collection in the UK.) Works in the stand ranged from $6,700 for nostalgic, small-scale wallpaper collages of archival photos to $10,000 for ceramic sculptures.
Ardan Özmenoglu at Galeri Siyah Beyaz
Ardan Özmenoğlu, You Are My Home (2013–19). Courtesy Galeri Siyah Beyaz.
Ardan Özmenoglu’s memorable works might be familiar, considering that the artist has exhibited in more than 40 exhibitions since 2006. Her use of Post-It notes as forget-me-not’s include images taken from Turkish popular culture and her own life. (Among the images she has used are those of her old Istanbul studio and of the Republic of Turkey’s founding father, Atatürk.) She also creates paintings and silkscreens that are sometimes accompanied by humorous neon lights, which together examine themes of national and cultural identity.
Her work has had some action on the secondary market, with an auction record of $18,750 achieved in 2014 at Christie’s Dubai. The works in the Galeri Siyah Beyaz stand at Contemporary Istanbul were priced between $6,000 and $10,000.
Contemporary Istanbul runs September 12 through 15 at the Istanbul Congress Center (ICC) and Convention and Exhibition Centre (ICEC).
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