Left of Center

Kate Sutton around the 2nd ArtInternational Istanbul fair

Left: Collector and cofounder of SPOT, Tamsa Mermerci Ekşioğlu. Right: Collectors Haro Cumbusyan and Andy Stillpass.

“IS IT ME, or are quail eggs everywhere these days?” Witte de With director Defne Ayas wondered, waving away a tray of said canapé from our spot onboard the Halas, a hundred-year-old yacht. It was Wednesday evening, and we were cruising up Istanbul’s Haliç (“Golden Horn”) as part of the opening festivities for the sophomore edition of the ArtInternational fair, a cosmopolitan challenger to local lovefest Contemporary Istanbul, which is scheduled for November.

Ayas and I didn’t recognize our fellow passengers (let alone the language they were speaking), so we struck up conversation with Chef Gazi Koyun, who eagerly filled us in on the vessel’s vaunted history, as a passenger ferry built in 1914 in Glasgow for the Ottomans, but commandeered by the British for the duration of the war. It eventually reached the Bosphorus, where it was used for public transport (and nicknamed “The Express” for its remarkable ability to reach cruising speeds of up to ten miles an hour) until the 1980s, when it embarked on a private life as a fifteen-cabin superyacht for the Simavi clan. Its current renovation is thanks to new owner, Çiğdem Simavi’s son Mustafa Koç. In short: a brief history of Empire in a boat.

Alas, very little Turkish was spoken on board, which was stocked with international collectors in town for the fair. “Who are all these people?” Ayas asked Sandy Angus, one of the fair’s cofounders. He glanced around, casually pointing out the groups of Saudi, Indian, and Austrians, before hitting a colorful cluster designated only as “friends of Pearl Lam.” (“I’m a hanger-on,” an LA-based member of that club informed me at the buffet.)

Left: Dealer Frej Forsblom. Right: Dealer François Dournes.

“The diversity this fair brings in is incredible. There’s so much opportunity in Istanbul, if we do this right,” Angus continued. “The art world doesn’t need another factory experience.” Unfortunately, not everyone got that memo. We capped off the boat ride with a stop by Le Petit Maison, where the IstanbulArtNews party was in three-quarters swing, with a bar manned by Absolut and the entrance flanked by bodyguards and display cases of luxury watches from party sponsor Schaffhausen. As if the suggestion of wealth weren’t implicit enough, I’m pretty sure the DJs accidentally played “Mony, Mony” twice.

“Do you want red, red, or yellow?” Gagosian’s Georges Armaos asked me when we finally reached the cocktails. Clearly no stranger to these situations, he read my dismay and disappeared, only to reemerge with a vodka soda, plain and simple. It was only later that I would stumble upon the full bar a floor below, where “99 Luftballons” blasted as waiters walked around with trays of French fries and bowls of mayonnaise. “My kids would love this,” dealer Thomas Krinzinger cracked. Critic Stefan Kobel was more skeptical: “Have you noticed that none of the watches are working? And they’re all set to different times?”

Time was of the essence for the next afternoon’s press conference, when the trickle of tote-bagged journalists had to fight their way through the streams of art handlers and construction crews. (“Paint! White paint!” one gallery director frantically yelped at every third passerby.) On the whole, however, the fair looked clean and open, thanks to architect Erhan Patat’s undulating floorplan. Echoing the currents of the Haliç, the asymmetrical layout flowed through the five separate wings, carving out space for the fair’s seventy-five galleries, which ranged from city staples Rampa, NON, and Galeri Manâ, to cross-continental powerplayers Pace, Lisson, and Kukje, to New Yorkers Leila Heller, Lehmann Maupin, Robert Miller, and Paul Kasmin, the last of whom reportedly sold out his solo presentation of Taner Ceylan’s sleek elaborations on the myth of Apollo and Cyparissus.

Left: Flint PR's Nigel Rubenstein. Right: Dealers Senem Ozgoren and Pierre d'Alancaisez.

