Contemporary Istanbul

Contemporary Istanbul is going from strength to strength: its recently concluded ninth edition drew 75,000 visitors and 108 galleries from all over the world, including Dubai.

Despite speculation that the rival fair Art International– co-founded and directed by the Emirati Dyala Nusseibeh –which took place in September had pulled away some of the big names, the CI director Ali Gureli was confident of his market share.

“The fair is the biggest and strongest art fair in the region,” says Gureli. “CI functions as a model for other fairs of the region. I know that fair directors of the region come here for trend-scouting, networking and learning.”

With sales figures averaging at about 70 per cent, the fair has always had domestic success. About half the galleries exhibiting are from Turkey, as are a large number of collectors. However, the other booths spread across 22 countries also reported positive experiences.

Sylvain Gaillard, the manager of the Dubai branch of Opera Gallery, the only UAE gallery at the fair, says: “The reason for Opera Gallery to be here is that Turkish people are cosmopolitan and they have an eye for quality art that has been well curated.”

For his booth he brought work by the French photographer Gérard Rancinan, whose image Press Power reflects a country familiar with political tension and an uncomfortable relationship with the media.

In Kashya Hildebrand’s booth, an exquisite triptych from the Moroccan artist Lalla Essaydi attracted much attention. Her photographs of women swathed in robes and covered in calligraphy within sacred architectural spaces draw parallels between the subject and the environment, and question the identity of Arab women.

Anima, a gallery from Doha, was the only other Gulf contender, with works from the Qatari heavy­weights Ali Hassan, Youssef Ahmad and the French-Moroccan artist Najia Mehadji.

Making its debut this year was CI Editions, which offered limited-edition prints signed on-site by the artists. It’s a brave and bold move to widen the fair’s influence across the city and the region, as was PlugIn, a whole section dedicated to new media and electronic art.

“We actively try to establish networks between CI and the countries of the region through events and by consulting ambassadors and experts,” says Gureli. “Istanbul has strong economic, political and cultural relations with its neighbours, so naturally CI is part of this network.”

Outside of the fair, The Moving Museum, launched in Dubai in 2012, made an interesting mark on Istanbul. The exhibition, which visits a different city each year, straddled two floors of a disused car park. It was the result of a four-month residency where 31 international artists worked with 10 Turkish artists to create cleverly placed interactive works, videos and installations, all engaged with the story of the city.