Yahşi Baraz: The job of a gallerist is actually quite hard…
Efe Korkut Kurt: You have dealt with its challenges, and thanks to you, we’re now enjoying its benefits. How do you think one should operate a gallery these days?
Y.B.: It’s necessary to come up with new things within the institutional field of art. Success comes from doing what hasn’t already been done. I think he who intends to open a gallery must build a space with depth and height, and have a master architect draw the plans for the gallery. A gallerist has to think universal, not local. One of the most difficult things is to become world-renowned. It should be the goal of a gallerist to buy and sell paintings at an international level. His biggest accomplishment would be to sell paintings to international world museums. For example, for a musician, a physicist or an operator, it’s always a challenge to make a successful career. The world famous gallerist Andre Emmerich says “a gallerist should be with the rich, but shouldn’t live the luxurious life of the rich”. Which means, a gallerist should keep in contact with the rich in order to sell art, but should stay within the art world rather than living like the rich. I always tried to accomplish this.
E.K.K.: Having found the chance to talk with such an experienced person, I would like to ask you something. There are people that regulate the contemporary art market; and not just the market, also the art scene. How does the relationship between young artists and these people –who shape the market– develop?
Y.B.: This depends on both the economics of Turkey and the intellectual background of the artist. Hand skills are of course important, but it’s not enough to be talented and to come up with good work. When an artist possesses intellectual knowledge and is social and communicative, it’s a significant factor. Just because an artist seems to be on the rise, doesn’t mean that his works will be acquired by world museums in the future. One can continue to produce decorative work and sell hundreds of paintings during one’s lifetime. One can get rich, make one’s gallery rich. The biggest wish of an artist is to have a retrospective exhibition in one of the world’s prominent museums and be part of the largest 400 private collections. However no Turkish painter has accomplished that yet, not even a solo show. For example Dogancay had a photography exhibition in Pompidou in 1982 titled “Les Murs Murmurent, Il Crient, Ils Chantent” (Whispering Walls).
Then we have other problems arising from the fact that the world has become quite a materialist place. Even though materialism has been going on for 100 years, it’s in the last 10-15 years that materialistic thought has become even more prominent, it’s now much more important for rich people to support artists. Artists have to make their works part of the 5-10 top collections. When they succeed in accomplishing this, they will have supporters, which will prevent the artist from going back. For example, there was an article about Rothko, in which an art writer stated that Rothko was a terrible artist, but because the investment made on him was so huge, nobody would be able to say that he wasn’t good. Nowadays he’s considered one of the most prominent American abstract painters.
There are two types of artists in the history of world art; the founders of a school and the followers of a school. There hasn’t been a painter in Turkey, who established a movement and managed to make it accepted worldwide… If we consider the fact that our painting is only 150 years old, which is a short time for the artistic development of a country, this is normal. Recently young artists have brought new energy to the art scene. With the opening of new museums and art spaces, the obstacles preventing young artists from becoming known worldwide will disappear. On the other hand, while there were 3-4 Art Schools 25-30 years ago, the number is now 85. Each year hundreds of young artists graduate from these schools, and some of them have the opportunity to study abroad. The education one receives abroad, the museums and galleries one visits, meeting museum curators and gallerists, making researches in university libraries can turn a young Turkish artist into a world artist. Everything is global now. Identity doesn’t matter much. You could be from Poland, Bosnia-Herzegovina or Iraq; the important thing is to develop a style and make a contribution to world art.
E.K.K.: In the past there used to exist many handicaps for artists who lived in periphery countries.
Y.B.: The reason was that the centers were Paris, London and New York. But now the art world has become global. From the past up until today, it was first Italy and then Germany, England, France and Spain, that was the leader in art. And after 1960 America became prominent. Today however, the world has become multi-polar concerning art. If you were to look at the artists and the works in collections in these countries, you’d see that they are all from the aforementioned 5-6 countries. There can also be a few Japanese, Dutch or Belgian artists. Nonetheless, America is the center. They put the most important art works of the world into their museums and thus became the center.
E.K.K.: After the Second World War, as capital stock was entirely in America, they purchased all the artworks through galleries. As you know, America is the only country in which the state has no budget for acquiring artworks, but all artworks are still in museums, because rich people donate their collections to museums. It’s why most of World’s art is in American museums. I guess such an equation has formed.
Y.B.: When the Second World War was over, the intellectual circles were mostly in Europe and the communist countries. In America however, which had won the war, there wasn’t much progress in this field. CIA noticed this shortcoming, and American art began to be supported with the Kennedy Laws. Thus American Abstract Expressionism (artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Clyfford Still, Arshile Groky, Willem de Kooning) was born, which had a significant influence on the world art. After that, American Pop Art (Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Rosenquist, Frank Stella) became the center of attention worldwide. This was accomplished as a state policy, and thereafter American art began to lead world art. Josef Albers and Hans Hofmann left the pessimistic atmosphere of Europe, they traveled to America and had an important influence there.
E.K.K.: So countries without a powerful bourgeois class have issues in this system; concerning being effective in art, influencing world art or creating their own national market.
