Touted at the premiere art fair in Turkey, Contemporary Istanbul returns for its 18th edition, from 28 September to 1 October.
Featuring 67 galleries, with 8 initiatives and museums representing artists from 22 countries, Contemporary Istanbul focuses on the promotion of integrating culture into the Turkish city.
Ocula Advisory headed to Tersane Istanbul, a former Ottoman imperial shipyard on the Golden Horn, and found four fantastic sculptures showing at the fair.
Four stainless steel cypress trees by the Turkish sculptor Osman Dinç stood front and centre of Pi Artworks' booth.
These trees appear time and time again throughout Dinç's practice—who now is in his mid-70s. For him, it's their similarities to human beings that's the draw. Like us, they go against gravity, heading skyward while their roots plummet down (an attribute that makes them the top choice for cemeteries in Turkey we learnt). They represent everything about survival, moving on, and life, cemented in his slick, stainless steel creations.
The gallery's Turkish founder and director, Jade Yesim Turanli has always been a staunch supporter of Contemporary Istanbul, participating in the fair every year since its conception in 2005.
'Although better than 10, or 20, years back, Turkey still has a small network of both institutions and collectors,' Turanli says. 'I've made it my mission to mentor the younger galleries and engage with the younger generation of artists in the country. While I'll always show one foreign artist at the fair, the rest will be Turkish'.
Marion Verboom at THE PILL, Istanbul and Paris
Although calling Paris home, Marion Verboom's series of totemic sculpture, titled 'Achronies', was born during a residency in Istanbul in 2015. At this time, Verboom was preparing for a solo exhibition, and debut with THE PILL, which saw her experiment with the idea of stacking disjointed fragments of pigmented plaster in modular combinations.
Inspired by the timelessness of columns in the course of history, Verboom looked at how images and inscriptions were adopted and adapted throughout the Mediterranean—starting from Egypt and Turkey, then moving west to Greece and Spain.
With galleries in both Paris and Istanbul and a split programme to reflect this, THE PILL boasts a strong collector base in both regions. Speaking from the fair, the gallery's director, Alca Ağabeyoğlu has observed a notable rise in young local collectors engaging with their programme and speaks of increasing efforts to showcase local talent within the city.
At Zeyrek Çinili Hamam, three of Verboom's large-scale totem poles are included in Healing Ruins (30 September–11 November 2023), a group exhibition at the newly restored Ottoman hammam.
Argun Okumuşoğlu at Galeri Siyah Beyaz, Ankara
As one of the oldest contemporary galleries in Turkey—established 40 years ago in its capital of Ankara—the gallery's booth at the entrance of the fair was a welcomed introduction to the breadth and depth of contemporary Turkish art.
Boasting a programme that stretches across three generations, it was one of their earliest recruits, the artist Argun Okumuşoğlu, that caught our attention.
The artist made an installation from old electrical boxes that he'd collected, each adorned with reproductions of historical paintings or relics that have littered art history.
In one, two hand-made mannequins shrouded in fur and wearing crowns nodded to van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (1434), while another imitated The Scream (1893) by Edvard Munch, accessorised with Louis Vuitton's Damier pattern behind.
Nicolás Bonilla at SGR Galería, Bogotá
Last year, Nicolás Bonilla travelled around Spain picking up different clays from different sites and brought them back to his studio in Madrid.
Fired through various ceramic techniques, each ceramic mound is immaculately displayed in an open wooden cabinet, reminiscent of a curio box.
It was the painstaking variety between each display that stuck with you. While some mounds were marbled—coloured by coffee, salt, banana peel, and cow faeces in the woodfire—others were more simple in appearance, yet equally beautiful, such as the shimmering glow of those that had been in contact with silver nitrate.
As one of two galleries from Latin America at the fair, Nicolás Bonilla and SGR Galería's participation in the Turkish fair could come as a surprise. However, a little digging found that a Turkish collector visiting Untitled Art, Miami Beach 2022 took a shine to Bonilla's work in SGR Galería's booth and encouraged them both to introduce their art to Turkish audiences.
Main image: Nicolás Bonilla, Lanzarote (2023). 900 ceramic rocks and wooden cabinet. 153 x 100 x 5 cm. Courtesy SGR Galería, Bogotá and the artist.