For the fourth year running, the Turkish Cultural Foundation rented a stand at the New York and Chicago SOFA fairs to showcase the works of Turkish artists. And for the second successive year, I found myself in the city during the fair, which is always well worth a visit for the dazzling display of beautiful objects it offers, even if you can't afford any of them.
SOFA stands for Sculpture Objects and Functional Art, and it is one of the world's foremost contemporary art and design fairs. The exhibitors are mostly private art galleries from the United States and dozens of other countries. In the absence of Turkish galleries, the Turkish Cultural Foundation has taken on the role of promoting the work of talented contemporary Turkish artists in the US, whether they are already established names accustomed to displaying their work abroad or up-and-coming talent seeking an opportunity to get themselves known in international circles.
The fair attracts museums, gallery owners and, of course, potential buyers.
I spoke to Nurten Ural from the Turkish Cultural Foundation in Detroit. Every year, she told me, the foundation sifts through applications and goes through a rigorous process to select a handful of suitable artists for the New York and Chicago shows. The aim is to promote lesser-known aspects of Turkey's contemporary culture and to have a diversity of styles on display during the four-day events.
This year, within the same booth, visitors could see the elegant glass or bronze sculptures of women produced by well-known sculptor Emel Vardar, İlker Yardımcı's handsome metal works, the warm sculptures that Malik Bulut extracted from cold marble and Yılmaz Zenger's arresting resin compositions. His "Attached to İstanbul" -- a black shell, in pieces, exposing a red interior -- reminded me of a beautiful exploded watermelon.
I had a chat with Vardar, who pointed out that international fairs like SOFA are very important for Turkish artists, who get a chance to keep up with the latest artistic trends, discuss techniques and exchange ideas with peers from around the world and engage in a dialogue with buyers as well as gallery owners.
The Turkish artists were in good company at SOFA. The fair brings together a broad array of exhibits, all of very high quality: a few paintings, of course, but mostly sculpted objects, colorful mosaics, quirky jewelry as well as some stunning pieces of furniture, designed to bring out the finest details of the wood they were made of. Glass sculptures also featured prominently in the fair. Some of the art works were truly exquisite, the kind of pieces you would love to take home if only you could afford the price tag.
One gallery offered a very modern take on Persian carpets, all earth-colored and very different from the patterns that have traditionally characterized Iranian carpets. American artist Amy Orr offered a stunning mosaic of Lady Liberty, created with cut-up credit cards -- her take, perhaps, on the recent financial meltdown.
Vardar likes to focus on women in her work, but she was quick to point out that her colored glass statuettes and bronze heads were not just about the women's physical attributes, but also about their strength and inner richness. She has been a prominent name in Turkish art for years and has run the Eylül Art Gallery in İstanbul since 1993. Modern communications and the Internet have radically altered the art world, she told me. Not only is the domestic art market more vibrant these days in Turkey, but Turkish artists find it much easier to establish an international presence.
Contemporary Turkey, she believes, is finally getting broader recognition abroad for its contribution to all fields of arts and culture, from fashion to literature, cinema and of course fine arts. There had been no recession for Turkish artists, she told me. Quite the opposite, interest is on the rise. More Turkish artworks will be on display at SOFA in Chicago this November.