Testing Times for Turkey’s International Art Market
By Gareth Harris and Anny Shaw
Key figures in the Istanbul art world are concerned about a market slump following the failed coup in Turkey in July. Some local dealers fear that international collectors are turning their backs on the country amid the current climate of political and economic instability.
The number of galleries participating in last month’s Contemporary Istanbul fair dropped from 94 in 2015 to 70, while the percentage of foreign galleries fell by 19% compared with 2015. Yet the fair still drew a record 90,000 visitors and the proportion of works sold was much the same as last year- roughly 60%, according to the organizers. The city’s other fair, Art International, was cancelled this year amid safety concerns. Both will return next September to coincide with the 15th Istanbul Biennial. Contemporary Istanbul will also have a new director, Kamiar Maleki.
Emre Kurttepeli, the partner of the gallery C24 in New York, says visitors to Contemporary Istanbul were buying, but were more hesitant than usual. “Our concerns were that highly priced works would not sell as easily… so we brought more “economically friendly” [cheaper] works,” he says.
Many local dealers have seen a fall in foreign visitors since the failed coup. “More and more there is this sense of isolation, which can be demoralizing,” says Nicole O’Rourke, an associate at Rampa Istanbul, which chose no to take part in the fair this year.
The Istanbul-based collector Ari Mesulam has mixed feelings about how the commercial sector is faring. “The gallery scene is small in Istanbul, and if one gallery closes, there is a ripple effect. It is a challenging time, but there is optimism,” he says.