On 5 April, the first modern and contemporary Turkish art sale at Bonhams in London performed below expectations. Of the 84 lots, only 28 were sold, for a total of £1m. Two days later, the third contemporary Turkish art sale at Sotheby’s London realised a total of £2.3m, within its pre-sale estimate of £2m-£3m (see sale report, TAN2/p12).
Beyond these headline results, a careful look at the catalogues unveils some of the peculiar dynamics of the market for Turkish contemporary art.
Many of the works in both catalogues included no provenance information or were consigned directly from a gallery or artist. Where a provenance was given, the majority of the works came from private Turkish collections and often had been bought directly from the artist. And most of the contemporary works were executed recently. In the Sotheby’s catalogue out of a total of 71 lots by living artists, 15 were executed in 2011, 28 in 2010 and 16 between 2002 and 2009.
Kristina Sanne, a consultant on Turkish modern and contemporary art for Bonhams, explains: “Turkish collectors buy and sell art quickly. There is a lot of speculation.”
Selling at auction is a way to leapfrog into the international arena. Bariş Berker Karakoç of Non in Istanbul, a gallery for emerging artists, says: “Turkish collectors make up 70% of our clients. To expose our artists to an international audience, we consigned five works with Sotheby’s in London.”
Within Turkey, the contemporary art scene is still mainly supported by a few wealthy families. These include the Koç family, owners of the Koç Museum, Pera Museum and Arter, an exhibition space which opened in 2010; the Eczacıbaşı family, which owns Istanbul Modern, the city’s contemporary art museum and IKSV, the organisation in charge of the Istanbul Biennial; and the Sabanci family, which has the Sakip Sabanci Museum. The Borusan family has a collection with around 600 works and a budget for acquisitions of over $1m a year, and is increasingly active. They plan to open their own museum in September and recently opened Music House, a space for contemporary art exhibitions.
Ipek Yeginsu, director of the Borusan Art Center, says: “Turkish art still relies heavily on patronage. When state subsidy does not exist or is at an embryonic stage, this has positive effects but collections created in this way only have a few artists represented with many works of art.”
There are signs that things are changing as a new generation of collectors enters the market. Elif Bayoglu, the head of the contemporary Turkish art sale at Sotheby’s, explains: “Young collectors are drawn to contemporary Turkish art because it is more affordable.”
More galleries are opening in Istanbul, some of them operating internationally, such as Rodeo, Galerist and Non. The hope is that international art market players will look for Turkish artists as much as they look for Turkish clients. Artists such as Kutlug Ataman (his work Mayhem, 2011, will be presented at the Brighton Festival this month) and Ayşe Erkmen (who will represent Turkey at this year’s Venice Biennale) prove that this is possible.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Turkish artists get more international exposure'