Y.B.: For example, within the various art categories, theater, film and opera are the ones that address the masses. Fine arts is a category that entirely aims the relatively limited audience of the elite bourgeois.
Besides, art progresses in continuity. This progress is different in Turkey, unfortunately. As an example, the predecessors of a Turkish artist are a carpet artist, a rug artist, a copper artist or a ceramic tile artist. But before Clemente came Raphael and Leonardo. Before Francis Bacon came Turner and Gainsborough. Before Cezanne came Ingres, Jacques Louis David and Delacroix. Before Anselm Kiefer came Abrecht Durer and Lucas Kranach.
What you said is quite true, but we can’t expect artists to be successful by themselves. We need collectors who buy art works worldwide and exhibit these works. We need art writers writing in magazines worldwide, we need curators working with prominent world museums.
E.K.K.: In the past, a great talent could with his introversion create a resistance to a situation that had no equivalent in the society. This choice had a cost regarding the personal life of the artist. We know of artists who committed suicide… Maybe one of the reasons that significant actors, collectors or the great bourgeois purchased works was their respect and esteem to this life-style and situation. Nowadays we’re living with a post-modern market rationality that is way beyond this matter.
Y.B.: Because there was no art market in Turkey then, our painters began by teaching at the academy. First they traveled to France with scholarships from the government or private scholarships. Artists such as Feyhaman Duran, Namik Ismail, Ibrahim Calli, Nazmi Ziya and Avni Lifij traveled to France in 1910 and they had to return in 1914 when the First World War began. After the Second World War only a few traveled to Paris and chose to work and live there. Artists such as Avni Arbas, Selim Turan, Abidin Dino, Hakki Anli, Mubin Orhon, Nejad Devrim and Albert Bitran lived there with financial problems. Some of them couldn’t get passports, couldn’t do their military service, couldn’t return. A group of artists also traveled to America. Tosun Bayrak, Burhan Dogancay and Erol Akyavas went to New York.
E.K.K.: And they couldn’t be a part of the art scene?
Y.B.: No, because they were immigrants. Paris had just experienced a war, and the artists also had issues regarding the problems of the country in addition to being strangers. Because the country had its own problems, one had to be a great genius to be known. Because the Turkish artists couldn’t return to Turkey, they had to live there, yearning for Turkey. Following this generation, artists such as Komet, Utku Varlik and Mehmet Guleryuz traveled to Paris. Omer Uluc went to Paris in 1982 by himself; he lived in Paris and sold his works in Turkey. Therefore they weren’t able to establish important contact with museums, galleries or collectors there.
E.K.K.: So is there a commercial equation of art today? Is there anybody working on this? Someone who thinks how one could profit from art? Let’s assume he doesn’t like art. He considers it more like stocks. He maybe works with his instincts or his thoughts; but is there such a person working like this?
Y.B.: An artist and a gallerist should have a long-lasting relationship; and even if the works aren’t sold in a short period, they should continue to work together and be patient. It’s of great importance that they trust each other and be around the same age as one another. When there’s too much of an age difference, problems arise in establishing dialogue. The equation forms itself with the development of a good relationship between the artist and the gallerist.
E.K.K.: So, that is the relationship between the artist and the gallery owner. How about the world of auctions?
Y.B.: The dynamics of a gallery and an auction are different. The auctions in which many works were sold have in the last ten years benefited Turkish art market greatly. It helped auctions develop further and new collectors joining the system. However, there has also been speculative efforts.
E.K.K.: So it’s beyond being a matter of supply and demand.
Y.B.: Though the Turkish painting market has grew after 2007, newcomer collectors caused the system to develop in the wrong direction, by making false decisions about which works to purchase. It was unhealthy for the new market in Turkey to grew to a few times its original size in just a few years, and therefore works that even wouldn’t be able to be a part of the art history were marketed as masterworks. Works of artists were sold for way above their actual value; this was later found out by collectors, and it caused people to be hesitant about acquiring works, they realized this development was in fact a bubble.
E.K.K.: When money is involved, everybody wants to take part, I guess. Such a bubble going on until this day… Even though it’s like supply without the demand; does demand catch up later? If we’re to create a sustainable market, it has to be based on trust. If such institutions could be established, do you think it could be real?
Y.B.: I’d like to look at things from a wider perspective. First one has to consider, whether one in the million of rich people in Turkey has ever acquired a painting.
E.K.K.: How many people are there, how many artworks were sold until now?
Y.B.: In Turkey there are 10 million people who are doing pretty well. But a total of 76 million people live in Turkey. Within the 10 million, there are 1000 people who are significantly rich, who control the Turkish economy. 5-6 or 10 of them have acquired more than 100 works.
Who’s a collector? Collector is one who acquires works for himself, and after a while, when he reaches a point of satisfaction, he wants to share it with the public and he establishes a museum. However most of those who buy artworks in Turkey are involved in art trade. It appears as if they’re collectors. They just buy. They buy with the intention of establishing a museum, but they don’t, and then they sell the paintings.
E.K.K.: As a gallerist with 39 years of experience, what do you think about your profession now?
Y.B.: I can say that in our profession one doesn’t have the luxury of making mistakes. As long as you don’t make material goods a priority, it’s quite a pleasant job.