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Sabiha Kurtulmuş: “It is a big luxury to designate life through art”

Sabiha Kurtulmuş, the Founding Director of Merkür Gallery which celebrates its 26th anniversary, is also the creator of ArtWeeks@Akaretler, one of the most important contemporary art events in Turkey. We talked about her career and innovation in art.

You studied psychology and then stepped into the art world. Can you talk about this journey?

This is my 26th year in arts. I started in 1994 as Bedri Baykam’s assistant. Back then, art garnered a lot of attention from all segments. I think myself lucky to be able to professionally experience the art of the ‘90s and to work with the most prominent artists in Turkey. During the many years I worked as Baykam’s assistant, I wrote articles for the newspaper Cumhuriyet, VJed for radio stations, and worked at the news station at TV8. In 2004, I had my first experience at an artistic concept store. In 2006, I founded and then left Piramid Sanat and opened Eskonsept with Ebru Erberdi. Since 2010, I’ve been the founder and director of Merkür Galeri. It’s been a very long journey but also a great privilege to be with creative people and to experience life through art.

You have been in the art world for many years and are currently working on the sixth edition of Artweeks Akaretler. Can you talk about this project?

Artweeks Akaretler was solely born from relationships of friendship. This project came alive on the suggestion of my close friend and collector Serdar Bilgili. Since the first edition, our aim is to bring together various dynamics of art that are in close proximity and supportive of one another. So, the event created a view inside historic bıildings which boast their own candid displays and soon earned itself a place on the art map of Istanbul. The most important figures of Turkish contemporary art have joined us based on the availability of venues and my gallerist friends who have been with me since the first edition. Each edition also includes a selection from the collections of those who have supported us over the years. We care about including independent art initiatives and publications in each edition.

What does “newness” represent for you in terms of art? Do you think “new” is possible in art?

The word or concept of new is highly broad in meaning. In terms of art, there hasn’t been a new movement since the ‘80s. There have been reinterpretations, current adaptations of previously prevalent artistic movements, such as neo-expressionism and the new abstract. I find “authenticity” in art to be more realistic and significant as a concept rather than “newness.” Artists present us with current issues through their productions on various platforms and sensibilities. The digitalisation brought along by technology increases its activity in art as well. I could probably define the “new media” movement as a new development in art.

What is your view on digital art and NFTs?

For my artistic view, I closely follow the interpretation of contemporary issues with contemporary means. Digitalisation has gained momentum during the pandemic. When we look at the recent fairs, we see a new rise in the form of painting. To be honest, I don’t think painting will ever lose its dominance. As for NFTs, I follow the developments and would love to include a project I believe in at my gallery; however, as an art enthusiast, I don’t find myself drawn to it. I’m still in the professional observation phase since there are no clear regulations yet.


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