Istanbul-based collector Mehmet Ali Bakanay is proof that you do not need to come from an art background to find your path in the art world.
Specializing in intellectual property (IP) law, since 2005 Mehmet Ali Bakanay has served on the board of Reki Group in the field of marketing communications and advertising, as well as at an international law firm based in Italy and Turkey. In addition to a busy life in law Bakanay also has an active art world agenda and is one of the patrons of the Turkish art fair, Art International, and will be showing pieces from his collection in the 2016 edition of Contemporary Istanbul.
Mehmet’s collection is mostly based on diptych works and duality-concept, and much of it has already been shown at museums and art spaces in and outside of Turkey. In the wake of violence and unrest in Turkey over the last year, we speak to Bakanay about the current status of the creative scene in the country and how he hopes this year’s edition of Contemporary Istanbul can help move the creative scene forward.
Your background is in law and you are a partner in an international law firm – how do your two passions of art and law interact with each other?MEHMET ALI BAKANAY
Since I am specialized in IP law the two eventually interacted with each other. Being a member of International Bar Association Art Law Committee, I have always been close to artists and the art scene. In addition to working with law, I have voluntarily organized awareness conferences on art, new media and artists’ rights in Turkey. I am also working on the taxation regulations on art to create a better standard for the artists, galleries and naturally, collectors.
A lot of your collection focuses on conceptual works, what is it about this genre that you find so interesting?MEHMET ALI BAKANAY
My interest in conceptual art started in early 2000’s – I had bought a lot of various works by then, but my real collection began in 2005 with the Iraqi artist Himat. The acquisition of Slovakian conceptual artist Patrik Kovacovsy’s installation from his “Dollar” series was also an important steppingstone in my collection. One edition of this work can now also be seen in the Documenta Collection.
The most attractive aspect of collecting is to research and explore. The main reason that I tend to be drawn to conceptual work is the freedom of expression, the stories behind the surface and the depth of meaning that I personally cannot find in any other work.
Contemporary Istanbul has made the decision to take place this year amidst the political and social issues that Turkey is currently experiencing, in an act of solidarity to the artists and the Turkish art scene. How important is it for you that events such as Contemporary Istanbul still take place in these troubled times?MEHMET ALI BAKANAY
The answer to this is in your question – “in an act of solidarity to artists and the Turkish art scene”. We know that troubled times have always been a great inspiration for the creative scene.
It is of course a great experience to see so many artists and galleries from different countries under one roof. This will also be a contribution to increase the threshold of the art scene in Turkey. So the continuity of Contemporary Istanbul is very important in such times. The “show must go on…” as they say.
This year you will be taking place in Contemporary Istanbul’s “Collectors’ Stories” series, where 120 artworks will be personally selected by 60 collectors and showcased at the fair. Can you tell us what work you chose and why you chose it?MEHMET ALI BAKANAY
I will be exhibiting two installations from the artists that I fully support – one is Sibel Kocakaya’s “Apparences Binaires” video and photography piece and the second one is an installation called “Ta-taam” by Yusa Yalçıntaş.
When a collector is given an opportunity like this, my motive has always been to make a contribution to the artist. The works that will be shown in “Collectors Stories” are ones where I was actively a part of the creative process and it gives me great pleasure to be exhibiting them for the first time.
What is significant for the Turkish collecting scene?MEHMET ALI BAKANAY
Unfortunately most of the collections look very similar. It’s really difficult to find a unique concept in the Turkish scene. Although there are new personal and corporate collectors joining the scene, I believe we need more time in establishing diversified collections.
As well as being interested in conceptual art you also focus on collecting diptych works. Why does this particular form interest you so much?MEHMET ALI BAKANAY
Yes, most of my works are diptych and are of duality-concept – as I believe that life in general is based on duality. These works compliment one another and create a whole attitude that summarizes my philosophy. However saying that, I do not stick to one specific medium – I have videos, installation pieces besides paintings and photography. Having variation within a medium with the same theme challenges me and I find the expression on different media fascinating.
You are well known for your support of young artists – why do you find it so important to include emerging artists in your collection?MEHMET ALI BAKANAY
I concentrate on the artist as much as I do on the work. Consequently, when I acquire the work of an artist, I look at the personal art adventure, the continuity of their production, how they reinvent themselves and the passion and seriousness they show towards their work. In fact, being emerging or established is not my core point, but rather to be involved with an emerging artist and to start helping them from scratch. That is the main reason why I’m so interested in emerging artists – it is like creating and growing together. Although saying that it does have its own risks in the process, as well as giving me a great satisfaction and dynamism in addition to the joy of exploration.
Contemporary Istanbul will take place between 3-6 November 2016.