A ‘Fair Play’-ground in Istanbul

Evrim Altug
Nov 7, 2013 8:37PM

When we think about the rapid change in the global economy and its effect on geography, Istanbul, located on the very route of the former Silk Road, has become increasingly important in terms of international art and cultural exchange. Perhaps this situation is the result of European and far Eastern countries’ natural interest in the city. Over 90 galleries from 21 countries have traveled to the Istanbul Convention and Exhibition Center (ICEC) for the international art scene that is  Contemporary Istanbul (CI). On Nov. 6th, the VIP preview at CI was bustling with an eclectic crowd of intellectuals and bohemians. Emails, business cards and wine glasses speedily changed hands, in a warm, welcoming atmosphere. The fair goes on until Nov.10 covering nearly one thousand square meters of space, which is surrounded by local arts initiatives, children’s workshops, live on-site discussions and broadcasts.  

Looking at the booths closely, I noticed that this year’s fair has a focus on recent activist and international headlines. The rumored Turkish art boom is present at the fair, from the current coup-d’etat generation artists, whose success is thanks to pioneering Turkish avant-garde artists like Nil Yalter, Gulsun Karamustafa, Huseyin Alptekin, Yuksel Arslan, Nur Kocak or Sarkis and many others. At Rampa Gallery’s booth, young Erinc Seymen’s series of prints are great examples of re-inventing an old technique with a new, surrealist perspective. In the same booth, surprising new works by German-Turkish artist Nevin Aladag and cult figure, Gulsun Karamustafa with her glass-ceramic work, Toddler. At the entrance of new media art section of CI, there is an intriguing “noise sculpture,” titled Data Noise by Candas Sisman, which is sustained by scientific research and aestheticization of daily noise. 

At the CI fair one regularly encounters a mix of Turkish culture and the international art world. At Shanghai-based A&B Gallery, Han Hu uses neon lights and glass that was taken from historic Istanbul peninsula Eminonu, to portray a unique landscape with blinking lights. German artist Marion Eichmann comments on historic Istanbul and the Grand Bazaar with hundreds of tiny coloured papers, at the Tammen & Partner booth. As mentioned above, themes of internationalism and politics are as very strong, as usual at CI. This is seen in Kerim Ragimov’s piece, Human Project, Portrait No.46 at the Russian gallery Marina Gisich. The same critical gaze appears in Michael Endlicher’s “I don’t believe you anymore” series. In these pieces that started around five years ago, shown at Peitner-Lichtenfens gallery in Vienna, the artist uses contemporary iconic images including Che Guevara, Buddha, Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange or Turkish Prime Minister Recep T.Erdogan and Turkish Republic's founding father M.K. Ataturk and even the artist’s own gallerist. 

Like other international fairs humor and “at first glance” attraction has significant power at CI this year. One such work is Francesco De Molfetta’s obese Barbie, Snack Barbie, at the Italian gallery Art Forum Arte Contemporanea

The recent uprisings and revolts around Gezi Park at Istanbul’s Taksim Square are manifested in unique, independent and rich plastic language and at this edition of CI. In her Gezi Parki piece, Ardan Ozmenoglu from Siyah Beyaz Art Gallery of Ankara refers to the government security forces’ pepper spray as an aphrodisiac and names this moment Orgasm. The same artist also uses the local Turkish Saz instrument and refers the ignorance of the authorities with a local sentence; “Anlayana sivrisinek saz, anlamayana davul zurna az” (“A word to the wise is enough”). The spirit of fresh, activist criticism and the quality of aesthetics also can be found in pieces of two artists at the gallery, x-istBahadır Baruter creates a moment of Sleeplessness and portrays all of the presidents of Turkish Republic in a humorous pose. On another note, Cem Dinlenmis created a ‘fortune wheel’-like wall piece that criticizes the public space, incorporating Istanbul Biennial and Gezi Park issues in one piece. A final example is The Empire Project’s Burhan Kum who creates an adorable allegory of future Turkey, on canvas with a marker. In this piece we can easily see the eclectic, unidentifiable cityscape of Istanbul and the Bosphorus, with Ottoman Yeniceri soldiers and a giant, Moby Dick-like whale which perhaps is meant to resemble the Republic idealism of Turkey. 


Evrim Altug