What was the first work of art you purchased for your collection? Was there a specific moment that was a catalyst for the start of your collecting?
About 20 years ago, I went to an auction with a friend. Even though I wasn’t planning to buy an artwork, I took a liking to a small oil painting and ended up buying it. This was the first piece in my collection.
After this, I started reading about art and visiting museums and galleries around the world. At first, I collected mostly modern Turkish pieces, however, as I gained more experience and knowledge in the field, I decided to develop the collection with a particular focus on contemporary art. Today, the collection comprises over a thousand pieces of modern and contemporary art spanning the 1950s to the present day with a particular focus on artists from Turkey.
How have you amassed your collection? Is it through a particular dealer or gallery?
I buy artworks from galleries and auction houses in Turkey and from art fairs internationally. While I sometimes seek professional advice, I always buy according to my own personal tastes.
Are there any artists or works that you especially value, or any artists you are particularly excited about?
I have developed a personal and unique connection with each piece in the collection. However, in general, I enjoy artworks that reveal something about their creative process and the artisanship behind them, such as Ahmet Doğu İpek’s Construction Regime ; Guido Casaretto’s Historical Connotations and TUNCA’s Lacus .
Your latest philanthropic project is a major new museum – tell about what inspired you to embark on this venture.
Ever since I first started acquiring art, I’ve been excited about sharing the experience these artworks bring along with them. It happened gradually—first by exhibiting these works on the office walls, getting positive feedback and observing the ripple effect they create; then by designing Polart specifically to further exhibit, preserve and foster meaningful conversations on art. These experiences showed me that art blossoms when shared. There is no point in keeping your artwork in the storage. I like to share things, and good interactions make this passion of mine all but more meaningful.
Clearly, appreciating art requires a visual literacy and discipline. To travel and see new things, to read and allocate time to these practices is all very important. When I first started thinking about the museum project, I vividly remembered how there were no art institutions offering that experience in Eskişehir when I was growing up. I truly think sharing these artworks with the public will be tremendously beneficial for adults and students, retirees and children alike.
Art feeds the spirit. If others, too, can benefit from this spiritual nourishment, it means we are in fact building and running a project in social responsibility. Even if it amounts to only a few drops in the ocean—people from different age groups and socio-economic backgrounds simply walking in and establishing some sort of intimacy with art—that alone is enough for me. Our goal is to make art accessible in everyday life and make new perspectives available to everyone through art.
The museum will display works from your permanent collection as well as temporary exhibitions. What do you want the cultural experience to offer visitors?
With its striking design, we hope that OMM will stand as a new landmark of Eskişehir and of Turkey at large. We hope that visitors from all over the world will interact with the design of the building while enjoying the artworks on display.
OMM will also create a multicultural hub and public meeting place in the town, while helping to preserve the cultural heritage of the district.
Art in Turkey
What stories do you want the museum to tell about Turkey and its art scene? How will OMM change the cultural landscape in Turkey?
Turkey has an incredibly diverse and talented art scene, and I want to reflect this through both the collection and exhibition programme. The unique position between East and West, and the social environment, have led our artists to produce some of the most interesting work of the 20th and 21st centuries. I hope that by showcasing these artists alongside internationally renowned names we can reaffirm their position within the canon.
You’ve been a huge supporter of the Turkish art scene for many years. In the context of contemporary geopolitics, why is it important to support the arts?
I think that artists need support in order to produce artworks and in order to create sustainability in the arts sector. Today, not only in Turkey but globally, arts can only survive with special funds and with the support of individuals and organisations. With regards to my collection, recently I’ve focused on young emerging artists. I am interested by their new approaches, the way they integrate with the world and their inspiring artworks and these have changed the scope of my collection. I would be very happy if, by this way, I provide support to the production process of young artists. Providing support in arts is very important to have sustainable art production and to create richness.
The rest of this editorial will be published at a later time.
About Erol Tabanca
Erol Tabanca is the founder of Odunpazarı Modern Museum (OMM), Chairperson of Polimeks Holding, and an art collector who champions both Turkish and international artists. His significant collection of modern and contemporary art will be showcased in the Odunpazarı Modern Museum in Eskişehir, opening in 2019.
As the Chairman of Polimeks Holding, a Turkish construction company based in Istanbul, Tabanca has over 35 years’ experience as an architect and a contractor, working as lead architect for numerous conceptual design projects in addition to his senior management responsibilities. Polimeks is one of the world’s leading corporations in building and culture, with a global portfolio that reflects their work across different fields including real-estate, tourism and energy.
Recognised internationally for its architecture and engineering works, Polimeks has carried out over 134 projects in Turkey and abroad. Polimeks is also one of the major supporters of contemporary art in Turkey. Erol Tabanca graduated from the Department of Architecture at Ankara State Engineering and Architecture Academy after completing his studies at the Art Institute in Eskişehir.