ISTANBUL May 15 Turkey's contemporary art scene
is buzzing. Collectors pay millions for the hottest works at
exclusive auctions, high-end galleries are springing up by the
dozen, and more and more Turkish artists are holding exhibitions
The clients are the usual family magnates and super-rich -
Istanbul ranks fifth in the world on the Forbes list of
billionaires. But they also include an expanding class of young
professionals looking for investment opportunities and a touch
The boom in Turkey's modern art market has coincided with a
decade of steady economic growth. Since a financial meltdown
brought the Turkish banking sector to its knees in 2001, the
economy has more than doubled in size and per capita income has
tripled in nominal terms.
"There are many young professionals who make good money and
really want to have a piece of art in their home," said painter
Yigit Yazici as he sipped an espresso at his studio in
Istanbul's upmarket Nisantasi district.
Traditionally, patronage of the arts in Turkey was left to
wealthy industrialist families.
The Sakip Sabanci Museum, owned by the Sabanci family,
opened in Istanbul in 2002. Two years later, the Eczacibasi
family launched the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, followed by
Suna and Inan Kirac Foundation's Pera Museum in 2005.
The launch of Istanbul's International Contemporary Art
Exhibition, known as the Istanbul Biennial, in 1987 introduced
many once-sceptical Turks to contemporary forms of painting and
But it was the opening of the Istanbul Modern - Turkey's
first modern art museum - nine years ago that really changed the
scene by creating a space for contemporary artists that combined
permanent and temporary exhibitions, a photography gallery and
educational and social programs.
"A museum is an orderly home for art and this is what we
have achieved here," said Levent Calikoglu, chief curator at the
"For the artists it's prestigious to be included in the
museum, and for investors it creates a benchmark and a guarantee
for their investments."
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party has
come under frequent criticism for curbing freedom of expression
in Turkey and there are growing fears that the arts - and
artists - could be affected.
Critics cite examples such as the recent trial of
world-renowned concert pianist Fazil Say on a charge of
insulting religious values with a posting on Twitter. He
received a 10-month suspended jail sentence.
In 2011, a work by sculptor Mehmet Aksoy in the eastern
province of Kars was torn down after Erdogan described it as a
But the availability of patronage and influx of money have
emboldened Turkish artists, integrating them increasingly into
the global art world and giving them a sense of greater
independence in Turkey's often conservative environment.
"Political power and art have never been at peace in Turkey.
The only difference now is that the conflict is now more visible
and we discuss it openly," Calikoglu said.
ART AS INVESTMENT
In the absence of significant government support,
private-sector sponsorship has become the mainstay of art
through the purchases and commissions of major banks like Ziraat
Bankasi, Garanti, Akbank, and Yapi Kredi, and art-savvy
Recently, independent collectors have also started making
inroads as prominent buyers of sculpture. Central Istanbul has
seen dozens of new art galleries in just the past few years.
"Ample global liquidity and negative real interest rates
have had a great impact on increasing investment in art," said
Saltik Galatali, Akbank Deputy General Manager in charge of
"Art investments have become a tool for protecting the value
of assets," said Galatali, whose team manages a 17 billion lira
($9.5 billion) portfolio for 4,500 clients.
Pelin Sandalli has seen her business boom since she set up
her Linart Gallery in Nisantasi in March 2011, exhibiting a full
range of contemporary art forms, including video art,
installations, photography, paintings and sculpture.
More and more of her clients are young professionals who are
"The number of more conscious collectors who are highly
educated, make extensive research and devote their time and
energy to art are increasing day by day," Sandalli said.
Sotheby's was the first major international auction house to
hold an exclusively Turkish contemporary art sale in 2009.
British auctioneer Bonhams has since joined the competition with
its own dedicated Turkish sales.
Such events have seen record prices for modern Turkish art.
At a Sotheby's sale in 2010, highlights included Fahrelnissa
Zeid's "Untitled", the first modern Turkish work to exceed $1
million at auction. Rising star Taner Ceylan's painting "1881"
was sold for over 100,000 pounds ($154,900).
"We started off collecting art as a hobby, but now we see it
as a good investment and something to leave to our son," said
ex-banker and marketing manager Burcu Egene as she flashed her
card at an auction in one of Istanbul's smartest hotels.
The Koc, Sabanci and Eczacibasi families, leading Turkish
industrial dynasties, are pumping millions of lira into building
Two years ago, Murat Ulker, chairman of Yildiz Holding, a
leading Turkish food and beverages group, paid 2.2 million lira
for Burhan Dogancay's "Blue Symphony".
He also recently bought a controversial work by contemporary
artist Bedri Baykam.
The eclectic tastes of the Ulker family, a pillar of the
conservative business establishment, as well as the price tag,
caught attention: "Empty Frame", a suspended empty frame, sold
($1 = 1.7975 lira)
($1 = 0.6454 pounds)
(Editing by Jonathon Burch, Nick Tattersall and Sonya