Tapping Turkey's Energy: Former Star London Dealer Suzanne Egeran on Why She Opened Her New Gallery in Istanbul

Tapping Turkey's Energy: Former Star London Dealer Suzanne Egeran on Why She Opened Her New Gallery in Istanbul

Suzanne Egeran has worked in some of the world's most respected galleries — White Cube, Lehmann Maupin, and Max Hetzler. She has spent time professionally in New York, London, and Berlin, but when it came time to branch out on her own, she chose a city much closer to home — Istanbul. Together with a London-based business partner, Mehves Ariburnu, she co-founded a namesake gallery in the Karaköy district of Istanbul. Now that she has found her footing and launched Galeri Mânâ's second show, which coincides with the opening of this year's Istanbul Biennial, ARTINFO caught up with her to find out what's going on in the Turkish art market.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

My father's Turkish and my mother's American, so I spent part of my childhood here. When my parents divorced, my mother moved back to the States my father stayed here, so I spent a lot of time here as a child growing up. Because my family is here, I have always had a connection. When I started working in contemporary art I was always very curious what was happening here, what was developing here, and sort of followed that over the years. When I began my own business in 2009 I made the decision to really incorporate the Turkish community into what I was doing. That really began my more serious engagement with the Turkish contemporary art world.

When did you decide to open a gallery?

We decided about a year ago. Two years ago, I did a show here — it was a parallel event to the 2009 Biennial called "In the Between." That show, which featured eight international and three Turkish artists, I set up in a temporary space, was extremely well received. As a result, I developed many relationships and contacts here and I met my partner, Mehves. As a result of that, most of my business kept me coming back to Turkey and things just sort of naturally developed. It became clear to me that I wanted — and other people wanted for me — to have a more sustained presence here. When I mentioned this to Mehves, we started thinking about what we might do together, and we decided on a partnership, which has been really wonderful. Mehves is based in London, but she's Turkish. We are both very committed to this community and seeing it grow and adding to the conversation.

What about the Turkish art scene? What's it like, what is going on there?

Obviously it's an emerging market. It's a very young community. I'd say the interest in international contemporary art is quite new here — and the exposure to it as well. There is a local Turkish contemporary art world that people here have been supporting. But it has been kind of separate from the international art world until recently, when the two have started to become a little bit closer together. The program that we've built here in the gallery is a combination of Turkish and international artists, but we don't really differentiate between the two. For us, there is one standard and we consider all of our artists to be of top-quality.

What are you doing for the Istanbul Biennial?

We just opened two solo exhibitions at the gallery. One is Nasan Tur, a Turkish artist based in Berlin, and the other is Lewis Baltz, who is an important conceptual photographer. He is from California but now lives in Europe. The pairing of the two sort of speaks to the program, which is multi-generational — you have a younger artist showing alongside a very historically important and established artist. What we would like to indicate here in this community is the idea that the work younger artists are creating is in dialogue with previous generations, and ideas that have been developed earlier — in the '60s or '70s — have continued on to today. There are some who have reacted positively to that approach and to expanding the conversation to include older-generation artists.
I know that Turkey's political star is rising at the moment. Do you see its art profile rising along with it? Are there more art collectors coming to Istanbul?
I think people love Istanbul as a city. It's got so many layers of culture and history. I think the kind of energy that you find here today is driving the contemporary art world as well — that energy is something that people are attracted to and want to engage with. There is a great curiosity about what's happening here. I can see this week during the Biennial that the number of people that are coming to Istanbul keeps growing and growing. People who have been multiple times in the past, but more for kind of historical trips or just for holiday, now are coming here specifically to look at contemporary art and culture. It has grown to the point that people are starting to recognize that there is something to discover, and they don't want to miss it.