Why is Murat Ülker’s sponsorship of Istanbul Modern important?
Murat Ülker, the CEO of Yıldız Holding, which includes the Ülker Group, surprised both the art and business worlds by buying the painting “Blue Symphony” by famous painter Burhan Doğançay for 2.2 million Turkish Liras two years ago.
Doğançay, whose painting was inspired by the interior of the Blue Mosque, became “the most expensive living Turkish painter” after this sale, and was featured in the headlines of newspapers for a long time.
Ülker is now sponsoring an exhibition called “Fifty Years of Urban Walls” at Istanbul Modern, a retrospective of Dogançay’s past 50 years of work. I had the opportunity to visit the exhibition before its opening together with Murat Ülker, Burhan Doğançay, İstanbul Modern’s CEO Oya Eczacıbaşı and curator Levent Çalıkoğlu.
The exhibition gathers together a total of 120 pieces that come from private collections in Turkey as well as 35 paintings brought to Istanbul from 13 different museums around the world. Having spent 50 years of his artistic life in New York, Doğançay began his urban walls series in 1963. He has traveled with his camera since the 1970s, and has taken pictures of walls in 114 countries. In his travels from Mexico to South Africa to India, he has experienced all kinds of difficulties, but this has not stopped him.
The first museum to include a Doğançay piece in its permanent collection was the Guggenheim in New York. Doğançay has an archive of 40,000 photos.
Today Doğançay’s works are in the collections of 70 prominent museums around the world. He became the first contemporary Turkish painter to be included in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in 2012.
When Doğançay speaks of Murat Ülker, who transformed him into “the most expensive living Turkish painter,” he says Ülker is “Turkey’s Medici.” He is referring to the Medici family, who fostered and inspired the birth of the Italian Renaissance.
One of Turkey’s prominent rich persons, with a $2.8 billion fortune according to Forbes, Murat Ülker had previously sponsored the exhibitions “The Quran in its 1,400th Year” and “The Masterpieces of Calligraphy.” In September 2011, he sponsored the contemporary art fair “Art Beat.”
Ülker was also a classmate of İstanbul Modern’s CEO Eczacıbaşı at Bosphorus University. But Ülker’s sponsorship of Doğançay’s retrospective strikes me as important for this reason: There has been an ongoing debate for a long time about Turkey’s cultural and artistic life. It is generally only the members of a few prominent families in Turkey who support prominent museums, art institutions, and exhibitions that bring together the world’s well-known artists and art lovers in Istanbul. To be more precise, when it comes to art and culture, the names that emerge are those of families such as Koç, Sabancı, Eczacıbaşı, Kıraç, Kocabıyık (Borusan Holding) and Şahenk.
Contributions to Turkey’s art and culture life have been limited to a narrow ring, whereas there exist in Turkey, which has the 17th-largest economy in the world, both long-term capital and also a newly flourishing wealthy class of people, especially among the conservative segment of Turkish society. We have to acknowledge that there has not been a notable contribution to culture and arts from this conservative segment.
Thus, despite its being one of Turkey’s oldest groups, poisoned as “conservative,” the Ülker Group’s sponsorship of the extensive current exhibition at İstanbul Modern is a rewarding development for our artistic and cultural world.