- Arie Amaya-Akkermans
ArtInternational, which took place from the 16th to the 18th of September, is Istanbul’s newest art fair, and brings together leading international and local galleries in a celebration of contemporary art from Turkey, Europe, the Middle East and beyond. Middle Eastern Art expert Arie Amaya-Akkermans shared his thoughts on the fair over the course of the week, as well as posting photos, interviews and other highlights.
ArtInternational – Day 4 – 19.09.13
ArtInternational ended after four intense days of art and satellite events, inaugurating the art season, parallel to the 13th Istanbul Biennial and many openings in town. On the last day of the fair, speaking with Suzanne Egeran, she told us that in spite of all the challenges involved, this had been the best fair Istanbul ever hosted and that perhaps it did have some potential to consolidate. A French gallerist on the other hand, expressed his dissatisfaction with what he called a lack of engagement. As it is often the case in the Istanbul art world, local collectors prefer to play safe and only buy from established galleries that trade with local artists. A good number of galleries however, recognized that for being the first edition of the fair, the offer was substantial and that they were looking forward to seeing the fair grow.
Unlike other fairs, video-works were practically absent from the booths but an incredible stage, ‘Parallel Lines’, curated by Basak Senova, complemented the fair with a number of videos from cutting-edge artists such as Basim Magdy, Zeren Göktan, Larissa Sansour and Mounir Fatmi. On the last day, the public programme continued with a panel discussion on art criticism hosted by Sotheby’s and local art space Mixer, and two other events hosted by Colors, 5533, Protocinema and M-est. Speaking with Benjamin Kaufmann, a collector from Vienna, he remarked that however the selection of the art was excellent, the market seemed still very uncertain and another gallerist noted that many Turkish collectors were still away for holidays and were not present at the fair.
While dismantling the booths after the closing hour, with Ibid Projects, Carroll / Fletcher and Temnikova & Kasela, the handlers were on time and the staff very helpful. At the very last event of the fair, a party at Mama Shelter, we could meet the tired gallerists on their way to planes and hotels, concluding a very intense week in Istanbul. Some galleries ready to come back, some others absolutely reluctant. Time will tell whether ArtInternational will become Istanbul’s leading fair, but it has been thus far a modest and encouraging beginning. In the next editions of the fair, we are looking forward to see a more ready collecting public, a larger audience, better organization and accessibility. The calendar of fairs this year will continue with Vienna, Bogota, Abu Dhabi and many others.
A selection of seven very relevant artworks from the 3rd public day:
Merike Estna at Temnikova & Kasela: The young Estonian gallery surprised at the fair with one of the most alternative booths, featuring the young painter Merike Estna, classically trained and art history inspired, her works require careful study and concentration, as they tend to change in perception after some time. A number of large works in patterns and abstraction, were complemented by paper works and small installation works.
Estna is one of the Baltic region’s most established young artists, working on state commissions and due to be shown in museums. Working on pastels and quarter-tones, her piece Dark Folded Painting on Stretcher was captivating and presented her in Istanbul as an innovative artist from a region whose art is little known in the Middle East.
Seza Paker at Galerist: One of the established local galleries showed a variety of works at their booth, including an untitled work by Seza Paker, one of Turkey’s most mature conceptual artists, from the exhibition Sea of Tranquility, where the artist is engaged in questioning identity and the nature of belonging spatially through archives of memory. In her well known multi-layered approach, Paker is inspired by both art history and her own personal history living between Paris and Istanbul. A number of allegories are present in the work as aesthetic strategies that do not rely on any specific reading, but instead remain open-ended.
Susanne Kühn at Carroll / Fletcher: One of the most interesting contemporary German painters, Kühn was presented by this young London gallery at the fair. Her work Mushroom Hunt, acrylic on canvas, shows the technique the German painter is known best for: Using early art historical techniques with contemporary ideas and understanding of space. Her large works are often disconcerting, urban, and somehow outside the immediate focus of the pictorial space without being deliberate or accidental. Trained in Surrealism, the painter is very inspired by contemporary figurative American painting, causing landscapes and architectural interiors to collide and sometimes collapse into each other.
