T hirteen seems to be Contemporary Istanbul’s lucky number. This edition was arguably one of its best, with strong attendance and healthy sales at the last count. International galleries may have been concerned about participating in a fair where the currency exchange would work against them in terms of sales revenue, but this did not stop the 54 foreign galleries out of the 83 that were showing.
Fair Director Kamiar Maleki’s keynote speech at the CI Opening Reception (in the extraordinary Esmi Sultan Mansion) emphasised the role of the fair in putting Istanbul on the international art and culture map. A positive message both by Chairman/Founder Ali Gureli and Kamiar lent buoyancy to an event which takes place amidst challenging times for the Turkish economy. Their announcement about the newly-born CI Art, Culture and Education Foundation met with great enthusiasm, as did CIF Dialogues.
Art buying has historically relied upon economically confident times, but recent statistics have shown certain regions bucking that trend. Buyers look for art under a variety of circumstances: to consolidate their liquidity into a tangible and enjoyable asset, to make a good investment when cash is uncertain, to create foundations or render some kind of public service by forming significant collections...the reasons are multiple and complex.
Earlier in its life, CI used to be a very Turkish affair, representing local artists and selling to local audiences. But Maleki has changed all that. Bringing international galleries and collectors has been one of his greatest achievements, as well as securing sponsors. Speaking from personal experience, a highly-efficient VIP service offers fair visitors a far more bespoke experience than larger fairs. This year there seemed to be some focus on figural art, reflecting this global trend. Marlborough gallery’s large outdoor installation by Ahmet Gunestekin was a show-stopper, as were two arresting works at Zilberman Gallery by Turkish artist Azadeh Koker whose output never fails to impress.
Seasoned collectors of course swear by the industry-making Basel and Frieze fairs where 54 percent of the art trade takes place. But if discovery is something you enjoy, the smaller regional fairs are not to be missed.