Four vanguard UAE galleries are heading to the Turkish capital this week as Contemporary Istanbul opens its doors with a special Gulf focus.
This year the city's art fair has invited six galleries that focus on art from the Middle East to bolster its roster of more than 80 prominent Turkish and international spaces looking to sell works to local collectors and those from the wider region.
After a particularly energised edition of the Istanbul Biennial in September, the increasingly apparent avant-garde tastes of Turkey's artgoers has made the sixth instalment of Contemporary Istanbul a much-anticipated event.
This Gulf focus emphasises Syria, Germany and Iran, respectively, over three successive outings of the fair. "We can see that there's a big movement happening in the Gulf," says Ali Güreli, chairman of the fair. "There's Art Dubai, of course, and younger fairs like Abu Dhabi Art, as well as these new museums under construction. We're seeing an improved enthusiasm for contemporary art in the region."
It's an important time for this sort of representation: Turkish collectors are becoming increasingly active in Dubai's auctions and a number of gallerists here are working with and exhibiting the markedly experimental aesthetic of Turkey's new wave.
Syrian gallerist Yasmin Atassi, director of Green Art Gallery in Dubai, has exhibited a number of the country's leading artists, including acclaimed photographer of power politics, Nazif Topçuoglu, and installation artist Hale Tenger.
"We have three Turkish artists in our roster, but it didn't make sense to show them in their hometown. Instead, we wanted to show someone who is not known in Istanbul but fits with the contemporary art scene there."
Atassi has opted for Shadi Habib Allah, a new-media artist from Palestine, who creates both faux-documentaries and animations filled with dark allegory. Habib Allah featured in Palestine c/o Venice, an exhibition in 2009 at the Venice Biennale that was the first Palestinian representation at the event.
"His work is not in-your-face Palestinian politics but it is about power structures, which also extends to the art world," says Atassi. Green Art Gallery will exhibit only a single work by the artist; a four-channel animation that depicts sketch-like scenes of how power is won and stolen among members of an imagined tribe. It is a continuation of Ongoing Tale, a video work currently on show at Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah.
This one-work approach just wouldn't do for Dubai, says Atassi: "It would be too risky, but Istanbul has a lot of private collections that go for such conceptual and video work."
Turkey's growing stature as an incubator of the avant-garde is increasingly due to the industrialists forging the country's economic boom. The number of state-sponsored art venues in Istanbul is far usurped by the non-profit, privately owned collections readily opening for public viewing.
From the Koc family, who established a foundation in 1969 for health care, education and the arts and opened Arter, an experimental platform space on Istanbul's main route to Taksim Square in 2010, through to the monumentally daring outpost Istanbul Modern, with the size and scope of interest equivalent to any major city art museum internationally, and which is funded by the pharmaceutical company Eczacibasi Holding Group.
As a result, Green Art Gallery and the other exhibiting Gulf galleries will be looking to get spotted by any one of these Turkish collector families. There's a kudos to that comparable to being picked up by a major institution.
"When collectors reach a point of saturation, become more educated about different sorts of art and are going more often to international art fairs, their way of thinking goes from local to international. That has had a profound impact on how collectors there operate."
Another Dubai gallery headed to Istanbul this week is The Empty Quarter in DIFC, which focuses primarily on photography.
Gallery director Elie Domit has just returned from exhibiting at Paris Photo, the world's biggest photography fair. He's confident that his artists are well placed for Istanbul's market.
"The Turkish collector base for photography is much wider than the Gulf," says Domit. "There's also a great appreciation for seeing new work."
The Empty Quarter is taking along five artists, including works by Philippe Dudouit, who recently exhibited in the gallery with his photographs of Tuareg rebels deep in the Sahara, as well as Palestinian photographer Steve Sabella, and Richard Mosse, who takes infrared photographs of the Congo that give one of the harshest conflicts on Earth a sort of wonderland palette of colours.
"No matter how tuned in people are to art, an art fair is a bombardment of several days of stimulation," says Domit. "You have to be the one who stands out and has something to say."