I met Prof. Hasan Bülent Kahraman, vice-rector of Kadir Has University and general coordinator of Contemporary Istanbul after his talk at the VIENNAFAIR and asked him about the booming Turkish art market, the quality of the Turkish contemporary art, selling art, relations between the gallery and the collector, and art education in Turkey.
About the boom of the Turkish art market:
I started working in this area in the mid-1980s, when I completed my education in the US, came all the way through, and now it has been thirty years. Twenty years ago in Turkey, we didn’t have such a boom in let’s say the art market, artists, galleries. But when a city turns into a kind of international center itself, then of course the art field follows. In this context, we organized Contemporary Istanbul this year; we had the eighth edition and it’s rising like a rocket. That means definitely next year and the year after it will continue to boom in Turkey because the economy is doing well, education is improving, the middle class and the upper-middle class are in progress, and financial capital is now flowing to Istanbul and Turkey. Under these conditions Istanbul is not only a city where you can see good art, it is becoming an international city itself insofar as contemporary art is concerned, and I believe this trend will continue.
About the quality of Turkish contemporary art:
What I would say about the quality is this: When I came back to Istanbul again after a long stay in New York – I was teaching at Princeton University – I immediately organized an exhibition, and when the show was done I took a look at it, sat down to write a catalog article, and I argued that that show in Istanbul could easily be put in any gallery in Chelsea, in New York, or in London, in the East Castle Street. So the quality level of contemporary art in Turkey is definitely at the same level as art produced in London, Vienna, or New York. This is again the interconnectedness of the whole world. I would love to see it on the contrary, a good and flattering issue, but I would love to see art produced in Istanbul – aside from being a very qualitative one – as being inclusive of some other conditions that are specific to Turkey. But this interconnectedness makes the world a whole, and the art produced in Turkey is not any different than the art produced in London. For the quality, this is okay but the differences should be more visible, more apparent, more obvious.
Opinion on selling art:
I don’t sell because I don’t produce. This is now an inseparable, non-removable part of contemporary art. I mean, we can find some artists, around the world, who close themselves in their studios, secret igloos, and produce their art, but this doesn’t mean art. Art, due to ontological reasons, needs an audience; because this art is not only produced by an artist, it is also produced by me. This is called reception esthetics, and when I produce this then come my other possibilities/probabilities of buying and owning it. Well, we can talk about the structure, the methodologies, the ways of consuming art, but this is a very late period in time to talk about buying and selling.
I would say that the new trend is very similar with the trend of consumption. We are passing through a period of extreme consumption, and art is not immune to this. Art is also a part of this very huge key demand to consume. What I am interested in is how many people buy art and what will happen to those artworks bought by these people. Will they be closed into deposits, kept away from the audience, or are we going to have in let’s say ten, fifteen, twenty years new contemporary museums and private collections open to the public – I am more interested in that part of the field.
About galleries and artists:
I know a lot of artists and galleries who are trying to be very sensitive about who is buying what. This is a very good point, and they are very much pleased by the artist if it is bought by a huge museum or an unknown collector, but these are the inner circles within a very large circle of the art market. I am more in favor of these approaches, but on the other hand, I know that this has now gone beyond the point. The artists have the right to sell that type of theme. Artists do sell and the art market has gone beyond supplying money for the artists to live. Look at the big galleries, the Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth, they are opening new spaces, which are huge. Even helicopters and private jets can land at those galleries; people come, buy, tycoons invest in art – this is another part of the game.
About art education in Turkey:
My university is one of the best in Turkey. Art education is very much a theme at the universities. Beginning with the mid-19th century and later in the 1930s we had a French type of academic education (Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University). But by the early 90s it had changed a lot. In the early 1990s the French impact on Turkey had diminished, and now it is more of an American education. Most of the artists are going now to London and New York instead of going to Paris. Faculties of Architecture in Turkey are very important as far as art education is concerned. So, in general, I would say the very good universities like Kadir Has University, Sabanci University, and Marmara and Mimar Sinan University, these are places where you can get a good art education.
The universities are free in Turkey, except for the private ones, but I must confess that the best education is supplied in the private universities. Other than that we don’t have a very large field of art education in Turkey. Contemporary art is definitely taught in the universities. Those who have talked here belong to the mid-generation; that means contemporary art in Turkey started again in the mid-90s and it continued all the way to the 2000s. So the very people who were developing the annual talks and papers there, they were already in their professional lives when this boom in contemporary art started in Turkey. For the coming generation I would say yes, the universities, the educational institutions are still very important. However, we have to develop all of these, let’s say, “free of charge” types of art education possibilities in Turkey.
This is a small fair, in a very cute positive sense. I don’t like huge fairs because of the reasons I have mentioned. Plus this gives us a better impression of what’s happening in this part of the world. Even if it’s hinterland, as far as its environment is concerned, this is a very good fair for collecting all these galleries from Bratislava, Lithuania, Prague, and Vienna as well – so I am very happy to be here.