Nevermind that Turkey barely registered on the international contemporary art scene a decade ago. Today, crowded with galleries and exhibition spaces, Istanbul is widely considered an up-and-coming art capital, featured by Phaidon in last year’s Art Cities of the Future: 21st-Century Avant-Gardes. And at an edgy group show—put on by one of the city’s preeminent contemporary galleries, art ON Istanbul at Contemporary Istanbul—some of this dynamic art scene’s promise is on view.
Art ON Istanbul promotes boundary-pushing, politically minded artists throughout the year. Their line-up at Contemporary Istanbul this year is particularly intriguing, with work that is diverse in subject and medium but tied together by three primary concepts: new media, non-objective perspective, and figurative approach. Featured artworks range from geometric, pop culture-inspired paintings by Austrian-born Gerwald Rockenschaub to Rothko-esque pastels by German artist Ulrich Erben, and haunting charcoal drawings by Turkish artist Tunca Sabasi. American-born Jesse Fleming and Berlin-based Turkish photographer Sencer Vardarman each explore the relationship between humans and nature—the former in video installations that highlight the solitude of the individual in a natural landscape, the latter in still images that document lands ravaged by heavy industry.
The booth’s crowning glory—at least for those interested in emerging Turkish artists—are the sculptures of Ilgin Seymen, whose work is featured simultaneously at Contemporary Istanbul and in a solo show, “Forever Blind,” at the gallery. Born in Istanbul in 1980, Seymen received a Fulbright Scholarship to attend the MFA Sculpture program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, where she held her first solo show, “Nothing Personal,” at the now-defunct Melting Point Gallery in 2007. Back in her native city, Seymen employs a variety of unconventional materials—plastic bottles, pu foam, spray paint—in collage, sculpture, video, and photography to raise questions about the effects of consumer culture on everyday life. Young, provocative, and female, Seymen is one to watch—in Istanbul, and, by extension, on the international art scene.