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Contemporary Istanbul art fair is here and now

The recently concluded Contemporary Istanbul art fair brought a ring of relevance to the ancient city steeped in a rich history.

by Georgina Maddox Sep 16, 2019

Istanbul is known for its rich traditional arts of miniatures, marbling, calligraphy and its stunning architecture, like the Hagia Sophia, which speaks of its layered history. The former Greek Orthodox Christian cathedral was later converted into an Ottoman imperial mosque and now it is a museum, Ayasofya Müzesi - located at the heart of Istanbul. However, since 2009, the city that is situated at the meeting point of Europe and Asia, and is the capital of Turkey, has been playing host to Contemporary Istanbul (CI), which has quickly become the leading annual art fair in the region. 

The Contemporary Istanbul encourages parents to bring their kids, no matter how young, to the fair! | Contemporary Istanbul | STIR
The Contemporary Istanbul encourages parents to bring their kids, no matter how young, to the fair! Image Credit: Courtesy of Contemporary Istanbul

The 14th edition of Contemporary Istanbul (CI) recently concluded on September 15, 2019, coinciding with the preview of 16th Istanbul Biennial, curated by Nicolas Bourriaud. Anissa Touati, a French independent curator and an exhibition maker, was appointed as the new Artistic Director of CI. She brought a new asset to this year’s edition, which focussed on curated initiatives of the fairground together with an outside curated area.

A typical booth at the Contemporary Istanbul | Contemporary Istanbul | STIR
A typical booth at the Contemporary Istanbul Image Credit: Courtesy of Contemporary Istanbul

“For the 14th edition of Contemporary Istanbul, we will reflect on the question of Mediterraneanism, exploring the unification of the basin from the past to the present day. I look forward to working to further build strategic partnerships, forging relationships with organisations both locally and internationally, enhancing what has been achieved to date,” said Touati before the fair began.

Another first is that CI collaborated with Art-O-Rama Art Fair, building a talk cross-programme directed by Salma Tuqan, the Deputy Director of the Delfina Foundation. Contemporary Istanbul not only strived to bring stimulating new ideas to the fair but actively engaged in enhancing the cultural programme within the city. Recent Acquisitions I / Collectors’ Stories exhibition showcased recently acquired artworks selected from 41 private Turkish collections. The exhibition was curated by CI Executive Committee member Hasan Bulent Kahraman, and took place during CI’19. 

A painting reinvented at the Contemporary Istanbul art fair | Contemporary Istanbul | STIR
A painting reinvented at the Contemporary Istanbul art fair Image Credit: Courtesy of Contemporary Istanbul

Esra Özkan was the curator for the 7th edition of Plugin, CI’s new media section. It brought works of internationally renowned new media artists under the theme RW. Coming together with art and forming one of the basic principles of contemporary approaches for knowing, perceiving and feeling the world, technology transformed in the light of our experiences from the past to the present, leaving a mark in the minds of humanity along with creating a new aesthetic language by blending the cultural elements of Mediterranean basin with global digital art language.

A traditional Greek sculpture given a contemporary twist at the Contemporary Istanbul art fair | Contemporary Istanbul | STIR
A traditional Greek sculpture given a contemporary twist at the Contemporary Istanbul art fair Image Credit: Courtesy of Contemporary Istanbul

Throughout Plugin, the exhibition addressed all new forms of understandings that were created by the artist in the laboratory and launched with the objective to offer unique experiences on their own - the bodily interaction of the audience, the influence that it receives from new conscience forms experienced, and how it is perceived, how it communicates with the surroundings. It also presented the historical background of these processes through neo-archeological perspectives.

The number of participating galleries at CI also increased - while 2018 saw the participation of galleries from the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, France, and the U.S., in 2019, 74 galleries participated, with the programme also supporting the galleries in countries such as Russia, China, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania, Portugal, South Africa and Ghana.

Performance artists ambulate at the Contemporary Istanbul | STIR
Performance artists ambulate at the Contemporary Istanbul Image Credit: Courtesy of Contemporary Istanbul

The art ranged from interactive installations to new media art, live performance art, sculpture and even the traditional oil on canvas paintings, but all with a contemporary twist. Definitely worth catching at this edition was the VIP Preview, which included not only a visit to the art fair but a tour of the historic city, its cafes and its intoxicating culture. 

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About Author

Georgina Maddox

Georgina Maddox

Maddox is an independent critic-curator with 18-years-experience in the field of Indian art and culture. She blurs the lines of documentation, theory and praxis by involving herself in visual art projects. Besides writing on immersive art for STIR World, she is a regular contributor for The Hindu and Architectural Digest.

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