Artinternational - The Rise of Turkish Art

In September Artinternational returned to Istanbul for its third edition, with a record number of galleries exhibiting an array of classic to quirky pieces. In just three short years the fair has become the leading international contemporary art fair, set along the stunning waterfront overlooking the Bosphorus at Haliç Congress Center.

Amidst a sea of international works by over 400 artists ranging from Miró to Banksy, four Turkish artists stood out from the crowd, attracting visitors to ponder the profound meaning behind a whimsical facade of neon lights and gold embellishment. 

At .artSumer’s booth, German-born Erdal Duman presented his installation “860” Teardrop Bottles, confronting visitors with an entire wall made up of 860 exquisite, blown glass vases. The ornamental teardrop bottles, a Middle Eastern funeral tradition, are for mourners to fill with their tears to then be placed in the tombs of the deceased as a symbol of their love and respect. Duman, who lives and works in Ankara, is often influenced by the Gulf War and shapes of objects that represent war and tragedy. Covering the entire gallery wall, the 860 bottles seemed to convey the sheer scale of human loss caused by war. Suspended inside a metal frame, “dimdik / upright” a gold-emblazoned bone sculpture hung eerily opposite the wall of tears, attracting viewers to come face to face with the violence of conflict.  

At Louise Alexander Gallery, attendees clad in bright harem pants and Stan Smiths flocked around a neon sign by Turkish artist duo Yasemin Baydar and Birol Demir known collectively as :mentalKLINIK. The duo’s whimsical art is influenced by hedonism and festivity but often hints at a darker meaning. As a young woman snapped an instagram, the handwritten pink and yellow scrawl ‘are you happy enough’ echoed an emotionally charged message, not unlike waking up with a bad hangover after the party is long over and the buzz has worn off.

Strategically placed in a passageway connecting one wing to the next, Pi Artworks presented a large neon installation by Ankara native Mehmet Ali Uysal. Characteristically revealing a sense of humor behind his art, the phrase “I Sold This Piece To A Very Bright Collector” seemed to mock the formality of the art world and invite passers by, many art collectors themselves, to crack a smile at his tounge-in-cheek candor. 

Represented by the same gallery and in the same vein of playful rebellion, Ankara-born Volkan Aslan presented his duo of sculptures entitled ‘The Day’ and ‘The Night’. Plaster-cast statue heads adorned with what appeared to be neon-crowns in blue and red evoked Aslan’s recurring theme of nostalgia and a willingness to break the rules. An often cited memory of his is visiting the houses of relatives and seeing decorative ceramic statuettes in display cabinets, but not being allowed to play with them.