“It’s truly a miracle, especially if you had seen us this time last year,” Angus admitted at the press conference, before ceding the mic to a veritable parade of speeches from ArtInternational director Dyala Nusseibeh, artistic director Stephane Ackermann, and SPOT’s Tamsa Mermerci Ekşioğlu, Başak Şenova, and the duo of Özge Ersoy and Merve Ünsal, who had curated the fair’s talks, video offerings, and section of alternative spaces, respectively. While nothing strayed too far from the routine blanket optimism and cheerily cadenced statements of the obvious (Nusseibeh thanked the exhibitors, “as so much of the fair is the galleries and what they present”), things got punny with the introduction of one of the fair’s main sponsors, renowned Greek ophthalmologist, Dr. Ioannis G. Pallikaris. “A good artist requires good vision,” he declared, giving us all a moment to let it sink in. The good doctor also announced the newly minted Dünyagöz Art Prize, which recognized the work of Banu Cennetoğlu with five thousand euros and a printed certificate.

As the sun started to dip, VIPs swarmed the banks of the Haliç for rosé and selfies with the Steven Naifeh limestone sculpture. I had little time to linger, slipping instead into a cab with dealer Ursula Krinzinger and writer Sabine Vogel for the quick commute to the Rahmi M. Koç Museum—a dockyard sprawling with industrial relics from fighter jets to oil drills to the Imperial Coach of Sultan Abdulaziz—all inspired by Koç’s visit to Dearborn’s Henry Ford Museum. Strung up between tugboats and old submarines were garlands of multicolored lanterns, lighting an elaborate buffet hosted by patroness (and Koç’s former wife) Çiğdem Simavi.

Mid-fillet of an expertly grilled fish, phones and social media feeds began broadcasting neon-lit debauchery from the various charter ferries taking guests up to the old shoe factory–cum–movie set Beykoz Kundura for the premiere of Halil Altındere’s latest video, Angels of Hell. Altındere had stolen the show at the 2013 Istanbul Biennial with Wonderland, a punchy, eight-and-a-half-minute video featuring rappers Tahribad-ı İsya, who express a real, raw anger over the city’s historically Romani but rapidly gentrifying Sulukule neighborhood. Determined not to miss the boat, Nigel Rubenstein, Metin Ilktekin, and I abandoned our baklava and raced to our designated two-decked ferry to find it completely deserted. Thankfully, the boat made a second stop at Kabataş, where we were joined by a guy who had created an app that reads prophecies in your coffee grounds. Alas, nary a Nescafe on board. “Yeah, party boat…!” Ilktekin cheered down the empty aisles.

Left: Artists Memed Erdener and Güneş Terkol. Right: Dealer Özkan Cangüven.

After an hour along the Bosphorus, we pulled up to a dock teeming with hopeful return passengers—never a soothing sight—but we pushed on to the factory, where we were promptly greeted with not red, red, or yellow, but whiskey, neat. We needed it. Packed with references to Yeşilçam (Turkish Hollywood), Altındere’s new film features a cast of grizzled veterans of gangster roles, led by the three-foot-ten-inch actor Miraç Bayramoğlu, as they tussle in a campy fight scene filmed on site at the former factory. The melee ends when “Miss Turkey”—champion bodybuilder Işıl Aktan—opens fire with a machine gun, her generous breasts jiggling with every discharge. These Angels were just as in-your-face as Wonderland, but the new work was infinitely more gratuitous and thus a fraction as exhilarating. Partygoers were saved from having to comment, however, when the artist trotted out Tahribad-ı İsya for a surprise performance, well worth the trek to the Asian side.

The fair’s Artist-of-the-Day for Friday, Erdem Taşdelen, proposed a different type of crossing over with “A Petition of the Left Hand,” a project that departs from Walter Benjamin’s warning that “no one should rely unduly on his competence… All the decisive blows are struck left-handed.” While the artist himself is no southpaw, that didn’t stop him from embarking on several months of research to uncover the ways that cultural mores have subtly privileged the right hand, from calligraphy to table settings. Taşdelen preached his leftist politics with a “lunch in honor of your left hand” that convened collectors, curators, and fellow artists in a cozy café not far from the fair. Those eager to dig in were stymied by the artist’s stipulation that everyone primarily use his or her left hand for eating. “If you’re left-handed, congratulations, this should be easy for you,” he announced. “If you’re right-handed, don’t worry. We tried to pick foods that wouldn’t make too much of a mess.”

