Fairs Market Turkey

Istanbul fair aims to draw conservative collectors to modern art

Traditional artisans do well at the newly launched All Arts Istanbul, but contemporary art dealers are less satisfied

Those dealing in traditional arts seemed pleased with the new exposure the fair brings and some reported brisk sales

The same team determined to put Istanbul onto the international art fair circuit with Contemporary Istanbul (entering its eight edition, 7-10 November) launched a new event designed to deepen the market for traditional Ottoman and Islamic art. The first All Arts Istanbul (18-24 April), billed as “a classical and modern art fair”, has the second, more ambitious objective of introducing a new, conservative generation of collectors to modern and contemporary Turkish art.

The organisation’s chairman Ali Güreli describes the fair as a way to help crafts people and artisans make the leap into the fine art market. Many, including calligraphers, leather binders, felt makers, ceramics and glazed tile makers and even producers of prayer beads, were participating in an art fair for the first time. Many of the 92 stands were on “trial offer”, free of charge to the exhibitors. And as a result, many were “shy about pricing”, Güreli says.

The fair, held at the Istanbul Convention Centre, cost some $1.2m to stage with about half of the funds coming from exhibitors. The fair organisers announced their intention to increase dramatically the floor space to 15,000 sq. m next year, to attract international dealers and to increase the amount of contemporary art. They do so with a sense of social mission.

“This is a way of ending 150 years of division in Turkish society,” says All Arts Istanbul’s general coordinator, Hasan Bülent Kahraman. He points to the presence at the fair opening of the ultra-secularist “enfant terrible” Bedri Baykam and the calligraphic master Efdaluddin Kılıç as proof that the Kulturkampf between the pious and the modern could be brought to an end.

To make the point, Kahraman himself has organised an exhibition from the private collection of Öner Kocabeyoğlu, which attempts to trace the influence of traditional, particularly calligraphic techniques in the abstract work of 20th-century Turkish artists such as Ömer Uluç, Burhan Dogançay and Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid. Also on display are elaborately illuminated Sultanic decrees (ferman) dating from the 16th to 20th centuries from the collection of the London-based Turkish businessmen Remzi Gür, who is a close friend of the Turkish prime minister.

There are a small number of Istanbul antique and fine art dealers. Tantkin Antika is showing eight small views of Istanbul by the Italian impressionist Fausto Zonaro (1854-1929), priced between €20,000-€45,000. The work brought by contemporary galleries, however, is by no means the crème of Istanbul’s burgeoning art scene. Much of it is figurative or, in the case of Galeri Baraz’s display of Erol Kılıç, uses religious and calligraphic motifs. Those dealing in traditional arts seemed pleased with the new exposure and some reported brisk sales. Galleries representing contemporary artists seemed less satisfied, some blaming the Saturday and Sunday of the fair coinciding with the start of a long school holiday.

While the idea that a more conservative collecting public could be redirected from familiar traditional arts to more challenging modern work remains largely untested, the fair has attracted official patronage. Among the visitors were the Turkish president, Abdullah Gül and his wife, Istanbul’s mayor Kadir Topbaş, who is also an architect, as well as Egemen Bağış, the Turkish minister for EU affairs, whose wife, Beyhan, is one of the exhibitors.


Galleries representing contemporary artists seemed less satisfied, some blaming the Saturday and Sunday of the fair coinciding with the start of a long school holiday
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