June 12, 2011

Inside Turkey's Young Art Scene


First it was China. Then India. Now Turkey is fast becoming the country du jour on the contemporary-art circuit. A slew of shows at prominent galleries in Europe, record-setting auctions at Sotheby's and Christie's, and a host of new venues in the country's cultural capital, Istanbul, suggest that modern Turkish art is finally coming of age.

At the "Confessions of Dangerous Minds" exhibition of contemporary Turkish art, a first-of-its-kind show held at London's trendsetting Saatchi Gallery in April, half the works by 19 mostly emerging artists were sold before the doors opened.

Partly, it is about patronage. A fast-growing economy has spawned a new class of youthful art collectors, while established industrial families have launched signature museums in rapid succession. (There is almost no public funding.) It began in 2004 with the Istanbul Modern, owned by the Eczacibasi family, who made their fortune in pharmaceuticals. The venue features a vast collection (and a pleasant waterfront café). Last year, Omer Koc, scion of a heavyweight industrial dynasty, opened the gallery Arter on Istiklal, Istanbul's busiest street. It was recently joined a few doors down by SALT, a state-of-the-art exhibition-and-research space in a radically restored heritage building, funded by Garanti Bank and directed by Vasif Kortun, Turkey's best-known contemporary-art curator.

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