Contemporary art in Istanbul Featured

The city has become a major destination for art lovers.

by 19 October 2009

As Istanbul gets ready for 2010 when it will become a European Capital of Culture, the city’s cultural institutions strive to make it one of the major art destinations on the planet. Istanbul has always been on an art lover’s radar. Now more and more collectors are finding their way to the thriving city thanks to the increasing confidence in the Turkish contemporary art market. This February Sotheby’s first Turkish contemporary art sale in London closed with brilliant results, proving that Turkish contemporary art is on the rise in the international market. On the homefront, institutions are gathering momentum to promote Turkish art to national and international audiences.

Istanbul Modern Museum of Art revealed its expanding collection with an extensive exhibition last May as it celebrates its fifth birthday this year. Founded by the Eczacibasi family whose modern art collection served as a starting point, the museum has acquired new modern and contemporary artworks to expand its permanent collection and take a broader look on the history of modern art in Turkey. Aptly named ‘New Works, New Horizons’, the exhibition brings together 200 works by over 130 Turkish and international artists, all on show until 26 May 2010.

The International Istanbul Biennial has been organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts since 1987, and has been curated by prominent curators such as Dan Cameron, Hou Hanru, Rosa Martinez, Vasıf Kortun and Beral Madra among others. Rather than focusing on national pavilions like most other biennials, Istanbul Biennial seeks to provide an opportunity for both emerging and established artists regardless of their nationality.

This year, the 11th Istanbul Biennial is curated by the Croatian curatorial collective WHM / What, How & For Whom around the concept of “What Keeps Mankind Alive?”, inspired by the song of the same name featured in Bertolt Brecht’s ‘The Threepenny Opera’ In an age where contemporary artworks sell for millions of dollars even in the midst of an unseen global financial crisis, it is indeed a challenging question to ask. With this question, WHW offers Brecht as a starting point for looking at the hidden mistakes of the past and interpreting them within a cultural context to move into the future. Among the artists who have responded to this existential question are KP Brehmer, Nam June Paik, Nevin AladaÄŸ, Yüksel Arslan, Aydan MurtezaoÄŸlu and Bülent Åžangar.

Another organization that attracts thousands of art lovers in the first week of December to the city and aims to make it the new contemporary art destination is Contemporary Istanbul. Contemporary Istanbul is advised by a committee of leading artists, art professionals and collectors focused on making contemporary art more relevant and accessible by organizing exhibitions and talks not just during the fair but throughout the year. Last year approximately 48,000 people visited Contemporary Istanbul art fair, leading Turkish contemporary artist Burhan DoÄŸançay’s ‘Stonewall’ was priced at a record million dollars and total sales amounted to 13,5 million dollars.

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