David Adamo at Ibid Projects: Another young London space comes to the fair with a young American artist based in Berlin. At the conceptual edge, working on sculpture and installation, and known for his majestic wood installations, he is presented in Istanbul with a small but very significant sculptural work. His Untitled (Shelf 2), deals with the reality of objects and memories of childhood, with almost radiating painted clay that defies its own material. Fragility of objects is a constant marker in Adamo’s work which appear sometimes as ruins, sometimes as crass objects, sometimes as vague images. His clean compositional sense blends in with the everyday creating an often unsettling effect.
Volkan Aslan at Pi Artworks: Another local gallery presenting a local artist, Aslan, who debuted with a solo show at ARTER, Don’t Forget to Remember. The small porcelain and ceramic statuettes, part of the ARTER installation showed at the fair, explore the simultaneity of fragility and temporality.
The singular pieces were thought provoking and attracted a lot of attention. The artist collects these fragile objects from flea markets and gives them a hybrid character by gluing broken parts of one onto another, creating along the way, disturbing visual realities.
Val Britton at Wendi Norris: A San Francisco-based gallery, Wendi Norris brings to the fair a young American artist working mainly on paper, creating what at first sight seems a collage or abstraction, but on closer inspection, opens up as calculated mappings and strategies.
In her work Contrail #1, present at the fair, Britton explores subjectivity and memory using graphite, ink and watercolour. Her work is primarily concerned with spatiality and the lack of consistency in this self-same space. Britton’s paper acquires a cinematic quality when looked at several times, and transmits a lot of information about boundaries, memory and imagination.
Alexander Ruthner at Ibid Projects: Painters from the German-speaking world were a sensation at the fair, and this trendy London gallery couldn’t be the exception. With a number of works by Alexander Ruthner, a young Viennese painter, classically trained in Dusseldorf, but experimenting with the everyday, locality and urbanscapes.
His work on canvas, Bazille, while seemly using certain iconography from pop art, is rather meditative and requires careful attention. The signifier is embedded in historical painting and begets contemporary questions of compositional scale and value.
ArtInternational – Day 3 – 18.09.13
On the second day of the fair, the flow of visitors steadily increased and galleries seemed to be very busy in the early afternoon. The events programme started with a collectors’ breakfast hosted by Sotheby’s in the morning, and ArtInternational Talks had a full programme discussing collecting practices, a SPOT projects slot dedicated to art and social engagement, and other topics such as art in times of crisis and acts of criticism. A discussion last night with Alistair Hicks, senior curator and collector of Deutsche Bank, roughly confirmed our coverage of the previous days: in spite of the challenges, the fair presented excellent art and while definitely not yet a competitor to the regional fair Art Dubai and a very different style of engagement than Abu Dhabi Art, the fair could likely become a next destination within several years’ time.
In the afternoon, we spoke with Sandy Angus, one of the founders of the fair who remained very positive and said that in spite of the challenges and last minute obstacles (the feud with Contemporary Istanbul over the fair’s title, the exhibitors’ time allocated to install, delivery of VIP invitations, among others) the fair was a successful beginning. He spoke about the quality of the art, perhaps as more refined and collectable than the rest of regional fairs, and vowed to improve upon many of the existing issues. Angus is expecting around 60% of the galleries to return next year, in accordance with general predictions of all fairs, and was very proud of the public programme that certainly attracted an audience. On record, a number of galleries have expressed satisfaction with the fair in general but small and mid-sized galleries have more diverse opinions.
Speaking yesterday with a European gallerist who brought a single piece, he left his booth for a few hours to speak with a local collector; on the other hand another gallerist from Europe as well, said she wouldn’t be back at the fair because most of her sales were connected to international collectors that she could meet in other fairs in Vienna and Miami. Some of the gallerists also remarked that access to events was not particularly easy and that they didn’t have an opportunity to meet local collectors. These small and mid-size galleries were interested in new buyers that they could grow with, rather than being associated with big names. Overall, the interest in Istanbul as an art destination is growing and perhaps the fair will consolidate in the coming years.
