A Major Private Museum Anchors on the Bosporus


Borusan Contemporary, the brainchild of collector Ahmet Kocabıyık, Borusan Holding’s chairman, opened on Sept. 17, the same day as the 12th Istanbul Biennial. Housed in the castlelike, 100-year-old Yusuf Ziya PaÅ?a Mansion, which faces the Bosporus in Istanbul’s Rumelihisari district, the Perili KöÅ?k (“Fairy Mansion” or “Haunted Mansion”) is also the headquarters of the company, a Turkish steel and energy conglomerate.

Borusan was among the first of Turkey’s leading corporations to sponsor contemporary art and culture, beginning in 1992 with a chamber orchestra that became the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic in 1999. Two of the HQ building’s nine floors are reserved for the museum, although art is installed throughout the structure-as has been the case since Borusan took over Perili KöÅ?k and restored it in 2007. Hence the unofficial designation “Office Museum.”

Borusan Contemporary, which is open to the public only on weekends (although the exhibitions can be viewed at other times by appointment), includes a store and café. (What’s a museum these days without them?) Former Guggenheim head Thomas Krens was an advisor and mega architecture firm Asymptote was part of the design team for the renovation.

For “Seven New Works,” one of two kickoff shows, curator Mario Codognato and dealer Sylvia Kouvali commissioned Turkish artists Esra Ersen, Burak Arikan, Gülsün Karamustafa, Cevdet Erek, Nasan Tur, Ergin ÇavuÅ?oÄ?lu and Aslı ÇavuÅ?oÄ?lu to create videos on the theme of fractured points of view. The selection reflects Borusan’s shift to new media, in marked contrast to “Segment #1,” the other inaugural exhibition, which features more than 600 works drawn from the collection by curator Necmi Sönmez. Both shows are up through Dec. 11.

Over tea in his office, Ahmet Kocabıyık said that Istanbul has seen an upsurge of interest in contemporary art over the past five years. “When I started collecting in the 1980s, you could count on one hand the number of contemporary collectors of international art, but now there are many–not just investors but real collectors knowledgeable about the art they are acquiring. Established and emerging artists interest me most, not just stars,” he said. “We would have to spend our entire budget of approximately one million euros on one work if we collected stars.”

Kocabıyık’s eclectic collection includes Turkish modernists such as Bedri Baykam and Kemal Önsoy as well as Jim Dine, Donald Judd, Keith Sonnier, Jerry Zeniuk, Andrew Rogers, Doug Aitken, Liam Gillick, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, U-Ram Choe, Daniel Rozin, KutluÄ? Ataman, Beat Zoderer and AyÅ?e Erkmen (who represented Turkey at the 2011 Venice Biennale). Future acquisitions will rotate in the galleries and throughout Borusan’s many facilities. “We won’t store anything, we don’t hide art,” Kocabıyık said.

Kocabıyık plans to build a museum dedicated to new media. He has picked a site in the Tophane neighborhood near the Istanbul Modern and Antrepo, the home of the Biennial. The collector is working on a plan with Asymptote’s Hani Rashid, but an architect has not yet been tapped.