Istanbul-based collector and Spot Projects founding member, Tansa M. Ekşioğlu is hoping to help collectors change the way they shape the Turkish contemporary art scene.
In a time of political and economic unrest in the country, Tansa M. Ekşioğlu speaks to IC about why now is not the time to shy away from the art market, how art fair Contemporary Istanbul are setting an example of a strong Turkish creative community, and why she is drawn to artists from her region
Tell us about your collection and how you began collecting.TANSA M. EKŞIOĞLU
I believe I got the “collecting genes” from my parents. My parents were collectors of oriental and classical art and artifacts and I grew up in a house full of paintings and valuable objects. When I moved to my own house in year 2000, I hung paintings that my parents were not displaying on their walls, and started to follow in their footsteps for purchasing classical art and artifacts from auction houses, antique dealers and galleries. In 2004, I got married and moved to my own family home and took an interest in period furniture, namely furniture from the 60s and 70s. It is then that I turned my head in the direction of contemporary art. Contemporary art has always been there, but it was in 2007 that I realized I felt closer to the art of my contemporaries than what I had been living with. It all started with purchasing period furniture from international auction houses and design galleries – the art followed organically after that.
Contemporary art does not easily invite you into its world. It is easy to approach and buy artworks at first. It involves a great deal of research as well as dialogue, since the works may be quite conceptual and the interaction may not be “love at first sight”. I wanted to study contemporary art to have an understanding of it but none of the universities in Turkey offered contemporary art courses at the time, nor were there any organizations that offered crash courses in contemporary art. Thus, in 2007, I began with private lessons with a young curator who just received her degree in curatorial studies at Bard College. I literally studied contemporary art from her university notes and later started to visit contemporary art spaces to reinforce the theory lessons on site. Being in close proximity with contemporary art and the galleries and artists, as well as the collectors and curators furthered my education on the understanding of contemporary art and it was not until I was confident in my knowledge and intuition that I started collecting. The private lessons took me a good two years and after that I became very good friends with my curator tutor.
This passion of learning and also what the art world has offered me has led me to co-found SPOT Projects. Since 2011, SPOT offers contemporary art crash courses, workshops, site visits and a membership program for art lovers in order to foster an understanding of and to support the art world.
You have previously described your collection as “out of the box” – what do you mean by this?TANSA M. EKŞIOĞLU
Out of the box” may be a strong phrase to use – let’s rephrase it as, “risk-taking and personal”. Buying can become an automated process. In today’s art world, markets can be too tempting for the buyer, but I do not have a list of art to buy, let alone a blue chip list! A prominent collector once said, “one’s wishes are infinite, but one’s budget is finite!” And that is very true. Obviously, I admire the works of the high scale artists which hang on the walls of the museums or white cubes, however my wishes have never been to own them. I have often wanted to follow the road less travelled and it is in that respect that I came to find my own contemporaries whose thought process gave me butterflies in my stomach. They are young or mid-career artists, who often have an issue with the world we live in, and they are mostly from the less travelled parts of the world
British art critic and writer Louisa Buck once came over to Turkey for one of the international seminars that SPOT co-hosted with American Express and said, “What you collect is yourself!”, and I believe that she’s right. The art I collect reflects “me” as Tansa, my issues and problems with the world I live in. My aim is to document a period in time that I live in.
A lot of your collection focuses on gender studies, gentrification and political cynicism. How do your personal interests also flow into your collection, and what impact does it have on the collection?TANSA M. EKŞIOĞLU
One cannot buy everything there is! Not only one will end up with an incoherent collection, but also one will run out of budget even if you are the richest man in the world. For a collection to make sense, I believe you need to narrow it down to either collect vertically (a number of the same artists’ works) or horizontally, meaning by classification. I did both in a way, by collecting a number of artworks from the same artist within a framework of a number of themes. Major issues in the geography I live in are religion, gentrification, gender issues and politics, and I am naturally drawn to these subjects. I like art that does not expose itself in one go – that is why the collection is far from being aesthetic but cunning and witty. And I do not mind that.
Do you live with your collection? If so, what is the process behind selecting which work is played where?TANSA M. EKŞIOĞLU
Yes, I live with a coherent choice of my collection. The rest of it that is not on display is in an art storage unit. I like the fact that the works that are on display has a complementary story, like that of mine. Each piece reflects its own story whilst contributing to a bigger one.
Is it important for you to have an emotional connection with the art you collect? Could you give some examples of work that you have a deep emotional connection to?TANSA M. EKŞIOĞLU
Almost each and every work I purchased and included in my collection has a story – and that is how I can connect with them. I believe a contemporary art collection is like a living organism. It has to have an organic tie with the beholder; otherwise it does not make sense. After all, we are all tenants in this world and owning something is temporary.
You are well known for your support of young artists – why do you find it so important to include emerging artists in your collection?TANSA M. EKŞIOĞLU
Two reasons: one is that artists need patrons to realize their dreams, otherwise they cannot. They need the support. The other reason is that I share the moment with those emerging artists.
Personally, I do support the projects I believe in. On a wider scale, all proceeds from SPOT’s activities go towards a production fund to support Turkish artists. The “Produce Festival” SPOT hosted in April 2016 contributed to seven artists’ productions of new works of art, a talk program, screenings and performances.
Generally, there is very little, or no funding from our government. Thus, the private sector, be it individuals or corporations and/or initiatives (like SPOT) or foundations need to make it up to the art world for it to carry on its existence. We encourage patronage at SPOT and each and every participant indirectly becomes a patron.
How do you keep up to date with emerging artists and their work?TANSA M. EKŞIOĞLU
Biennials, fairs, galleries, word of mouth, dialogues… you name it. If you want to keep up with them, there are a zillion opportunities to do so. You just need to want it and then it comes.
What is significant for the Turkish collecting scene?TANSA M. EKŞIOĞLU
It is still very narrow. It is market oriented and patronage is not exercised widely.
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 like Contemporary Istanbul still take place in these troubled times?TANSA M. EKŞIOĞLU
Contemporary Istanbul are doing exactly what they should do. We all need to carry on what we are doing in order to keep a vibrant art world. Contemporary Istanbul has come a long way and I believe they will go further than this. We are celebrating its 11th edition and I am looking forward to many more editions. Fairs motivate people to have an understanding of the art world, even if it is an initial peak, the rest will follow if the passion is there. I also believe the younger generations will appreciate what has been laid out in front of them and carry on their duty towards the art world in Turkey. We still need to work hard and do a lot. This is not a time to stop.