A selection of eight very relevant artworks from the second public day:
Jonathan Meese at Krinzinger: One of the strongest names in the Viennese art world, Ursula Krinzinger brought to Istanbul what could be considered perhaps the most important artworks in the fair, two large recent paintings of the German artist Jonathan Meese, oil with acrylic on canvas, ‘Der Tollste Kunstvogt Ruft: Es Ist Höchste Erzzeit, Las Vegas Durchzubayreuthen, Aber Zacki-Zacki’ and ‘Oberstoberstl ‘Las Vegas’ Brüllt: O’Zapfts’ Isis De Richarddaddy De Wagners (Parsifal=Kunstnerven)’.
His work is a theatrical and narrative performance, across a variety of formats, and after being discovered at a biennial in Berlin, Meese is unquestionably one of the most significant artists of his generation, having rebranded the abstract painting into narrative sequences. His work has been collected by major European museums and collections.
Mel Bochner at Egeran: A young Istanbul gallery but one of the most internationally profiled spaces, presented two paintings by Mel Bochner, a mature American conceptual artist whose idiosyncratic genre of painting, overlapping installation and text, constantly challenges the perception and possibility of art. His painting Oh well, on show at Egeran’s booth, is an excellent example of this leading conceptualist’s obsession with meaning, rather than the traditional dialectic between content and form.
Paintings that can be both contemplated and read, yet at the same time he refuses to let the reading consolidate and it evaporates into a passing substance that constitutes the whole experience of this artist’s work. Almost indulging in self-doubt, his paintings are both mesmerizing and reluctant.
Khaled Jarrar at Polaris: The Parisian gallery brings to Istanbul the Palestinian artist who recently had a solo in London, Khaled Jarrar, one of the most interesting emerging artists from the Arab region. Working across sculpture, photography, video and performance, Jarrar belongs to a new generation of Palestinian artists that explore the very difficult notions of statehood, nationhood, identity and violence in his native homeland, yet free from ideological constraints, constructed in smooth, almost minimal aesthetics.
One of the works presented at Polaris’ booth is Concrete Football Red, made out of material cut out from the concrete barrier separating Israel from the West Bank, transported to London and then executed. The political message is clear but his performance is universal and the delicate use of material is both perplexing and heart-warming.
Nilbar Gures at Rampa: Istanbul’s iconic gallery was present at the fair with a large booth containing many works, but on the first two days one could see an outstanding piece by Nilbar Gures, one of the leading emerging artists in Turkey, working across different formats. The beautiful collage, Double Goddess: The Sketch of Encounter (2012), mixed media on fabric, belongs to a series that the artist produced in New York, and that represent the maturity of her vision and the true encounter between the personal questions of the artist, the cultural memory of Turkey embedded in embroidery and handicraft, and the conceptual strength of a contemporary practitioner. The collages are both humorous and sentimental, critical and soft-spoken, aesthetic and performative.
Zeren Göktan at CDA / Zilberman: One dynamic local gallery brings to the fair, among many, a work of iconic Turkish artist Zeren Göktan, from her exhibition Counter, at CDA Projects, in 2013. The piece in question, We Are Inseparable, executed in traditional beadwork but within a very charged conceptual framework, speaks about the struggles of women facing violence in Turkish society.
Based on love songs, the work functions both as a lullaby and as a memory checkpoint. Collecting beads from many places, such as bazaars and prisons where men are sentenced do this beadwork with extreme care and patience, the exhibition was an extended mapping of time, of political sensibilities, of cultural history. Göktan’s portrait of domestic violence is uncanny and almost incomprehensible.
