Today, Istanbul’s art world is in shock over the news that works of art from the collection of the recently closed Santralistanbul Museum of Contemporary Art are set to hit the auction block in an upcoming sale.
Formerly one of Istanbul’s most celebrated new cultural institutions, the contemporary art museum, which was established in 2007, is administered by the private Istanbul Bilgi University. The news of the sale is causing alarm in Istanbul and beyond and comes after a rather heated period that witnessed the change of ownership at the university.
While initial reports suggested that Istanbul Bilgi University would be auctioning off Santralistanbul’s entire collection, it appears that they will only be selling artworks that were purchased by the institution and not the ones that were donated to the museum. Elvan Omay, the PR director of Istanbul Bilgi University told the Milliyet Sanat newspaper, “We are reorganizing the museum. The works that will be sent to the auction are the ones that the university acquired for Santralistanbul’s institutional collection.”
A group of Istanbul-based activists, who were galvanized by the news, drafted a release and started a petition protesting the sale. In their email to Hyperallergic, they explained that they feel that the news “betrayed the trust of the art world.” The group sent Hyperallergic their full statement, which includes the following passage:
The question is whether works donated or sold at rock-bottom prices to a museum collection that would represent the heart and soul of histories of art in Turkey could be reverted to the private domain. The works were turned over to what was upheld as a public institution that would not only provide good custodianship but also scholarship in the context of an academic institution. Neither has materialized. This is not a simple case of deaccession. It is a direct attack on Turkey’s artistic commons.
Today’s Zaman reports that the auction is scheduled for February 17 at the Sofa Hotel, and it will feature works by a number of prominent Turkish artists, including Nejad Devrim, Selim Turan, Fikret Mualla, Mübin Orhon, Hakkı Anlı, Yüksel Arslan, Nil Yalter, Ayşe Erkmen, Seyhan Topuz, Mehmet Güleryüz, Neşe Erdok, Selma Gürbüz, and Canan Tolon.
Since its opening in 2007, Santralistanbul has hosted international exhibitions from Centre Pompidou, ZKM in Karlsruhe, and MUSAC in León, and they’ve organized numerous local exhibitions.
Many North American art watchers will see obvious parallels with the Istanbul controversy to the recent problems over the threatened sale of the Rose Art Museum’s important collection. The uproar over the Rose’s attempts to deaccession its collection caused Brandeis University, which administers the museum, to eventually change their plans and promise that the collection would remain intact.