Contemporary art Fairs Turkey

First Istanbul art week heralds explosion in fairs

Contemporary fair creates a buzz, with four events due to launch next year

The more fairs, the merrier

If the buzz in Istanbul ten days ago is anything to go by, the city’s contemporary art scene is continuing its rapid expansion.

Until recently, the city’s art scene was rooted primarily in its respected biennial, which was founded in 1987. The Contemporary Istanbul fair (22-25 November) entered its seventh year with a strong foundation of local support but is still striving to reach out to a foreign audience. This year, the organisers launched Art Istanbul, a week-long initiative that ran alongside the fair and involved the city’s museums, art foundations and galleries. They also plan to hold exhibitions in Dubai, Korea and São Paulo next year, in addition to launching three new fairs. These include Step Istanbul, which will focus on emerging galleries, an as-yet-unnamed fair featuring photography, and All Arts, which is due to take place next April and will include classical Turkish and Islamic art. Meanwhile, Sandy Angus, a co-founder of the ArtHK fair (now Art Basel Hong Kong), has teamed up with the Turkish firm Interteks to launch a fair in Istanbul next September.

Ali Güreli, the chairman of Contemporary Istanbul, says: “Istanbul is a rising star. It will become a collectors’ paradise in the near future.” International aspirations were no doubt encouraged by the addition to this year’s exhibitor list of Haunch of Venison and Marlborough Gallery (the latter is showing at Art Basel Miami Beach; stand F5). Elsewhere in Istanbul, the New York gallerist Regis Krampf has opened a permanent space, Phillips de Pury is looking to open an office and Lehmann Maupin (K15) has held pop-up exhibitions featuring artists such as Angel Otero.

“There’s more of a dialogue happening here between the Turkish and the international art scenes, but there’s still a long way to go,” says Isabella Icoz, an art adviser specialising in Turkish and international contemporary art. “Collectors are becoming better informed… but it’s not without its challenges, and I think labels such as boom or bubble are premature.”

Most of the current investment in Turkey’s art is domestic. Key players include the Koç and Sabanci families (two of Turkey’s richest), Suna and Inan Kiraç and the Eczacibasi group. Akbank Private Banking, Yapi Kredi Bank and Garanti Bank are also investing heavily; Garanti’s not-for-profit institution Salt hosted a strong show of works by the Egyptian artist Hassan Khan during the week. Collectors at the fair, including Güler Sabanci and Daghan Ozil, were predominantly Turkish. “There’s not a huge number of ex-pats; this isn’t one of the emirates or Singapore,” said Mandana Pages of the German-based Galerie Frank Pages.

The state, meanwhile, provides little financial support. Güreli said: “It’s important for the government to play a role. We are pushing for tax changes as there are currently no exemptions for investing in art and the VAT rate is very high.” Two dealers at the fair reported works of art being held or “misplaced” at Customs.

The lack of art expertise within the country is a concern, said Hasan Bülent Kahraman, the fair’s general co-ordinator. “We are talking to a new cluster of people who want to invest and they have limited knowledge, so we’re working with our sponsors [Akbank], in conjunction with experts, to advise clients.”

Educating the international market about Turkish art is a priority for local galleries. Turkish artists such as Taner Ceylan, who recently signed up with New York’s Paul Kasmin Gallery (A7), are establishing stronger international reputations, and the Istanbul-based Rampa Gallery (N16) and Riff Art Projects are promoting Turkish work on the international stage. At the fair, Rampa sold works including Abstraction, 2012, by Leyla Gediz, for €22,000. At Riff, a 2011 photograph of Hagia Sophia by Ahmet Ertug sold for €50,000. Halil Altindere, one of only five Turkish artists to have been invited to Documenta, sold a work to the collector Mustafa Taviloglu.

Small local galleries sold moderately at the fair, while big international galleries did well with famous names. Marlborough showed works by Picasso and Fernando Botero, and the Opera Gallery sold “numerous pieces” at its stand, which included works by Keith Haring, Basquiat and Robert Indiana. But the majority of the work on display sat in lower price brackets. “We were warned not to bring really expensive works if the artists were lesser-known,” said a spokeswoman for the Netherlands-based Grimm Gallery, which showed works ranging in price from €12,000 to more than €80,000.

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