Johanna Calle at Krinzinger: The conceptual Colombian artist Johanna Calle, once a resident at Krizinger’s artistic residency programme is shown by the Viennese gallery, with three small paper works. Celebrated for her discreet and almost invisible drawings, such as Lied (2), produced in Austria, as a photographic drawing on analogue photograph, Calle’s signature work is well known for her concerns with environments of nature and memory, drawing heavily on social concerns in her native country and elsewhere, The once-oil-painter started drawing after 1994, wishing to develop new conceptual strategies and engaging in a more contemporary understanding of space as a total condition rather than as a mere pictorial space.
Herbert Brandl at Galerie nächst St. Stephan / Rosemarie Schwarzwälder: Another Viennese gallery surprises with strong painting works. Brandl, a very established Austrian neo-expressionist, occupies the entire booth with large colourful paintings that go beyond abstraction and are inscribed as composite worlds. Yet, a smooth cerulean untitled painting at the entrance of the booth is captivating in its layered simplicity, open to an endless number of readings. Inspired by the great masters of the 19th and 20th century, Brandl upsets the balance of colour fields and requires careful and slow contemplation, as much as an invitation to this conceptual universe. In re-framing the painting object, Brandl turns to surfaces that are yet clear figurative content but unfurl into pure painting experience.
Musaed Al Hulis at Athr: The trendiest Saudi gallery is present at the fair with a number of artists, among which Al Hulis, a young Saudi artist, is outstanding. Working across different sculptural formats, the design-trained artist, is adding a fresh materiality on emotional and traditional themes of the Arabian Gulf, presenting him as a cutting-edge practitioner.
One of the works presented, Bid’ah (Fallacy), made out of metal chains and locks, reflects on the lack of co-existence between people of different religious communities, as if those affiliations would lock us in isolation. Surprisingly literal, and yet minimal, this work speaks for a whole new generation of Gulf artists.
ArtInternational – Day 2 – 17.09.13
The first public day of ArtInternational started off with a crowd less visible than one usually expects in other traditional fairs, but the flow of visitors was constant and once the first batch of collectors from the first hours of the VIP preview passed through, the art professionals could spend some more time with the works and a number of masterful pieces were to be found, sometimes in less obvious spaces. The comments on the corridor about the sales were varied, but with these things you can never know, except by combining the art dealer instinct with the scepticism of a journalist; nevertheless the booth of a Turkish gallery promised that they would replace nearly all of the works as they had been apparently sold already, and one work by Hadieh Shafie, 22300 pages, was already replaced at Leila Heller’s booth.
ArtInternational Talks began with a conversation between British contemporary artist Keith Coventry and the archaeologist Stefaan Poortman, overseer of the conservation work of a 12,000 year-old temple site in southeastern Turkey, by the Global Heritage Fund. The discussion reminded us of the British Museum’s exhibition Ice Age Art: The Arrival of the Modern Mind when primitive and modern art overlapped over the birth of form. Trevor Paglen discussed his new work on show at Protocinema in Istanbul, Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite (Design 4; Build 3), with Defne Ayas, combining insights from information technology in the age of disinformation. Lastly, Delfina Foundation hosted a discussion with Aaron Cezar on the ‘politics of food’, with some interesting names, including Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour.
In terms of the art being shown, it is difficult to summarize a fair as it is happening, and one is often overwhelmed with the works, coeval with the biennial events happening in the city at the same time, and other openings by the local galleries. Nevertheless on second inspection, the impressions of the first day were somewhat confirmed. Keeping up with the trends set by Basel this year, abstract art has returned in painting and other formats, but mostly painting, as the form becomes updated by the artists, bridging an art historical gap, leaving behind less material works from earlier years. Technology is also present at the fair, with photography, installations, paintings, digital artworks and other projects that rely on technology and engineering (particularly information technology) being applied to art. Lastly, a number of quality works on paper, also dealing with abstraction, can be seen at the fair.
A selection of eight very relevant works from the first public day:
Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige at In Situ: The Parisian gallery deeply surprised by bringing three works of the Lebanese duo from their acclaimed project, The Lebanese Rocket Society, including A Carpet, a large handmade rug (555 x 295 cm) with the pattern of the Cedar IV, the most successful Lebanese rocket launched by Armenian college’s professor Manoug Manougian in the 1960s, at the centre of the artists’ project, now exhibited worldwide and in conjunction with a film. The size of the rug reproduces a carpet of the same size, woven in the 1920s and offered to the White House as a token of recognition of the American help to their orphanage in Lebanon.
