Despite the climate of bald commerciality, the prolific multi-gallery fair ambiance of Artweeks@Akaretler has a certain historical, if not entirely critical, appeal from an academic or curatorial standpoint. The collections of so many galleries, and even private corporations, are, as it were, unveiled, revealing an enviable degree of insight into the backstories of the art world in Turkey – which a monthly solo or group show might not encompass due to the dedication of its conceptual focus or commitment to a specific collection.
Within the breezy strip of swanky apartments in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district, a smorgasbord of artworks grace the floors and walls, cleanly presented and timed to coincide with the reopening of the new art season, as Istanbul’s summery atmosphere cools and beckons people inside, comforted by the opportunity to see the fruits of local creatives in dialogue with the international cultural establishment. One striking observation, literally the translation of “Rasat,” a curation by Sinan Eren Erk at Yıldız Holding, is of a piece by Halil Altındere beside a Picasso.
Last year, Altındere, an inveterate trickster of artistic satire, produced a folding book of miniatures titled, “The Lawyer of Sultan Süleyman Going to Friday Prayer” (2020). It is a strong adaptation of the traditional Islamic arts of miniature and calligraphy, a series of 14 watercolors and gold on vegetal dyed paper with handmade “muraqqa” (a miniature painting technique). Many of the paintings consist of men in lavish Ottoman palace garb walking as they might have four hundred years ago. But here, and there, are 21st-century detours.
A man in a robe with a tall, feathered conical hat rides an electric scooter, the type normally seen among tourists on route to espy his very outfit, or likenesses of it, in works of art similar to that which Altindere quoted for his humorous invention. To conclude the illustrations, a group of multicolored youth in contemporary clothes stand behind a sign that reads, “Vegan.” The cognitive dissonance is as brilliant as the artist’s technical precision. The India ink sketch, “Picador in the Arena” (1959) by Picasso has an eastward relevance next to Altındere’s outlook.
In that same room is a photograph altered to Japan’s “kintsugi” style of broken pottery. The image, by Sarkis Zabunyan (known as Sarkis), is of the interior of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. The seasoned Paris-based artist from Istanbul made the piece in 2021, although its methods are directly related to his solo exhibition, “Untitled,” mounted at Dirimart in late 2020. The decontextualized reshowing of such pieces, after their institutional curations, might trigger debates about art as commodified objects, a critique that has raged since time immemorial among artists, dealers and collectors.
Another Istanbul-based artist, although of a younger generation, has a more unaffected, also personal approach to the legacy of miniature painting as it reemerges in contemporary art. Yuşa Yalçıntaş, represented by Pi Artworks, has leapt from the ground of his previous works, experimenting with his curious architectural geometries that touch on themes apparent in ancient Central Asian Turkic cultures. Under the title, “House Kite” (2021), his piece of figurative drawing centers a carpet-adorned yurt at the end of kite strings flown by children.
When considering the public display of “House Kite” by Yalçıntaş, the significance of Artweeks@Akaretler increases as a forum for previewing young artists’ works prior to their formalized exhibition. It is a sneak peek into yet discovered worlds of creative venturing, which is especially spectacular to note following the unprecedented degree of introversion that artists use as fertile soil to inspire visionary growth. That worn, organic metaphor is not lost on abstract ceramicist Burçak Bingöl, whose installation, “Cargo” (2019) is refreshingly eccentric.
As part of Zilberman Gallery’s addition to the fair, Bingöl’s delicate wooden shelving holds a library of gleaming clay wares, perhaps once-practical mugs and pots, overgrown with coral-like layers of what looks like marine minerals, but with a kind of dysphoric malaise reminiscent of industrial waste sludge, discolored and almost grotesque. Bingöl animates objects with a deathly sheen. Her ceramics are like bodies spent, weighed and sickened by the mass corruption of materiality in the wake of capitalist overconsumption.
On the other side of the spectrum, Antonio Cosentino, a Turkish artist of Italian descent, repurposes found materials to create vessels, crafts and characters for his fictional universe of narratives, maps and personalities. He is a wide-eyed literary artist with a bent toward story, and his artworks are figments of his imagined sets, designed from time to time in the context of a performance. One of his favorite materials, tin, forms the structure of his pristine model car, “Ferâre” (2015), parked under his pop-vein oil painting, “Butcher Cemal” (2011).
The prevalence of craft over concept, of making over thought is perpetually upheld by artists like Yalçıntaş, an old-school draftsman, and by painters, who remain in force in Istanbul’s art scene, as is evident at Artweeks@Akaretler, particularly in the flat hosted by X-Ist, where the oils of Aylin Zaptçıoğlu detail her fantastical, otherworldly imagination. Her untitled canvas portrays a girl racing with an excited dog as her feet are planted into the frozen splash of puddles. Their monochrome, gray coloration is set against a pinkish background.
Zaptçıoğlu’s canvas hangs beside a quartet of smaller paintings, each one exuding the fairy dust of legend, like meticulous snapshots of an adolescent mind hooked on tales of fictitious lands, fabricated objects, dream-like in their phenomenal mirroring. In the same room, a trio of oil paintings by Seda Hepsev is more quotidian, yet stirs a visual sensation of the sublime in the immaculately round textures of her pale, palpable colors. The knot of a curtain becomes voluptuous in her hands, its contours utterly sensuous.
One of the more exciting vistas at Artweeks@Akaretler is curated by Pilevneli Gallery, specifically for exhibiting paintings by Ali Elmacı, Tarık Töre and Erdoğan Zümrütoğlu, whose brash styles are distinctive not only of their generation, its coloring outside the comfort zones of aesthetic decor, but of Pilevneli as a gallery that has a powerful voice, bridging the gap where pop art brushes shoulders with critical sophistication. Töre and Elmacı share an affinity for brazen, cartoonish portraiture that evokes video game sport and social media saturation.
Zümrütoğlu is an abstract expressionist writ large, although often stressing more on the abstract, his color fields are dominated by shapeshifting forms that seem to bend and assimilate recognizable objects, only to fall away into faded blurs of his generously vibrant palette, swarming with touches of formal potential that prompt seers to think for themselves of just what might have been if the artist wanted to capture thingness. But shying from the absolutism of readymade semblances is cathartic during a fair replete with mostly rectangular objects that scream for attention under the blinding white lights of art’s irrational popularity.
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