Turquish Contemporary Artists



Friday is Top day! Every alternate Friday Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the ten highest auction sales for Turkish artists in 2012.

After the First World War, Turkey experienced a significant changeover from the Ottoman Empire to a non-religious, modern state. The tormented history of a country straddling Europe and the Middle East, in terms of both geography and culture, continued to develop even after the Republic was declared in 1923. Modern Turkey was the birthplace of a flourishing artistic scene, where the first signs of a break with academic art emerged at the beginning of the 1960’s with Altan GURMAN and SARKIS. 1987 marked the first step towards the widespread circulation of Turkish art with the first Istanbul biennial, now firmly established as a key event in world of art. However, it was in the 1990’s that contemporary art really boomed in Turkey outside Istanbul, and achieved international visibility. 1990 also saw the country represented for the first time at the Venice Biennial. The early 2000’s marked the start of institutionalisation, with the founding of the first contemporary art museum. As the years went by, other prestigious new structures appeared, funded by the private sector. This new dynamism went hand in hand with the rebirth of Istanbul, where the Eastern districts gradually developed into a haven of trendiness, and numerous exhibition centers and art galleries blossomed. The Turkish artist market has grown considerably over the last ten years thanks to the support of influential collectors, the development of commercial structures (galleries and sales rooms) and the involvement of one of the leading marketplaces, London. Now that this long-neglected part of the world is being closely scrutinised by art professionals and enthusiasts, which Turkish artists are achieving the finest bids? Let’s look back at the Top 10 of the past year.

Top 10 : the ten highest auction sales for Turkish artists in 2012

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Taner CEYLAN $161370 Ten Kafesi (Cage of Flesh) (2012) 04/26/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
2 Taner CEYLAN $138300 Je t’aime Peggy (2009) 10/17/2012 (Beyaz Pazarlama ve Muzayedecilik ISTANBUL)
3 Taner CEYLAN $136100 Nirvana 05/29/2012 (Beyaz Pazarlama ve Muzayedecilik ISTANBUL)
4 Taner CEYLAN $111359 Alp 03/17/2012 (Beyaz Pazarlama ve Muzayedecilik ISTANBUL)
5 Canan TOLON $104890 “Glitch III (From the Glitch Series)” (2007) 04/26/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
6 Canan TOLON $100224 Untitled () 03/17/2012 (Beyaz Pazarlama ve Muzayedecilik ISTANBUL)
7 Taner CEYLAN $95455 Old World (2007) 12/18/2012 (Beyaz Pazarlama ve Muzayedecilik ISTANBUL)
8 Canan TOLON $88512 Glitch IV (2008) 10/17/2012 (Beyaz Pazarlama ve Muzayedecilik ISTANBUL)
9 Canan TOLON $87104 One Day This Will All Be Yours My Son (1999) 05/29/2012 (Beyaz Pazarlama ve Muzayedecilik ISTANBUL)
10 Ramazan BAYRAKOGLU $83912 Motorsiklet (Motorcycle) (2012) 04/26/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)


Two artists from two different generations share top ranking: Canan TOLON, born in the 1950’s, and Taner CEYLAN, born in 1967. Up against this dominant pair, only Ramazan BAYRAKOGLU managed to reach last place thanks to the $87,000 fetched by Motorsiklet, an embroidered work on canvas based on his reflections on painting and tradition. As regards marketplaces, the Top 10 shows the overwhelming presence of Istanbul through the auction house Beyaz, alone responsible for seven results in the list. This comes as no surprise to this auction house created in 2006, currently the leader for modern and contemporary art in Turkey. Then comes London, with Sotheby’s, which stages sales specialising in contemporary Turkish art each year in April. Dubai, traditionally a strong market for Turkish art, is significantly absent, ousted by London and several rising local auction houses.

The clear winner in this ranking, the German-born Turkish artist Taner Ceylan, made a sensational entrance into the auction room in 2009, when Spiritual fetched an impressive $82,000 (Sotheby’s London, 4 March 2009). After graduating in Fine Arts at the Mimar Sinan Univsersity in 1991, Taner Ceylan rapidly established himself in the Turkish art scene. Besides working as an artist, he was the editor of the Istanbul Time Out magazine from 2001 to 2006. Many of his hyperrealist paintings evince explicit sexuality, reflecting a range of influences from Robert Mapplethorpe to Jeff Koons. He has continued to post record sales since his stunning achievement of 2009 – rising to even newer heights in 2011! After the $154,000 garnered on 15 April 2010 by Sotheby’s London for 1881 (From the Most Painting Series) , 2011 eventually became the year of his finest sale to date, with $310,000 for 1879 (From the Lost Painting Series). And though sales in 2012 did not improve on this record, the number of lots that went to auction doubled in a year, producing hammer prices of between $55,000 and $161,000! You could hardly wish for a more dynamic rating.

Canan Tolon posted a fine performance with four results in the ranking. Born in Istanbul, she grew up in France, then studied in Edinburgh, Frankfurt and London before moving to California in the 1980’s, where she has lived and worked ever since. After her first solo exhibition at Berkeley in 1984, Canan Tolon took part in numerous exhibitions in Europe and the United States. She made a name for herself with abstract compositions inspired by urban landscapes, painted on canvas or panel. Her career in the auction room began considerably later, in 2007, when Beyaz put her first diptych up for sale, Composition abstraite, which sold for nearly $2,400. Two years later, the same auction house brought the hammer down at nearly $17,000 for a canvas of 190 x 75 cm (30 May 2009). Barely six months later, another Istanbul auction house, Antik As, posted a new record, $31,000, for Composition (Istanbul, 15 November 2009). Increasingly high bids followed in succession, eventually crossing the $100,000 threshold twice in 2012!

With an entrance ticket of some $88,000, the Turkish artists under 45 are still a long way from the list of top bids for. The American artist Jacob Kassay (born in 1984), for example, has been achieving results of more than $200,000 since 2011. This fast-growing, highly promising segment of the market is still largely affordable.