My Insights on the Istanbul Art Scene

Merve Unsal
Nov 7, 2013 3:34PM

Commercial galleries have sprouted up in Istanbul in the last few years, usually with spaces, agendas, and staff on an institutional scale. A quick provisional count of Istanbul-based art publications reminds me that four are published by galleries, while one is supported by the larger structure of Contemporary Istanbul. Interesting, to say the least, is this desire to fill the different roles, usually reserved for a multiplicity of actors, by the gallery system.

In this rapidly changing ecosystem where budgets are not modest by any means, the small-scale not-for-profits or initiatives play an even more important role, providing the content that would otherwise be amiss. And recently, art fairs have also picked up on this and included these organizations in their roster. The most successful rendition so far was at Art International, where thirteen of these organizations came together in a beautifully designed space. Sprawled all across Istanbul, some of these organizations are itinerant, some lack spaces, and some are not even open all the time. Putting them in the same space for four days, was smart, allowing for a dialogue. 49a hailing from Izmir included works by the artist Mehmet Dere, reminding us of the single-artist-driven, open-to-the-public studio space idea.

Lara Ögel exhibits with the artist-driven shared studio space Un-Known, both at Art International and Contemporary Istanbul. On, we published an earlier series using the online space to exhibit and talk about this specific body of work for the first time; now, it is great to see that she has exhibited two different bodies of work—at Contemporary Istanbul, in collaboration with Joana Kohen—on the occasion of the art fairs in the past couple of months—art fairs enable a sizeable audience for artists and open up their works, otherwise seen only by the specific audience of their initiative. (Find an interview between Ögel and Jacob Kassay on m-est, here.)

Also of note is the small-scale institution collectorspace*. collectorspace brings a single work from a private art collection—so far, they have only worked with collectors from abroad—and produces a conversation around this simple idea of making the private collection public, both through video interviews with the collectors and public talks with local contributors. At Contemporary Istanbul, they have setup a pop-up library of books from their storefront in Taksim, focusing on certain threads in their institutional framework.

While reading or processing anything really at an art fair is optimistic—to put it politely—emphasizing the programming and vision of these institutions and initiatives is crucial, especially considering the modest scales on which they tend to work.

 *Disclaimer: Özge Ersoy, the project manager of collectorspace, is also the managing editor of; it is not a coincidence as many practices and dialogues are constantly intersecting in this context.

Images: a work by Mehmet Dere, two works by Lara Ögel, an image from collectorspace.

Merve Unsal