A talk with Isabellea Icoz —Independent Art Curator & Adviser
You are an expert on both the local and the international art market. How would you evalu-ate the rise of Turkish contemporary art scene in the past decade?
There are many varied statistics out there, but taking a conservative estimate, over the past de cade, and mainly within the past five years, the domestic Turkish art market has grown more than five-fold with annual sales surpassing 100 Million USD and auction prices increasing by over 350%. Contemporary Turkish art still constitutes a relatively small part of this total, but over the past few years this has increasingly changed as international auction houses, notably Sotheby's (London) and Christie's (Dubai) have taken an interest in the Turkish art market and Turkish galleries have started participating at international art fairs with their artists entering museum collections and Bienni-als. This has triggered international interest in a market that prior to 2008 had little exposure to international collectors and buyers.
Compared to art markets in the Middle East and India, the Turkish art market is more developed, with a solid infra-structure and grass-roots movement to support the growing art scene and art market. One of the characteristics of the Turkish art scene is the strong corporate and private patronage of the arts. Many of the leading art institutions in Istanbul are supported by banks and corporations.
Turkish art has a growing international appeal - how would you comment on that?
In the past few years we have been seeing the coming of age of a new generation of Turkish contemporary artists, producing a body of challenging, politically positioned work that is of an international level and quality. Turkish art offers international collectors something fresh and largely untainted by the recent hype and spec-ulation damaging other markets such as China and India. Prices are still reasonable in relative terms to Arab & Iranian, Indian and Chinese art. The artistic potential is phenomenal. The local art scene has experienced a boom in new art institutions since 2004, from galleries, alternative and artist run spaces, privately funded museums and art centers, to art fairs and auctions. The younger generations of artists are pushing the boundaries with various media - photography, video and sculpture are becoming increasingly established. Turkish art contains a strong sobo-political message. Artists respond to the government, the military, the PKK, delayed democratization, human rights violations, gay and women's rights or the disparity in levels of wealth. Not all subjects are centered on domestic issues though - globalization, Turkey's position in the world and the EEC are all taking centre stage. Interestingly, the work does not immediately strike one as being Turkish. The issues mentioned are local issues, but many resonate with the people of all countries hence the international appeal. Turkish Contemporary art transcends borders both East and West. Istanbul with its vast energy is becoming a modern European metropolis. What do you think are the highlights of the city in terms of arts and culture? From a Contemporary Art perspective, I always encourage foreign visitors to see Arter, SALT, and visit the local galleries in the Beyoglu, Tophane, Karakoy and Akaretler areas.
What do you think has been the key factors which contrib-uted to the rise of the city as a cultural capital?
Turkey is very strategically located; it is a bridge between Europe and the Middle East in every sense. It has a rich culture and history and in many ways Istanbul has adopted a European outlook, yet kept its Middle Eastern customs. Turkey is unlike any of the countries it surrounds and this uniqueness is what attracts visitors from around the world. Istanbul fuses East with West while preserving a strong sense of `Turkishness.' It is breathtakingly beautiful. Mosques stand side by side with hip bars and restaurants, old style Nall's' (houses) along the Bosporus juxtaposed with skyscrapers giving views similar to the Manhattan skyline, Istanbul is the perfect mix of old and new. It's an intensely dynamic and constantly evolving city in all aspects of life. To fully appreciate all that Istanbul has to offer, one must constantly be on their toes.
Again to give a glimpse of Turkish contempo-rary art scene - would you comment on the names of the local artists who made or have the potential to make a difference?
There are so many wonderfully talented contemporary Turkish artists, I will be including two in a group show later this year, Mehmet Ali Uysal and Gozde Ilkin, so they are naturally the first two that come to mind!