Contemporary Istanbul 2020 aims to provide end-of-year lift

We’re keen to give people something to smile about - Ali Güreli, CI Chairman

Given the gargantuan challenges that 2020 has thrown at the art world, it seems somewhat fitting that this year’s Contemporary Istanbul (CI) has chosen the importance of global connectivity as one of its three themes.

Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the format of the event itself which will break new ground by combining a physical fair in Istanbul from December 16-20 with a first-time virtual art fair experience.

Ali Güreli, CI Chairman, explained that while the idea of cancelling what marks the 15th edition of the art fair never crossed his mind, a growing realisation in spring of the seriousness on a global level of the Covid-19 pandemic prompted the team to begin rethinking their plans for 2020. “In April, we could tell that we’d need to change our plans to adapt to the new norm so we decided to postpone this year’s CI from September to December,” he said. “It also seemed like the perfect opportunity to launch our virtual event to run alongside the in-person art fair, a concept which we have been thinking about even before the pandemic.” 

Aware that some online art shows have fallen short of expectations, Güreli and his team were keen to ensure that the CI 2020 virtual event comes as close as possible to replicating a physical show in terms of visitor experience, while also pushing new boundaries and providing a valuable support service to the industry.

“We were particularly keen to position the virtual fair as a unique proposition rather than an extension of the physical event,” he said. “We felt the virtual fair could take the form of an all-new online hub - a global meeting place where people could discover new art, make purchases and catch up on industry news. One of our main aims was to make the virtual platform interactive, which we’ve done by introducing functions that enable potential buyers to engage directly with artists by booking a video call, for example.” 

Unlike some online art events, the virtual fair will incorporate several different halls, complete with 360 tours. Güreli explained that galleries can participate in both the physical and online fairs, enabling them to position artists to maximise their reach in terms of targeted audiences and price points. The global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. is currently carrying out testing for the virtual art fair ahead of its launch.

CI 2020 will certainly provide a lift for the global art industry, which has seen very little in the way of physical activity since the Covid-19 pandemic turned life as we know it upside down. 

However, while the team is delighted to be welcoming visitors to the event, their experience will inevitably be a different one, with safety and comfort at the top of the agenda. The number of people permitted to enter the art fair at one time will also be restricted, with pre-registration via an online system a must.

There will of course still be plenty for visitors to get excited about. Güreli explained that the galleries participating will include an exceptional line-up of international headliners. Attendees will also be treated to new innovations, such as Plug-in 2020, an exhibition which platforms digital media artists, supported by CI sponsor Siemens.

Given that CI is a major annual event for Istanbul, producing a wealth of positive ripple effects throughout the city and beyond, efforts have been made to support its success in what is undoubtedly a difficult year. Attractive incentives for international galleries include one free-of-charge ticket from Turkish Airlines, a complimentary, stay in partner hotels and free shipping of up to 15 tonnes of freight. 

A city-wide initiative titled December in Istanbul is also being organised to help generate an end-of-year lift for both locals and visitors. Attractions and events set to give the city a welcome buzz most notably include a brand new festival called ‘Istanbul The Lights’, which will feature light installation art works, as well as live painting initiatives in and around the streets, a culinary art festival and open-air concerts, organised by the Municipality. 

Güreli explained that there had been a collective desire amongst the CI team and more broadly across Istanbul to end a difficult year on a positive note.

“We were keen to give people something to smile about and also offer them the opportunity to get close to art and artists once again,” he said. Objectives which undoubtedly chime with the other key themes of CI 2020, which are celebrating the tenacity of contemporary international artists and the inclusivity of art itself. 

Contemporary Istanbul takes place from December 16-20.

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