There has been a lot of buzz over the past few years about Turkey as a big new market for art. With 34 billionaires (only two short of Brazil’s 36, according to Forbes) and an explosion of museum building, the country has until recently seen robust growth and is also a strong destination for Gulf investment.
The seven-year-old art fair Contemporary Istanbul, which ended last weekend, is really pushing its internationalism. This year it boasted 57 foreign exhibitors, including Marlborough and Haunch of Venison, and a broad-ranging programme of talks.
During the fair, its chairman Ali Güreli announced that he was adding three more fairs to his roster. The most important will be All Arts (this, he insists, is a working title), slated for April 18-21 and to be held in the Istanbul Congress Centre. All Arts, Güreli says, will blend Islamic, Ottoman and classical modern art, and will focus on the Gulf. The Orientalist Museum in Qatar and other museums from the region will be presenting their projects, and dealers from the region will be exhibiting.
Güreli is believed to have a good working relationship with Sheikha Mayassa Al-Thani of Qatar, probably the world’s biggest art collector at present. “There are a lot of new rich people in Turkey because of the development of the economy,” says Güreli. “Our aim is to educate them in the culture of collecting art; we will also be exhibiting private Turkish collections, most of them not known to the public.”
In addition, he is adding two satellite fairs to 2013’s Contemporary Istanbul (November 6-10 2013), one for photography and new media; the other for emerging galleries.
All these new events may be trying to occupy the space as competition hots up in the Turkish scene – in September next year, remember, ArtHK co-founder Sandy Angus is launching his new fair, Art International Istanbul, in a former textile factory.
A newly launched website, Gulf Art Guide, is the brainchild of two Dutchmen: curator and academic Robert Kluijver and multitalented Neil van der Linden, (doctor, lawyer, journalist). The site covers Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, with news and comments on the countries’ art scenes and markets.
Kluijver says: “We feel the need to provide a counter-narrative to … the characterisation of [Arabs] as blindly buying western art and attempting to stamp a local art world out of the desert with their money. There is a dearth of knowledge about what is really happening in the region, and it is important to have context and to understand the differences between the countries and even between the various emirates.”
His background in international relations, plus childhood years spent in Saudi Arabia, has encouraged him to found the project. For the moment, he says, the site is a “newborn baby” but destined to grow: its godparent is the Netherlands’ Mondriaan Foundation, which has provided the initial project funding.
Ever since Paul Morris, one of the founders of New York’s Armory Show, resigned from the fair, the question has been what he will do next. Now Morris has revealed his new project: Chosen, which will function as an exclusive, by-invitation-only club to bring together important collectors with must-have works of art.
“As someone who has produced 75 art fairs and attended at least 400,” says Morris, “ ‘Fairtigue’ is a real problem. I felt that what was missing was a slower pace, a more dignified way of hanging and showing art.”
So he aims to bring together what he calls a “refined audience of about 50 dedicated collectors” and offer them a cherry-picked group of 20 works in a selling show held in a smart locale – initially probably in New York, but later in locations such as Brazil, Russia and so on.
He mentions such names as the Indonesian Budi Tek and the Brazilian Bernardo Paz as the sort of private museum owners he is targeting, as well as those whose acquisitions are ultimately destined for public museums.
Where, I ask, will the art come from, in a market that is notoriously supply-driven? “I am talking to primary market dealers and secondary market galleries,” says Morris. “It will be like seeing just the best works from the top stands in an art fair. The event will be extraordinary in every way – even the invitations will be a work of art,” he says.
Art research site ArtTactic has published its latest confidence survey on Chinese contemporary art, and it makes sobering reading. ArtTactic has questioned 72 international and Chinese collectors, curators, auction houses, galleries, dealers and art advisers, and, based on their responses, its “Confidence Indicator” has dipped into negative territory for the first time since it was launched in February 2009.
However, looking closer at the results, the experts are split: some are increasingly pessimistic – while others think the market will rebound in the next six months.
The latest auction results reflect this dichotomy. The Taiwanese auction house Ravenal last week raised $13.4m, with 80 per cent of lots sold in its modern and contemporary art auction, down from $17m in its equivalent sale last year. But Christie's sale of Asian 20th-century and contemporary art last weekend made $54.5m, slightly up from the $51m made in 2011.
At both sales, established “blue-chip” artists were most in demand, with top prices going to Zao Wou-ki and Chu Teh-Chun, whose “La Forêt Blanche II” (1987) set a new record at Christie's of $7.7m. At Ravenal, Zeng Fanzhi's “I, We” made $1.38m, on the nose of its upper estimate.
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper