BM: The local municipalities need to update their cultural policies. The first change should regard the freedom of speech issue. Because the artists represent the problems in a society with a new vision and the society should know about it. An artwork with sexual or political context should be displayed in public institutions. So the first important thing is that the censorship is lifted. Secondly, the state and the local municipalities should invest in creative energies, not in activities. You know how it is; we tend to invest in ephemeral activities, not in people.
We should encourage people to be artists and fund them to go abroad to have an international view. Thirdly, both the state and local municipalities should employ art professionals, not just staff. We have to open up positions and opportunities to the new graduates of art management schools of private universities. Finally, the private sector should also transform to apply these three changes; the freedom of speech, working with professionals and investing in people. As you know our private sector funds art to establish themselves as a trade mark or to gain prestige in the business world as well as to conceal their destructive capitalist activities—they don't care about art genuinely.
In your book Art Every Two Years,you emphasize that the Istanbul Biennial was founded to change the faith of Turkish contemporary art by "intervening" to the stagnant climate in the art market. Wasn't it an obvious goal for the foundation of IKSV to establish Turkish art as an exotic, untouched market? Afterall, it is an institution founded by philantropists and businessmen that has always kept its elitist structure and eventually became a part of the public relations department of the corporates. It is very disturbing that this institution developed a monopoly over the Turkish contemporary art. Didn't this institution aim to be the monopoly in the Turkish art scene since the day it was founded or was it an uncalculated development?
BM: The more IKSV has become a monopoly power in the Turkish art scene, the more the quality of organizations they produced diminished. Twenty years ago there was not such a goal. The primary aim of the new elite that founded the institution was to break away from a Soviet-like state hegemony and establish their class power. That started in the late 1970s and culminated in the 1980s with Prime Minister Turgut Ozal's government, which adopted the neoliberal economic program word by word. This new economic elite tried to exercise its hegemony not only in the contemporary art but in all the cultural field. We may easily call this a "post-bourgeois" movement in Turkey, where the character of the bourgeoisie changed from being a modernist, bureaucratic or state-guarded class to a liberalist class that created its own destiny. IKSV and the Istanbul Biennials played an instrumental role for that matter, especially for this new elite class to connect itsef to the global elite. I have to add another thing in terms of this international connection. When the fax machine entered Turkey, entire social relations changed. We could no longer live as a closed society. In that, art emerged in the scene as an instrument of the bourgeois class and Istanbul Biennial was a part of that. Starting with the 4th biennial they invited a European curator to connect to the international art world. This was the first obvious demonstration of the goal that was indeed planned since the first exhibition. If you look at the invited artists of the first exhibitions, you will know what I mean.
So can we conclude that the ultimate goal of opening up Turkish contemporary art to the world is a class-concious act?
BM: Yes, you are right!
What's the role of the IKSV in the institutionalization of art in Turkey in the neoliberal era?
BM: IKSV brought prestige to the visual arts in the eyes of the statesmen and the businessmen and so it could build up a sponsorship system that was inexistent in Turkey for visual arts.
In one of your articles critical of the Sotheby's auction of Turkish contemporary art last year you ask, "Which art market are we targeting? That of the other ‘modernism' or the contemporary art market that would shake up things? And are we going to ask this of Sotheby's?" Then you add, "But we watched smilingly that the Turkish art world kept its silence. It is either they don't care about criticizing this auction and its orientalist view of Turkish art or because they simply don't care." Can you explain that?
BM: In countries such as ours, the art market is very much centered and developed as a top-bottom process. In the 1990s, the international art world stepped through Turkey and escaped to the Arabic world. Today, nobody can say that there is an international art market in Istanbul, despite the biennial. International collectors do not come to Istanbul to buy art. Local collectors have no education or taste to invest in contemporary art. Turkish contemporary artists sell more in Berlin than in Istanbul. On the other hand, the Arabic world got the attention of the international art world quickly. Firstly, they have the financial sources; secondly, the European buyers love orientalist art-so do the buyers in the Arab world. However, over there, there is no art production like there is in Istanbul. Istanbul is very inspirational for international artists and there are layers and layers of art activities. With the first Turkish Contemporary Art auction this year Sothebys was trying to attract attention to Turkey, taking the role of a bridge. But it was not sucessful, because our modernism is not "salable modernism."
You state in your article published by a daily newspaper in Turkey on August 17, 2009 that "the last 15 years, EU's art and cultural institutions supported our creative people more than we did and understood better that what their work meant for the cultural arena in Turkey." As a follower of the Third Worldist view in the Academia I am asking these questions rather skeptically. Do you think the economic support of the EU, or their interest in our contemporary art production has a positive impact in energizing the Turkish contempoary art? As the head of the 2010 Istanbul the Cultural Capital of Europe project, how would you comment on the giant financial support of the EU for the cultural projects for the past decade?