What’s important is to remain passionately and consistently permanent by overcoming these hard times. We talked about the transformative power of art with collector Tansa Mermerci Ekşioğlu, who’s the co-founder and manager of SPOT Projects and one of the prominent actors of Turkish contemporary art scene.
As a collector and the founder of an important art platform, what do you have on your agenda in terms of art nowadays?
This is a busy period for me between Istanbul and New York – I am stretched between the two cities due to my master’s degree in Art Business 6 Law at New York Christie’s and my involvement in SPOT Projects in Istanbul. These months are busy times in terms of art fairs, so I try to attend as many fairs and events as possible when I find time from my academic and professional career.
What does your interest in art bring to you, your daily routine, your state of mind, and perspective of life?
To be honest, my life started to change when I began to be involved in the art scene. It always feels great to meet artists, curators and collectors, to attend interesting events and to be in places where I can exchange ideas on contemporary art. Being a part of the educational, informative and entertaining world of contemporary art through openings, events, domestic and international fairs and biennials is a pleasant way for me to change my mood and to improve my vision.
What would you suggest a new collector?
Though I cannot point to a specific thing, I can at least summarize the things that have been important in my experience. When putting together a collection, you have to constantly improve your knowledge of art history and it’s important to be open-minded about new information and developments. Although at first I used to buy artworks easily and fast, I now find it very hard to like something due to my knowledge and experience in contemporary art. You also need to follow national and international publications and latest news. Today, there are many important platforms you need to follow not only in printed media but also in the digital realm. You also need to put theory in practice. The more artworks art enthusiasts and collectors examine, the more improved their perspective and perception will become. In this regard, it is significant to visit the latest exhibitions and to attend fairs and biennials. When creating a collection, you’re actually putting together different, abstract and often hard-to-perceive pieces. It’s important to listen to the story of the artwork you consider buying, not to feel embarrassed to ask questions, to enter the mind of the artist in order to understand and feel his/her psyche and the environment and the historical contest s/he was in when s/he created this work. I pay attention to the presence of certain themes when I’m buying an artwork for my collection. And at some point, your perceptual selectivity is honed this way, thus attaining uniformity in the collection. I can also say that my perspective of contemporary art has been greatly influenced by the visits and workshops held as part of SPOT Projects of which I’m the co-founder.
You grew up in a house that attaches great importance to art so your perspective of it must have been influenced by your surroundings.
Yes, as you said, I grew up in a house embedded in art. My family would care for and protect every piece in their collection. So, growing up in this culture has surely influenced my vision as a collector.
If I’m not mistaken, your family is interested in classical arts. How did you become interested in contemporary art?
My passion for collection began with Islamic and oriental artworks in the 2000s. As I learned more about modern art, I became more and more interested in the field. In 2008, my interest in contemporary art reached its peak with the support of my curator acquaintances. Other artwork purchases I made in that period helped me improve myself and my collection. Those artworks are still in my collection.
Can you tell us about your collection? What kind of style does it reflect?
I’m very impressed by the Fluxus movement but, in general, my collection focuses on contemporary artworks with social themes of urban transformation, identity, gender and spiritualism.
Do you remember the first artwork you bought?
Hakan Kırdar’s photorealistic works.
Which Turkish collectors do you admire?
Agah Uğur, Haro Cümbüşyan and Banu and Hakan Çamıklı.
Can you name a few up-and-coming young artists in Turkey?
Elmas Deniz, Cansu Çakar, Deniz Gül, Huo Rf, Gözde İlkin, Sena and Hasan Özgür Top.
Istanbul was on the way to becoming an important art center. Then, this trend was hindered a bit. What’s the current situation? What kind of a place Istanbul is for the global art market?
In order to understand how contemporary art is doing in Turkey, we need to look at the exhibitions our artists are invited to, the museums that sell their artworks, and to the galleries that represent them. The improvement can be seen in the fact that Istanbul Biennial is regarded among the world’s most prestigious biennials; museums such as Istanbul Modern, Borusan Contemporary, Arter and Sakıp Sabancı Museum; institutions such as Salt Galata; the increasing interest in Contemporary Istanbul; the evaluation of Turkish contemporary art at auctions; the increasing number of galleries and the high-quality works they exhibit; the international representation by artists; and the increasing number of artists invited from abroad for exhibitions, education and residency programs. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for these developments. As you said, there can be some hinderance but what’s importance is to remain passionately and consistently permanent by overcoming these hard times.
Why was SPOT Project born?
We founded SPOT Project in 2011 with Zeynep Öz and Laura Carderera for art enthusiasts who wish to keep up with the culture and arts scene. There was a lack of institution in Turkey in this field. Thus, we created a place for those who wish to follow various art events accompanied by the professionals of the art world. We continue our programs developed as an independent social enterprise. SPOT comprises SPOT.TER membership packages and SPOT Support Fund. SPOT.TER packages offer theory- and practice-based programs for individuals, families and institutions. The revenue from all membership packages and sponsorships are directed to the SPOT Support Fund, which helps us support the production and education of art for Turkish artists. We receive invitations to international speeches, exhibitions and events with our membership program and support fund, contributing to the promotion of contemporary art in Turkey.
Can you tell us about the milestones along SPOT Projects’ journey so far?
In 2011, we began organizing workshops and seminars. Then followed the SPOT.TER membership program and international seminars. We founded the SPOT Support Fun in 2012 and started to provide education/production support to artists. In the same year, we organized our first “Domates Biber Patlıcan” exhibition which displayed the works we supported. In 2012, we started to collaborate with institutions besides individuals. In 2015, we started to host events for children as well as adults and founded SPOT.TER Kids which has evolved into SPOT.TER Family membership. Throughout this process, our individual membership programs continued at full speed while SPOT.TER memberships took their current form with Seminar and Family Membership packages. In addition, since its foundation, SPOT has been attending the contemporary art fairs in Istanbul, participating in the initiative sections of fairs with speeches, kids’ events, exhibition tours and membership promotions. Born of the membership revenues, SPOT Support Fund has actively supported projects that strive to be realized and exist in the Turkish art scene. One example is “İhtiyaç: Sen,” a 28-day event organized by Performistanbul for Canlı Sanat Araştırma Alanı, an initiative it strives to found, and another one is the Mardin Biennial which will take place between May 4 and June 4.
What’s on SPOT Projects’ agenda these days?
SPOT.TER’s Spring 2018 program is one of the busiest periods in SPOT’s history. We continue the “collectors” theme which was initiated last fall. As part of the program, a great number of collectors, artists, curators and art professionals will present us their artworks including videos, paintings and installations. The Spring 2018 daytime schedule welcomes artists Refik Anadol, İsmet Doğan, Volkan Aslan and Ahmet Elhan; curator Derya Yücel; collectors Selman Bilal and Emin Hitay; Bozlu Art Project director Oğuz Erten; Elif Bayoğlu from Sotheby’s Turkey; Fatma Çolakoğlu and Ulya Soley from Pera Museum; Lamarts director Sevim Sancaktar; and art lawyer Pınar Sönmez. The nighttime program includes Papko Art Collection co-founders Tuğba and Öner Kocabeyoğlu; collectors Leyla and Şevki Pekin; and academic and director Ela Başak Atakan. We also organize a number of gallery visits guided by directors, artists and curators in line with the up-to-date exhibition calendar.