Over the course of the past decade, Turkey's economy and society have undergone drastic changes: high GDP growth, the consolidation of civilian political control and the evolution of a more nuanced perspective on the country’s role in the region. The nation's growing prominence has led the international community to increasingly value Turkish arts and culture. Public sector support for culture and the arts is quite limited in Turkey, which is why the private sector is more and more choosing art as the focus of its social responsibility projects.
CORPORATE SUPPORT: One sign of this is the growing number of art institutions that have been established by large corporate groups in the past decade. Not only has private sector support enabled these institutions to organise first-rate exhibitions on a par with the best worldwide, it has also helped to clarify and strengthen the valuation and exhibition process in Turkey. Thus, in addition to the global attention garnered by Turkish art, there has been a domestic movement to support arts and culture, which has received the support of Turkey's biggest names in business such as Borusan, Elgiz, Koç, Koray and Sabancı, to name but a few. Many of the nation’s largest banks have also shown significant interest in art, opening up their own galleries.
The involvement of Turkish corporations in domestic arts and culture is not new to the country, but the role of businesses is increasingly important. According to Bülent Eczac›baş›, the chairman of the Eczac›baş› Group and one of Turkey's leading arts foundations, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (Istanbul Kültür Sanat Vakfı, KSV), one of the most common ways that firms channel support to the arts is through foundations. “This model is very well established and is likely to remain for some time,”
Eczac›baş› told OBG. The foundation approach has helped build local interest and engagement with the arts, as well as develop the country’s artistic profile on the international stage. Istanbul, in particular, has become world-renowned for its events, and was named the European Capital of Culture in 2010.
UNDER THE HAMMER: The success of this and other events has accelerated activity in Turkish art sales.
Sotheby’s held auctions of Turkish contemporary art in 2009 and 2010, and saw gross sales of £1.3m and £2.4m, respectively. The number of Turkish collectors travelling abroad is likewise growing. In 2010, for example, 200 Turkish art enthusiasts and collectors attended Art Basel in Miami, while their presence at the event in 2011 was also high, gaining the attention of the organisers. Then, in April 2012, Turkish works were sold throughout Europe and the Middle East. Bonhams in London hosted a general sale that included 16th- and 17th-century Iznik pottery, while Sotheby’s “Masterpiece” Orientalist sale moved such works as “The Scholar” (1878) by Osman Hamdi Bey and a collection of 17th-century weapons, including an Ottoman dagger of gold and jade, valued between £400,000 and £600,000.
MODERN ART: The focus has not been exclusively on Turkey’s Ottoman offerings, however, and Sotheby’s end-April auction featured contemporary works as well. Prior to the sale, select pieces from the collection were shared in Istanbul – including painting, embroidery, sculpture and photography. Meanwhile, Christie’s Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art sale, held in Dubai, featured 17 Turkish pieces – with 85% of the purchases going to foreign collectors. While the value of older Turkish pieces can be attributed to their history, contemporary art is becoming increasingly in demand as well, in part due to the support of the country’s private foundations. “Local collectors of contemporary art have increased in recent years, and more collectors are attending international contemporary art fairs, keeping abreast of exhibitions and gallery events, and investing in art,”
A commercial manifestation of this growing interest is that artists and galleries were able to sell about 75% of the work they exhibited at the Contemporary Istanbul art fair in December 2011. In addition to these personal investments in artwork, collectors are also lending support to the production of art through their sponsorship of NGOs involved in culture and the arts, and investments and programmes aimed at promoting collectors’ interest in art are on the rise. While there is still progress to be made in this regard, “art in Turkey is steadily trending toward an asset class. It will simply take time until the support of foundations will enable the cultural changes needed to see art more widely regarded as an asset,” according to Eczac›baş›, who added that “in recent years private banks in Turkey have begun to provide art consultancy services, while wealth management departments and firms have started including art in their investment portfolios or providing services in this area.”
PROMOTING INVESTMENT: In 2004 Turkey introduced a law allowing expenditure on sponsorships of art events and other similar activities to be deducted from income and corporate taxes as part of a bid to promote cultural investment and initiatives. “This is a good start,”
Eczac›baş› told OBG. “But we believe deductions need to be extended to the purchase, sale and transport of artwork as well, if the market is to develop further and attract new investors. We also need to improve our legal framework for the market, as some regulations currently in place are open to interpretation. We expect all this to come under increasing scrutiny in the years ahead as corporations expand their support for the arts and investments in art.”
EVENTS: While the development of regulatory changes involving art is still in the pipeline, there has been no shortage of events, particularly in Istanbul. The stanbul Biennial, put on by the KSV, is one of Turkey’s leading contemporary art events. Growing coverage of the event by major international dailies, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times, has contributed to international awareness of the Biennial. Attendance went up to approximately 110,000 people during the 12th Istanbul Biennial held in 2011, from 101,000 in 2009.
The city’s busy arts and culture calendar draws both locals and visitors. Film enthusiasts have a busy spring, starting with !F, the Istanbul International Independent Film Festival, which takes place every February and March across venues in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. The event has featured contemporary cinema from around the world since 2001, and, as of 2008, has been hosting a competition for independent filmmakers. The Istanbul Film Festival, organised by the KSV, follows in April. This event evolved from a film week that was first sponsored by the Eczac›baş› Group in 1982. It features both national and international sections, but the focus of the event is to support and encourage domestic filmmakers.
Other KSV events that can be enjoyed throughout the year include the Istanbul Jazz Festival, held every May. The festival has attracted such renowned performers as Wynton Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin, Eric Clapton, Joan Baez and Sting, in a programme that features classical, modern jazz, Latin and Nordic jazz ensembles, among others.
GALLERIES: For museum lovers, the city has a wealth of privately maintained venues that feature contemporary art, including the Pera Museum, the Rahmi M Koç Museum, the Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art, the Sakıp Sabancı Museum and the Istanbul Modern. In addition to the better-known foundation-supported venues, Istanbul is also home to a number of smaller artistic projects that support the arts on a grassroots level.
Eczac›baş› explained that the critical mass for support has seen a proliferation of smaller projects. “Since 2004, the Istanbul Modern has added to this momentum through its dynamic programme of exhibitions and learning opportunities for the public, which have spurred the establishment of numerous new contemporary art venues in Istanbul and facilitated the participation of artists and galleries in international exhibitions and fairs. Istanbul’s commercial art fairs have also achieved a significant international dimension in terms of the number of international galleries and guests attending these events.”
Among the new venues is Çıplak Ayak Stüdyosu (Naked Feet Studio), which supports a range of contemporary performance artists, primarily dancers. Atılkunst, meanwhile is a feminist artist collective hosting “culture jamming” performances aimed at using language, images and video, often taking a workshop-style approach. Another very active workshop space is SALT, founded by Garanti Bank to support new artists. Also on offer to visitors are events at up-and-coming contemporary art gallery Protocinema. The gallery attempts to bridge artistic endeavours between Istanbul and New York, with a particular focus on emerging artists. The SAHA foundation is also working to make modern Turkish art more visible outside the country.
Although there is still more to be done to encourage the country’s contemporary art scene, Istanbul is well on its way towards achieving the international status in contemporary art that befits its rich history.
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