Passion Points: Arts/Culture
Turkey’s buzzing contemporary cultural scene is a relatively new phenomenon (the Istanbul Modern, for instance, didn’t open until 2005), but now that Istanbul will serve as the European Capital in 2010, a flurry of activity is under way, especially in the visual arts. Critics argue that the government may be (ab)using the buzz as a ticket to EU membership, pointing out that many of the country’s most successful artists choose to be based abroad. More hopeful supporters liken the energy to that of the vibrant 1920s when the modern-day Republic formed under Atatürk’s leadership. Both sides have to admit that during the last five years a lot has happened, including the opening of three major museums and the emergence of new gallery districts in Istanbul.
Collectors eager to tap into the growing market need a cultural translator who can open doors and grant behind-the-scenes access. Istanbul-based art consultant Isabella Icoz can help clients, both first-time and experienced collectors, with a variety of requests, including sourcing, purchasing and selling works. “I’ve also assisted people who moved to a new home and needed help filling their empty walls,” says Icoz, who was born in London and is fluent in Turkish. “In addition to purchasing art on their behalf, I assumed a curatorial role and worked with artists on various commission pieces.” Icoz, who studied in Switzerland and the U.S., first traveled to Turkey more than ten years ago and returned frequently until settling there full-time with her Turkish husband in 2007. She spoke to Indagare about her fast-growing consultancy business, launched in 2005, and about Istanbul, a city that she describes as ever-evolving. “To fully appreciate all that it has to offer, you have to constantly be on your toes,” she says.
What are the biggest changes you’ve observed in the Turkish art market in recent years?
Turkish painting in the Western sense only began in the 19th century, so the idea of collecting modern art is a relatively new phenomenon. Turkey lags behind other countries in its art education; most people who are interested in art (particularly in international art) are self-educated. Forbes recently published a list of Turkey’s ‘new rich,’ and the international press constantly makes reference to the increasing number of billionaires emerging from Turkey. But unlike Russia, China and India, this influx of capital has yet to translate into significant art purchases.
However, I’ve also seen major changes. Istanbul’s three largest modern art museums (Istanbul Modern, the Pera Museum, and the Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art) and two art centers (Santral Istanbul and the Borusan Center for Culture and Arts) have opened in the past five years, art galleries now have a major presence in most of Istanbul’s districts, gallery openings are well attended, shows sell out prior to their openings and some of the big Turkish family’s are building large collections.
How do you view Turkish art in the international scene?
It has yet to be properly introduced to the international market and Turkish galleries are generally not present at the major art fairs. However, I believe this will change very quickly. Auction houses have Turkey on their radar and the European Union has nominated Istanbul as its cultural city for 2010, so I believe exciting developments lie ahead.
Who are some of the contemporary artists that are the most in demand, for private and public collectors, at the moment?
That’s a hard question to answer. In the past year, to name a few: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cai Guo-Qiang, Banksy, Andreas Gursky, Jim Dine, Takashi Murakami, Cy Twombly, Shirin Neshat, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Vik Muniz, Richard Prince, Jitish Kallat, Eric and Heather ChanSchatz, Cindy Sherman. Big-name Turkish artists in demand include Haluk Akakce, Selma Gürbüz, Suat Akdemir, Irfan Onürmen, Burhan Doğançay, Kutluğ Ataman.
What are some of your favorite museums and galleries in Istanbul? The galleries I love include ArtSumer, Galerie Nev, Galerist and X-ist. My favorite museum in Istanbul is the Pera Museum. In my opinion, it has done the best job of bringing international art to Istanbul. Previous exhibits have included Jean Dubuffet, Henri Cartier Bresson, Rembrandt and most recently Josef Koudelka. Turkish people, especially school children, are often seeing these works for the first time.
What do you consider the most successful international art fairs?
I always attend Frieze, Art Basel and The Armory. I also like Art Miami, Tefaf, FIAC and Shanghai Biennale. In terms of up-and-coming, I would recommend the Gulf Art Fair, Pulse, Scope and the Istanbul Biennale.
What are some of your favorite lesser-known museums in the world?
I adore the Jim Thompson House (www.jimthompsonhouse.com) in Bangkok. I also love Musée Cernuschi, one of the oldest museums in Paris. It’s a beautiful stately mansion which houses France’s second-largest collection of Asian art, after the Musée Guimet, another of my favorites, but more mainstream of a museum. The collection was amassed by Henri Cernuschi, an Italian who made his fortune in Paris. The focal point of the collection is a splendid 18th-century bronze Buddha from Japan, which sits in a two-story room (purpose-built for it by Cernuschi).
What are some of your favorite cities for their gallery neighborhoods?
Read about Icoz’s favorite places in Istanbul.
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