Füsun Eczacıbasi’s six-story home in Istanbul’s old city is a beacon of contemporary art filled with video installations and other works by Turkish and international artists, including an animation by the South African William Kentridge, a transformed door by Polish artist Alicja Kwade, and films by Turkish artists Ali Kazma, Inci Eviner, and Extrastruggle.
However, according to Eczacıbasi, acquisitions are just a minor aspect of her role as collector in a country whose artists must struggle for recognition and navigate the challenges of political upheaval. In 2011 she founded the SAHA Art Fund, a nonprofit organization that underwrites projects by Turkish artists worldwide. The fund does not award grants to individual artists but to art venues and curators featuring works by Turkish artists in their exhibitions. Recipients include MoMA PS1 for its 2014 presentation of Halil Altindere‘s film Wonderland (2013) and Creative Time for underwriting Fulya Erdemci’s participation in its 2013 Summit. Eczacıbasi, who is a practicing architect and now owner of Karınca Design Company, is also a member of Tate International Council, Tate Middle East North Africa Acquisition Committee, and Art Basel Global Patrons Council.
“I am living in a country where contemporary art does not have that much support; there is no philanthropic organization, and there is no government support for contemporary art,” says Eczacıbasi, who made her first acquisition, a sliced violin by Arman, when she was an architecture student at Istanbul’s Academy of Fine Arts in the 1980s. But, she says, everything came into focus during a 1999 trip she made to the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris, where she was accompanied by her husband, Faruk, heir to the Eczacıbasi pharmaceutical fortune.
“We decided from that moment on that we would focus on what is done today,” she says. “It is more about ideas rather than objects.”
The Eczacıbasi family is central to Istanbul’s growing art scene; it founded the Istanbul Biennial in 1973, and in 2004, Füsun Eczacıbasi’s sister-in-law, Oya Eczacıbasi, founded Istanbul Modern, a museum housed in a 19th-century warehouse on Karaköy Quay. “We give funds to the whole ecosystem, not just artists, but art historians, curators, and critics,” Füsun says. “It shouldn’t be about supporting artists in our collections; it shouldn’t be about us being the philanthropists on the front page. We tried to find a different model.”