This article is also available in Englisch
Interview: Jan Kage.
Text: Elena Sansigre, Hannah Nehb, Brian Poole
During Gallery Weekend Berlin 2011, me Collectors Room Berlin, in collaboration with KUNST Magazin, hosted a conversation with the Turkish collector Ms. Billur Tacir. In order to better round off the current Turkish art scene, curator Dr. Gisela Winkelhofer and Sotheby’s director in Istanbul Ms. Oya Delahaye were also invited.
Frau Winkelhofer, could you give us an overview of the Turkish art scene? Does the government support it? Has Istanbul had, as European Capital of Culture in 2010, any influence on the local art scene?
Dr. Gisela Winkelhofer: It’s fair to say that the art scene in Istanbul is growing. However, I am wondering why I do not see any Turkish artists present at international exhibitions. Where do they get help from? Neither the Turkish government nor the city of Istanbul is doing anything, which is strange in comparison with other European countries that invest quite a lot in contemporary art. I believe that there is a huge potential to develop something very special in Istanbul. The market is very vibrant, the economy is now growing in a similar way to the 60s in Germany, and the art community in Istanbul is also currently
In Istanbul, people live between two continents. Which artists are this city’s collectors interested in?
Oya Delahaye: Buying art started in the 80ies when Turkey opened its boundaries to the West. Its economy became more liberal, galleries opened, and independent Turkish artists living outside of Turkey who were not the State’s artists started to be exhibited. People were getting wealthier and travelled more, and they started buying art, not only as an investment but also as a way to achieve happiness and satisfaction. As for the new artists’ profiles, there are more and more artists coming from the East, and more and more women artists, which was not the case before. The majority of Modern Turkish artists belonged to the bourgeoisie.
How do the Turkish artists view themselves: as a part of a global art discourse? Or are they anchored to the Turkish past, more related to calligraphies or the Islamic ban on painting?
Oya Delahaye: No. Actually the Turkish artists are more intrigued by the West. That doesn’t mean they are trying to break with their Eastern traditions. Turks—and this started with the Ottomans—have always moved and have always been attracted to the West, to Europe.
Ms. Tacir, you studied in Pennsylvania. Actually you bought your first piece of art there. Was it American art? What made you continue collecting art?
Billur Tacir: My interest in contemporary art did start at the Wharton Business School in Philadelphia, where I took a course on American contemporary art. I was really fascinated by the abstract expressionists and the pop artists. At that time I couldn’t afford to buy abstract expressionism, so the first piece I bought was an Andy Warhol print. I was really excited about owning a part of art history, owning a work from an artist I really admire. From then on, I spent every weekend in museums and galleries. My passion grew when I met my husband Atilla, who also shares this passion.
What have you been collecting since you arrived back in Istanbul? Are you now more into young Turkish art? Are there any trends that you like?
Billur Tacir: To be honest, my taste has been changing also because there has been such a development in Turkish art with a more Western approach. When I first came to Turkey, there was a greater focus on tradition. But the younger generation of artists are much more open to the West. It is really exciting to see how they are working with lots of different media.
Ms. Delahaye, what could you tell us about Sotheby’s Istanbul? Do you also sell Turkish art or only art from western countries?
Oya Delahaye: For three years Sotheby’s has been organising Turkish contemporary art sales in London. Sotheby’s sees a lot of potential in Turkish artists and believes that the Turkish art market has its place in the International Art Market. These sales have contributed to the prospects of Turkish Art on the international platform. Of course, the majority of buyers are Turkish for the moment, which is normal. But already this year the third auction had 40% foreign buyers—not only from the Middle East, but from Europe and America as well—with some really important names among them.
Ms. Winkelhofer, how is Turkish art participating in more classical art places like, for example, Basel, Miami or London? Are the Turkish artists gaining a higher recognition?
Dr. Gisela Winkelhofer: In the last three years there was only one gallery that accepted one Turkish artist in art Basel. I think there is something going wrong when only one gallery accepts art from Istanbul, the biggest metropolis in Europe with an inner circle of art spaces and galleries that grows every day.
There are approximately 200 galleries in Istanbul. Where do you get your information from, Ms. Tacir?
Billur Tacir: We try to follow gallery shows as often as we can. Of course, the Istanbul Contemporary Show is a great opportunity to see all the galleries and artists at once. Another way is to follow the auctions. But when you live in Turkey, it makes much more sense to buy from the galleries because of the 18% tax for international art purchases. And, anyway, the galleries are already enough. Five years ago we had so few, but lately there are many new galleries taking this Western approach, so now it is a lot more fun to participate in the Turkish art market. There are so many more venues and private exhibition spaces, where you can see group shows with Turkish art along side other international artists.
Audience: You were saying how surprised you were about the small presence of international art in Turkey and the lack of government support. I am interested in knowing why the international exposure and exchange was so limited. Have you helped in changing that situation? I am from Bombay, and almost exactly the same thing is happening there as what you described in Istanbul, so I would like to know if there is a way to change the situation.
Dr. Gisela Winkelhofer: I was able to organize some shows in Istanbul with international artists during the Istanbul Biennial and the Contemporary Istanbul, and I have seen that the collectors are really interested in these artists. Turkish collectors are quite well informed and connected, though. They are travelling a lot, meeting other collectors, and they prefer going to the international art fairs. On the other hand, the transport to Turkey is quite expensive, and the galleries are changing the program every 4 or 5 weeks. This is too expensive for them, whereas abroad they have better opportunities to sell or to buy something rather than choosing only from a small selection in Istanbul.
Perhaps this talk will catch the attention of journalists, collectors and art friends, and encourage them to go to Istanbul and check out the scene. Thanks Billur Tacir, Oya Delahaye and Gisela Winkelhofer for the conversation.
Our moderator, the sociologist Jan Kage, alias Yaneq, moderates the radio programme “Radio Arty” (MotorFM, 100.6) with guest artists and curators every Thursday at 7pm.