Contemporary Istanbul’s Chairman Ali Güreli talks art as escape, supporting the local scene and quality over quantity

Chairman of Contemporary Istanbul Ali Güreli sat down to discuss Turkey’s art scene and the ins-and-outs of running a successful art fair in difficult times.

Can you talk a bit about how art can be a source of reconciliation in Turkey?

Well, in the last year the political situation has dramatically changed and we don’t know what will happen in the coming weeks, the coming days… Art unites everybody, locally and internationally, so there is a bigger need to get together to talk about art. People need this environment, even for a few hours. They get rid of this negative and nervous situation. You take a pill, you feel better – this is the same thing. You visit the fair, you feel better. You get closer to art, you feel better. It’s a necessity. And I think in the coming weeks, coming months, coming years, it may become an even bigger necessity.

Some of the international galleries were a bit hesitant to take part in the fair this year. What was the attitude of the local galleries?

When it comes to the local galleries it worked totally on the contrary to the foreigners – we received a huge demand from the local galleries. The reason is very simple: the market got weak, the collectors stopped buying art for a while, so it hurt the local galleries and Contemporary Istanbul became a selling point. We accepted certain new galleries this year, so that they live. We even gave free booths to certain galleries this year, so that they live.

Over 11 years, what would you say has been integral to Contemporary Istanbul’s growth?

We never intended to grow too much, but our strategy may be defined as quality increase. Our growth strategy will be not to increase the number of galleries but to increase the quality, not only in terms of art, but in the other functions of the fair. We never intended to become like other major, generalist art fairs… What we need to have in Istanbul is art that people around the world – and collectors – haven’t seen before.