Driss Ouadahi at Hosfelt Gallery: This San Francisco gallery brought three works by Driss Ouadahi, the Algerian painter and architect, including his Sandstorm (2012, 1700 x 200 cm) revealing his style of exploring the legacy of architectural Modernity and its disappointment about itself as a functional framework to re-arrange the human condition. His work deals with the impossibility for the human sensorial apparatus to adapt itself to mass public housing developments and hyperspaces, finding itself living in a world of emotional impoverishment. Yet the colourful quarter-tones and the variety of details make his work pleasurable for long stares and familiar to those acquainted with the colourful painting of the Maghreb.
Michael Najjar at Carroll / Fletcher: This young contemporary London space brings two works of German artist Michael Najjar, who is well known for his multifaceted exploration of simulation and the contemporary challenge of space and reality, on a grand scale. In his work Nikkei_66_09, Najjar climbed some of the highest mountains in the planet, photographing mountain ridges, manipulated to represent the fluctuations of stock exchange indexes. In his practice, comprising photography, performance, research and documentation, the artist presents his critique of the market as an overwhelming reality that can hardly be distinguished from simulation.
Conrad Shawcross at Gabriel Rolt: The Dutch gallerist brings to Istanbul an Amsterdam-based installation slash sculpture, by a trend-setting and very original British artist, Pre-Retroscope III (Amsterdam Journey), 2012. Continuing his work with mechanics, embedded in an extended conceptual framework, which he began in 2002 with the first prototype, documenting sea journeys as a voyage, passage or archaeological intervention. One of the few sculptural installations at the fair, it is a work based on technology but yet the investigation on time at work in it reveals an artist still at the height of its powers, concerned with ecological, aesthetic and performative elements in his extended practice.
Hera Büyüktasciyan at Mana: One of Istanbul’s leading local galleries, presents among many others, a watercolour and soap-based installation work by Büyüktasciyan who was recently nominated as the Turkish finalist of the Henkel Art Award. The work on show is the continuation of an extended on-site installation of the artist, executed in Istanbul, in which she recreated one of the city’s traditional hammams, based only on soap and usage of space. I had reviewed that exhibition back then, and the review is available from The Mantle. Titled ‘A Survey on Anti-Memory’, the work tackles as well the urban transformations of Istanbul and is complemented by beautiful metaphoric watercolours.
Goran Petercol at Galerija Gregor Podnar: The Slovenian gallery, now with a branch in Berlin, has a distinguished portfolio of Eastern European artists that is a fresh addition in Istanbul where only recently this kind of art has being shown. With a number of small conceptual drawings on paper, such as Shadow of a Pencil, the Croatian artist Goran Petercol – who works on a variety of media, including also light installations and ink – tackles fundamental concepts such as heterotopy and the qualities of spaces, through art historical questions on space, points and lines based on simple visual equations and primal forms.
Marwan Sahmarani at Lawrie Shabibi: One of Dubai’s leading young galleries comes to the fair with a significant number of works, including a beautiful painting by the Paris-trained Lebanese painter, largely occupied with contemporaneity and art history. The large painting presented, from his ‘Huroub’ series, is a successful re-interpretation of a painting canon, with watercolours overlapping with ink, varnish, and textile, but almost imperceptibly. On closer look, it is not an abstract work, but rather, the scenario of the medieval battles that have fascinated the artists and how they can acquire a historical and art historical dimension inside his complexly textured work.
Trevor Paglen at Protocinema: The nomadic non-profit, wandering between Istanbul and New York, brings to the fair two works of the American artist-cum-geographer, to complement his Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite (Design 4; Build 3) being shown in Istanbul. The works on show, in C-print format, speak for the artist’s research with satellites and the conquest of space, not from a utopian or space-journey perspective, but as a crisis of the public domain in terms of freedom of and access to information. The photographs track and document classified American satellites, debris and obscure objects in our planet’s orbit using observational data produced by amateur satellites.
