Contemporary Istanbul 18th Edition 2023 – James Payne

Istanbul is a great city for an art weekend, and what better time than during their art fair, which this year was held in a former Ottoman shipping yard called Tersane Istanbul, the new trendy neighbourhood of Istanbul on the shores of the Golden Horn estuary on the Bosphorus, looking over to Asia. The fair is providing some boat transportation to the various events, which, with Istanbul’s horrendous traffic, is really needed.

The last time I was here was in 2015, and there are a lot of new developments happening throughout Istanbul. Parts of the docks where the fair takes place are still being renovated by the architects Murat Tabanlıoğlu and Melkan Gürsel, who are well known for other projects throughout the city, including the enormous new İstanbul Atatürk Airport and the stunning Atatürk Cultural Center.

Turkey is celebrating its 100th anniversary of becoming a republic, and this, the 18th annual fair, is starting to get noticed internationally.

Contemporary Istanbul 2023
Contemporary Istanbul 2023

This year, they expect to have had 40,000 visitors, with 67 galleries from 22 countries participating, including Johannesburg’s Kalashnikovv Gallery, Barcelona’s Galeria Joan Gaspar, and the New York/Dubai Leila Heller Gallery. There’s a smattering of Russian galleries, as it is one of the few art Fairs that doesn’t boycott Russia.

In all, there are works by 591 artists, most of them being Turkish. It is a great way to understand the contemporary Turkish art scene.

It’s one of those underrated art fairs in a country dominated by its economy and divisionary politics. It closed on 1 October, but definitely something to think about for 2024.

Contemporary Istanbul 2023
Ekin Kesser, Koli Arts Space

LGBTQ+ people are under attack in Turkey, so it was brave to see Koli Arts Space at the fair, in the section for independent artist-led spaces. One of the artists shown here was Ekin Keser, whose work features tattered photos of family members who rejected her after she came out as gay, placed on a series of aluminium colanders owned by the artist’s mother.

Contemporary Istanbul 2023
Bedri Baykam at Istanbul Modern

Another of the galleries at the fair is the Piramid Sanat, which features work by the legendary Turkish artist and activist Bedri Baykam, who has been vocal in his opposition to government policies. He told me that although they might not be censored outright, there is a lot of self-censorship by artists who fear reprisals. He is showing his brilliant Art History Map at the fair, a chart featuring arts and culture since the 13th century. On the left side of the Map are most of the important writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, scientists or statesmen of the Western World and on the right, the same equivalents from the non-Western World.

Another highlight was a beautiful neon and metal installation by Itamar Gov at Zilberman Gallery (Istanbul/Berlin). “Refuge of All Strangers” is like one of those old signs you saw on top of hotels. It is described as pointing to the chasm between the promise of a sanctuary for all strangers and the condition of being a stranger in exile. (see lead photo)

Gallery 4710 from Tbilisi, one of the best stands at the fair, mainly represents young artists and new talents and also functions as an experimental space and organises site-specific exhibitions. It is one of the exciting galleries worth a visit when in Istanbul.

Contemporary Istanbul 2023
Argun Okumuşoğlu at Galeri Siyah Beyaz (Ankara)

Sculptured Cyprus trees by Osman Dinç feature at Pi Artworks (Istanbul and London), and one of my favourite pieces was by the artist Argun Okumuşoğlu at Galeri Siyah Beyaz (Ankara), an installation from his collection of old electrical boxes, each containing a quirky art history related object.

Overall, it was a really interesting fair in a gorgeous location, and for visitors, it is a great way to get an overview of what is happening in the contemporary Turkish art scene.

Words and Photos by James Payne ©Artlyst 2023

Contemporary Istanbul 18th Edition 2023 took place 28 September – 1 October 2023

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