The news about a large amount of art works to be sold on 17 February 2013 in Istanbul coming from the collection of the recently closed Santralİstanbul Museum of Contemporary Art caused outrage among Istanbul’s art circles in early February 2013.
In spite of the strong criticism against it, the sale organized by the auction house Maçka Mezat was conducted at the Sofa Hotel Istanbul as planned.
Prior to the auction artists an art professionals started campaigns and collected signatures trying to stop the sale of the artworks. A group of art critics and curators from Istanbul’s art scene released a press statement accusing İstanbul Bilgi University of “betraying the trust of the art world by putting the works in its collection up for auction.“
Santralİstanbul was founded in 2007 when a power plant located in İstanbul's Eyüp neighborhood was rented to Bilgi University by the government on the condition that the building would be used as an energy museum, contemporary art museum and a cultural and educational center. After its foundation the museum held major and critically acclaimed exhibitions.
However only a few years later, in 2012, several units of the complex, including the contemporary arts museum closed their doors due to a change of ownership of Bilgi University. Shortly after this incident, rumors spread, that the museum's collection was to be auctioned off. The University denied these allegations after hearing the reactions of some artists whose work was part of the collection.
The news about the sale of the museum’s collection came up a year after the museum's closure. Many artists whose pieces were part of the museum's collection condemned the decision made by İstanbul Bilgi University to auction off the artworks. Artists, including Selma Gürbüz, Arslan and Sarkis, noted that they had sold their pieces to the museum at nominal prices, adding their demands for the museum's collection to be kept intact.
The University stated that out of 69 artworks, only four had been gifts or donations to the university collection. The gift and donation artworks included Arslan’s “Arture” and “Auto-portait,” Nil Yalter’s video work “Headless women, Belly Dancer,” and Hakkı Anlı’s “Abstract Composition. These four works were withdrawn from the auction. Lot numbers 19 and 20, an installation by conceptual artist Sarkis Zabunyan, were offered for sale under one lot following the artist's declaration that they were parts of the same installation. 64 pieces from the collection went up for auction.
The leading piece of the sale, Nejat Melih Devrim’s “Abstract Composition,” sold for 1.4 million TL. Devrim's two other paintings, also titled “Abstract Composition,” were sold for 1.300.000TL and 1.100.000 TRL.
The work „Updating ‚KAPITAL’“ by Yüksel Arslan sold for 500.000 TRL, while Devrim's “Hagia Sophia” achieved a result of 375.000 TRL. Canan Tolon’s “Abstract Composition” went to a successful buyer for 95.000 TRL.
Bilgi University stated that the auction primarily consisted of paintings the university had bought and that the artworks have been approved for sale by the Culture Ministry.
Left: Nejat Melih Devrim, Abstract Composition, 1956, oil on canvas, 300 x 200cm. Sold for TRL 1,400,000 (Estimate: TRL 800,000 - TRL1,200,000) Photo: Maçka Mezat
Right: Nejat Melih Devrim, Hagia Sophia, 1948, oil on canvas, 97 x 72cm. Sold for TRL 325,000 (Estimate: TRL 50,000 – TRL 70,000) Photo: Maçka Mezat
Left: Nejat Melih Devrim, Abstract Composition, 1948, oil on canvas, 196 x 130cm. Sold for TRL 1,300,000 (Estimate: TRL 400,000 – TRL 600,000) Photo: Maçka Mezat
Right: Nejat Melih Devrim, Abstract Composition, 1950, oil on canvas, 196 x 130cm. Sold for TRL 1,100,000 (Estimate: TRL 400,000 – TRL 600,000) Photo: Maçka Mezat
Left: Yüksel Arslan, Updating ‚KAPITAL’, 1978, mixed media on paper, 50 x 71cm. Sold for TRL 500,000 (Estimate: TRL 100,000 – TRL 120,000) Photo: Maçka Mezat
Right: Canan Tolon, Abstract Composition, 2003, Rust and Acrylic on canvas, 142 x 123cm. Sold for 95.000 TRL (Estimae: TRL 40,000 – TRL 50,000) Photo: Maçka Mezat