While the lunch brought with it no dire spills, later that afternoon, three days of ideal weather came to an end when the skies opened up, unleashing a downpour that threw competing rooftop soirees—Pi Artworks, Athr, and Gallery Zilberman had joined forces to throw a bash at 360, while Füsun Eczacıbaşı was hosting a cocktail of her own on her sixth-floor terrace overlooking Galata Tower—in peril. Sticking to the Karaköy district, I haggled for an umbrella and dashed over to the Eczacıbaşı residence. There, platters of king figs and chocolate-covered orange rinds had been brought down to the fifth floor, where collectors Haro Cumbusyan and Andy Stillpass; dealers Rachel Lehmann, Derya Demir, and Sylvia Kouvali; Protocinema’s Mari Spirito; SAHA’s Merve Çağlar; and artists Cennetoğlu, Cevdet Erik, and Sarkis all chatted comfortably, despite the differing stages of drenched.

Left: Artsy's Lara Björk. Right: Dealer Leylâ Akinci.

Of course, no art event would be complete these days without a designer afterparty, and so ArtInternational imported the now near ubiquitous pop-up Tolga’s Fair Club, which settled not in some seedy after-hours club (though Istanbul has those in spades) but rather in Gaspar, a classy Karaköy joint run by Ferit Sarper, the man responsible for art-world culinary must Münferit, who just so happens to have grown up with Tolga Albayrak in İzmir. “It’s unsettling to think of Tolga having a childhood,” Armory Show director Noah Horowitz observed, and I found myself agreeing.

More evidence that ArtInternational has reached full-fledged status was the ready selection of satellite events planned for the week. The city was host to both the Moving Image Art Fair and the Moving Museum, a somewhat cruel coincidence given that “movement” is not Istanbul’s strong point. The prospect of heavy traffic would keep me from both events, as well as from a reception at the Borusan, where SF MoMA’s wonderful video curator Rudolf Frieling had selected a traveling show of “West Coast Visions” from the museum’s collection. In any case, the rain that had broken out Friday night continued through most of Saturday, giving fair visitors time to stop and read their coffee grounds.

Left: Dealer Ellie Harrison Reed. Right: Dealers Elena Grudzinskaitė and Laura Rutkutė.

Left: Dealers Edouard Malingue and Lorraine Kiang Malingue. Right: SALT's Derya Ergüç.

Left: ArtInternational architect Erhan Patat. Right: Dealer Finola Jones.

Left: Collector Haro Cumbusyan with Mehtap Öztürk. Right: Artist Fayçal Baghriche with Protocinema's Mari Spirito.

Left: ArtInternational Alternatives curator Özge Ersoy. Right: Artists Meriç Algün Ringborg, Ceren Taşkent and Erdem Taşdelen.

Left: Dealer Paul Kasmin with curator Norman Rosenthal. Right: Dealer Pippy Houldsworth.

Left: Dealer Ursula Krinzinger, ArtInternational artistic director Stephane Ackermann and publisher Rima Nasser. Right: Dealer Tina Kim with artist Ghada Amer.

Left: Artist Sarkis and dealer Mehveş Arıburnu. Right: Collector Füsun Eczacıbaşı with ArtInternational cofounder Sandy Angus. (All photos: Kate Sutton)

Left: Dealer Deniz Artun. Right: Dealer Selvi May Akyıldız.

Left: Dealer Azra Tüzünoğlu. Right: Curator Berin Golonu.

Left: Dealer Pearl Lam. Right: ArtInternational sponsor Dr Ioannis G. Pallikaris.

Left: Dealer Arzu Komili Baştaş. Right: Witte de With director Defne Ayas.

Left: Dealer Sylvia Kouvali. Right: Curators Sam Bardaouil, Protocinema's Mari Spirito, and curator Till Fellrath.

Left: ArtInternational artistic director Stephane Ackermann with ArtInternational curator Başak Şenova. Right: Dealer Derya Demir.

Left: BSI's Francesca Martinoli with Borusan's Kathleen Forde. Right: Promoter Tolga Albayrak.

Left: Bodybuilder Işıl Aktan with artist Halil Altındere at the premiere of Angels of Hell. Right: ArtInternational Director Dyala Nusseibeh.

Left: Dealer Yeşim Turanlı. Right: Artist Taus Makhacheva with dealer Asli Sümer.

Left: Dealers Manfred Wiplinger and Thomas Krinzinger. Right: SALT's Vasif Kortun.

Left: Dealers Leyla Tara Suyabatmaz and Esra Sarigedik Öktem. Right: SAHA's Merve Çağlar and Yavuz Parlar with artist Banu Cennetoğlu.