The 15th edition of Contemporary Istanbul, one of the leading modern art fairs of Turkey, was initially delayed from September to December due to ongoing measures to contain the coronavirus this year. A virtual event was launched on Monday while the physical event has been postponed again to April 27, 2021. As the event is available on the internet until Jan. 6, let’s take a look at some of the standout galleries and artists among its attendees.
Contemporary Istanbul Foundation Gallery, the gallery of the event's namesake foundation hosts diverse works from dozens of artists. The foundation, called the Contemporary Istanbul Art, Culture and Education Foundation (ÇISKEV), continues to thrive under the motto of promoting distinct contemporary styles of artworks. It mainly features Turkish artists with the aim of introducing Turkish modern art and culture to the world, but it also welcomes foreign artists.
The virtual gallery displays pieces from over 30 artists so there is a lot to see, but Haluk Akakçe's acrylic work, "Give Us a Kiss Darling," catches the eye. The broad dark strokes outlining the face of a female figure on a bright yellow background stands out. The distinct style of Akakçe is on full display with the figure's exaggerated, or rather, twisted facial features, reminding of the artist's previous work. The two-tone piece is definitely worth a second look.
Canan Tolon's paintings also capture one's imagination, particularly "Everything is Hunky-dory." The oil painting's title sounds more like a question or a sarcastic statement because the piece seems to depict the opposite. Tolon's usual style of black tones is present in this piece again. There are also faint outlines of what looks like electrical towers, apartments or factories. Although the identity of the dark shapes is not clear, the feeling they evoke certainly is. Despite its name, it leaves a bitter taste rather than hope.
Akbank Art Gallery, presented by the main sponsor of the event, participates in Contemporary Istanbul with another unique selection of mostly contemporary and some up and coming Turkish artists. This year, their gallery is curated by Hasan Bülent Kahraman.
There are pieces from more than 11 Turkish artists on display in the gallery, and all of them share the same theme, which is "The Carnival of Corona Diaries," in different forms. Seydi Murat Koç's untitled works are some of the most powerful examples of that theme.
Koç's second untitled painting depicts an expired car half enveloped by outgrown foliage set against the backdrop of a metropolitan city. It certainly reflects the direction that the world is headed toward right now with people locked in their homes because of the global coronavirus pandemic and nature left free to roam. The painting evokes similar sentiments to Sırma Doruk and Deniz Ateş's photographic works from the same gallery, of abandoned buildings and empty-looking cities. The post-apocalyptic atmosphere offers a strange serenity as well. The world that Koç presents is not destroyed but rather restored by nature.
Vision Art Platform Gallery virtual representation provides a variety of distinct styles of paintings, photographs and designs. The platform aims to combine and bridge together the dynamism of street art and popular art with contemporary art. The interdisciplinary exhibition's goal is to bring all ages and races of art lovers together, and it features five unique artists.
Albena Martinova's works of silhouette imageries of female figures stand out among the group. Martinova explores the concepts of deterritorialization and not belonging. The figures stand behind a veil of fog, or glass with their expressions, features and identities lost. Only their silhouette remains behind.
Çağrı Saray’s works, which are the continuation of his series, "Places of Memory," deal with urban/architectural structures as the vital point of social relation networks that have a meaning specific to the individual. The pieces by the artist, which features information on Turkey's recent history and social memory, focus on urban structures referring to the individual and collective memory along with the symbolic meaning of these structures.
Candaş Şişman aims to guide our concept of time, space and movement with her works using digital and mechanical technologies. Taking natural sciences and the universe as a reference, the artist combines physical forms with digitally produced images.
Leyla Emadi's works are also influenced by her surroundings and the society she lives in although she imagines a world where free will prevails. And Ufuk Yılmaz deals with the relationship between humans and the nature of living spaces of modern architecture in his works in the field of painting.
Ahmet Yeşil's distinct style, which I can only describe as string paintings, can be seen in Gallery Diani. Yeşil's "Sound and Marks" is an especially fascinating piece of work. The entangled clutter of ropes or strings and knots seem as if they are veins carrying blood with their enchantingly beautiful red color. The strings are vertically pulled apart, untangled and become thinner and thinner as you approach the middle and seem to represent the thread that is holding our life together.
Yasemin Cengiz Çağatay, an enthusiast and artist since early childhood, has prepared an explosive show of colors in the Galeri MCRD exhibition. Among Çağatay's works, "In a Heartbeat" is especially mesmerizing. A fantastical collage of flower figures of cadmium yellow, violet and indigo blue cover most of the color spectrum. Meanwhile, your heart certainly does skip a beat when you see the "Peacock Angel," Çağatay's other work. It perfectly captures the surreal majesty of a peacock with deep and striking reds and soft peach tones intertwined with deep blacks to create a radial composition. The colors on Çağatay's dreamlike images are riveting.
In the C.A.M. Gallery, which focuses on innovative and original works with a strong emphasis on emerging talents, Sidar Baki catches your eye and heart with his sincere, thought-provoking acrylic paintings. His three artworks, all of which are untitled, depict what seems to be run-down suburban settings and share the environmental sentiments of many others in Virtual Contemporary Istanbul. With rising sea levels and unprecedented amounts of waste, Baki's choice to center the frames on little children amplifies the core feeling of threat to innocence. "What kind of future will we leave behind?" and "How much will future generations be able to enjoy the innocence of their childhood?" are the essential questions Baki seems to pose.
Sinem Dişli displays her incredible nighttime photographs in the Martch Art Project Gallery. Dişli's enchanting pair of photographic works featuring the night sky, and historical settings are the creme de la creme of the gallery. Her "Pognon's Cave Remains" and "Holy Hill" photographs, both taken during the phase of the new moon, center on the historical Sogmatar ruins in southeastern Turkey's Şanlıurfa province. The ruins belong to a temple to Moon-God Sin, built more than 2,000 years ago. The magical stars and galaxies hypnotize the eyes as they take you on a journey through time and space.
Victor Castillo's "We Were All to Be Kings" series in the Isabel Croxatto Galeria, offers some of the most unique and easily identifiable visuals you can see virtually in the entire event. Inspired by the vintage animations of the '40s, the acrylic paintings were a surprise for me but a most welcome one. The incredible colors and the surreal depiction make you inexplicably nostalgic for a bygone era that you may not even have lived through. At the same time, the charming classic character figures carry a sinister undertone. Castillo's obsession with popular culture, cartoons and science fiction works is on full display with these mural paintings. They are ironic, playful, dreamy and unsettling at the same time. These may be my favorite artworks of the Virtual Contemporary Istanbul.