ArtInternational – Day 1 – 16.09.13
After a few months of building expectation, amongst a plethora of new international art fairs, ArtInternational opened its doors to press, collectors and VIPs on Sunday, and to the public on Monday. The brainchild of Dyala Nusseibeh, Sandy Angus and artistic director Stephane Ackermann, Art International is the city’s second fair, promising a more international outlook, with the hope that in time it will rank alongside the world’s major international fairs, perhaps consolidating itself as a fierce competitor to the region’s major art fair, Art Dubai. Held at the Halic Congress Center, on the shores of the Golden Horn, the fair brings together 62 leading and emerging galleries from Turkey, the Middle East, Europe and the US.
An outstanding Artistic Programme, curated by the artistic director, features site-specific installations, films and performances around the venue. A video programme curated by Basak Senova together with a space for non-profits curated by Özkan Cangüven and a Talks Programme, complement the galleries’ offering. An outdoor section at the waterfront features sculptures by six different galleries. VIP lounge, restaurants, and a number of events, on par with similar art fairs, are also part of the programme. The first hours of the fair on Sunday, following the collectors’ brunch, revealed a great venue with an important array of participating galleries and known faces from the art world, collectors and the media. The diversity of participants, from new and emerging to well established, is remarkable for a new fair.
A small controversy surrounded the start of the fair, as a court hearing took place between the organizers of Contemporary Istanbul (the city’s first art fair) and ArtInternational, over an alleged breach of copyright concerning the use of name Art International Istanbul (as the fair was originally named), and while a decision has not been made, the fair removed the location ‘Istanbul’ from its title. New press material was printed immediately and the fair proceeded as usual. Some of the exhibitors complained that they had very little time to install their booths but eventually everyone was ready on time and the fair opened as scheduled. The design and set-up of the fair is intelligent and well presented, but somewhat difficult to navigate, at least when compared to other fairs.
Some of the most interesting booths, from a quick glimpse, are Egeran Galeri (Istanbul) with paintings of Mel Bochner, Galeri Krinzinger (Vienna) with paper works by Joanna Calle and large paintings by Jonathan Meese, Carroll Fletcher (London) with the work of Michael Najjar, Lawrie Shabibi (Dubai) with a large painting by Marwan Sahmarani, Galerie Polaris (Paris) with different works by Khaled Jarrar, non-profit Protocinema (Istanbul/New York) with Trevor Paglen, Hosfelt (San Francisco) with painter Driss Ouadahi and Rampa (Istanbul) with Nilbar Gures. Yet the fair is only starting and one day is not enough time to see everything. There definitely is variety also in term of the quality of the artworks.
It is too early to speak of the aesthetics of the fair, but there is a strong Middle Eastern component by both regional and international galleries, and following with the trends seen already at Frieze and Basel, contemporary painting is returning to the market, indicating a mild shift in collectors’ taste from previous interest in photography and more conceptual works, as much as certain modifications in the consciousness of the contemporary as seen in the previous years of the decade. At the same time, digital works are not a rarity at ArtInternational and the conceptual component is there, but certainly overridden by painting. The sculpture offer is rather small but significant, also offering a glimpse into certain type of materiality prevalent nowadays, tackling objects more than forms.
In the coming three days, we should be interviewing a number of gallerists and artists, perhaps unearthing some galleries that have been less talked about, discussing the opinions of the public, and trying to get a taste of the commercial success of the fair, although already a few hours after the private view opening, a European gallery revealed off the record, a number of important sales. It will be also interesting to see what the Istanbul audience will be like and whether the fair raises an interest outside collectors and professional circles. The position of Turkey is privileged, with a strong economy and right in the middle of the two overlapping worlds of Europe and the Middle East. Many factors and circumstances will define whether Art International is a success or not, but they are certainly in for an interesting start.
Photos of Day 1:
By Arie Amaya-Akkermans