Santralistanbul Museum Moves to Auction off its Collection

In the process of decommissioning santralistanbul, formerly one of Istanbul´s most celebrated new cultural institutions, Istanbul Bilgi University has broken faith with the art world by putting the works in its collection on the auction block. Since its opening in 2007, santralistanbul served host to exhibitions from Centre Pompidou, ZKM in Karlsruhe, to MUSAC in León, and organized ambitious local exhibitions. However, after a rather combative change of ownership the university has recently decided to dissolve its “santralistanbul Museum of Contemporary Art” and liquidate the collection. The university has furtively sought the approval of Turkey´s Ministry of Culture and Tourism in order to scrap more than 70 works off the museum´s inventory. Since the Ministry´s benchmark for museum quality is how old the object in question is, the university quickly received the green light for sale of the collection that includes critical works by artists such as Yüksel Arslan, Nejad Devrim, Sarkis, Nil Yalter amongs others.

A local auction house, Macka Mezat has taken up the sale. The auction catalogue makes no reference to the origin of the works, and refers to them as follows: “The private collection comprises important works by prominent Turkish modern and contemporary artists.”

This is not a simple case of deaccession. The question is whether works donated or sold to a museum collection that set out to be a preeminent compendium of 20th Century art in Turkey could be reverted to the private domain. Public custodianship has been let go. Research and scholarship in the context of an academic institution has failed to materialize.

Artists, curators, critics and concerned members of cultural institutions have been active in informing the public and seeking acceptable means of keeping the works in the public domain.

Vasif Kortun
CIMAM Board Member

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CIMAM's General Principles on Conditions of Deaccession from Museum Collections.