Post Gezi art : The rise of a contemporary spirit in Istanbul

May, 13, 2015

‘All the World’s Future’ – the 56th Venice Bienniale opened last week showcasing 136 artists and 85 countries. A record for new countries!

Among the newcomers, the Turkish Pavilion presented by the artist Sarkis is an impressive standout. Ataman’s tribute to the Turkish businessman Sakib Sabancı displayed in the Arsenal is presented as a wave of portraits which continually change at random in a high tech installation.

The 14th Istanbul Biennial will be the next great forum to discover contemporary creativity. Organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), it will open to the public from 5 September to 1 November 2015 and will be a city-wide exhibition held in a variety of different venues. This year’s Biennial, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, is made possible thanks to the sponsorship of Koç Holding, one of the two biggest private conglomerates in Turkey (the other one is Sabanci). The title is SALTWATER: A THEORY OF THOUGHT FORMS. “This international exhibition of art will present new works by over fifty visual artists and other practitioners, including oceanographers and neuroscientists, in a city-wide project on the Bosphoros that considers different frequencies and patterns of waves, the currents and densities of water, both visible and invisible, that poetically and politically shape and transform the world” said Christov-Bakargiev.


Since 1987, Istanbul has engaged in the race of biennals. From an early stage, the Istanbul Bienniales were always considered as up and coming on the international art scene. The 13th biennale of 2013 had a record attendance of 337 429 visitors to five venues. This was quite amazing as it was the first time that so many visitors attended a contemporary art exhibition in Turkey. The last biennal happened just after the Taksim Gezi Park protests which started in May and finished in September 2013. As a result of the protests, street art has bloomed all over the city since then and for some people, the spirit of the Gezi protests is still fuelling creativity. Bengü Gün, the director of Mixer Art Gallery, a private venture focused on emerging artists, maintains a positive outlook on new art since Gezi. “I am optimistic about art in Istanbul — this is why I am doing this job,” she told Hyperallergic, a leading online review of contemporary art. She said she has seen more people enter Mixer Gallery since the protests. “A wide group of people are more interested in art here. Young artists are more excited since Gezi. I am seeing artists make art that is genuine, not to make money but to make statements.”

This year’s theme of the 15th edition of “Communicating the Museum” conference is “The Art of being contemporary”. ‘Istanbul is an iconic and very contemporary city’ says conference director Corinne Estrada. “A lot is going on here and international museum professionals should be aware of the challenging times happening in Turkey.” Elizabeth Macgregor, director of the prestigious Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, will open the conference with the topic of being contemporary as an asset for museums, followed by a speech from Vasif Kortum, the inspiring Director of Research and Programs Istanbul’s premier contemporary art and research center. The talks will take place in the fantastic World Heritage sixth-century Irene Church (6th century).

After the conference, the delegates will be invited to explore contemporary art spaces, museums and galleries throughout Istanbul to discover the new venues of this 14th edition of the Biennial.