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A Natural-Born Collector

From The Next Gen Art Collectors Report 2021 published by Larry’s List.

Name: Huma Kabakcı
Location: Istanbul and London
Name of collection: Huma Kabakcı Collection
Started collecting in year: The collection was started by Nahit Kabakcı (Huma Kabakcı’s father) in the early 1980s.
Focus of collection: Turkey, Central Asia and the Caucasus, although, in recent years, as a second generation collector I have been looking at the collection more thematically, instead of regionally or chronologically.

The Huma Kabakcı Collection was built by Turkish collector Nahit Kabakcı starting in the 1980s and focusing on paintings by artists from Turkey, Russia, and Central Asia. In 2008, the collection was named after Huma Kabakcı, his daughter. Since then, the young woman, now 30 and with Masters in Curating Contemporary Art from Royal College of Art, has grown the collection to over 900 works, introducing more photography, video, and installation while gathering more works by female artists. Huma Kabakcı is also an independent curator and founding director of Open Space.

What made you want to start collecting art? What is the main motivation behind your collecting?

I cannot say that I started the collection, but I was privileged enough to be born into it. It was a very organic process – as I frequently visited artists’ studios with my father, and artists often came over for meals at home. Between 1988-1994, my late father had a gallery called Ramko as well. I think what inspired him to collect was his university years in Darmstadt, Germany, where he started visiting galleries and museums with friends.

When did you fall in love with a piece of art? What was it?

This is an extremely difficult question for me; as I remember, as a child, I had a lot of excitement and interest generally which was generated by both of my parents.

What is your focus regarding the artists in your collection? Are you more interested in emerging or renowned artists?

Since I also have a Masters in Curating Contemporary Art and I now work with emerging artists through my organisation Open Space, living artists have always interested me more. For me, meeting the artists and furthering conversations is a central part of the process. In recent years, I have acquired some small pieces from artists such as Kader Attia, Renate Bertlmann, Chant Avedisian, who are more renowned, but generally I like to collect emerging to mid-career artists and follow how they evolve over the years.

Is there any particular type of art that has consistently attracted you or anything that unites all the works you have acquired?

I have generally been interested in materiality, process and research behind the artwork and the recurring themes of gender politics and diaspora have been pivotal. I think this is reflected in my acquisitions.

What were the first and the latest artworks you purchased?

I don’t recall the first work I purchased, but I remember the first work I convinced my father to buy and that was Susan Hefuna’s Woman Behind Mashrabiya (1997), a print. I first came across her work while interning at a gallery in London in 2008. Recent additions to my collection include works by Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, Hoda Tawakol, Hajra Waheed and Rafal Zajko.

How many artworks do you own? Where do you display your collection?

Since the collection was started by my late father and has been in development for more than 30 years, we have accumulated over 900 pieces of art. Although some are kept in storage, most are displayed in my home.

You have presented your art collection in various museum exhibitions. Which was the most memorable?

As a part of Ruhr and Pécs’ 2010 European Capital of Culture, we exhibited the collection in three museums in Germany and Hungary. Later on, after my studies at the Royal College of Art, together with art historian Esra Aliçavuşoğlu, we curated ‘Memory & Continuity’ at Pera Museum in Istanbul, showcasing a selection of artworks belonging to both generations of the collection.

Which artwork makes you write a cheque without any consideration?

I think a lot before making a decision. For me, it is extremely important to look at the collection as a whole and consider that the artwork I acquire is in dialogue with the rest of the collection.

What is your most treasured artwork?

I don’t play favourites, as it changes all the time. They are all treasured and are equally important to me regardless of their value, media or by whom they have been made by.

Even before the pandemic... I still used Instagram to discover artists.

How do you use social media / Instagram for your art collecting?

My social media account @kabakcihuma is pretty personal, where I share my own photography and posts mostly of my dog Sherlock, art, and food. I do have a collection social media account called @humakabakcicollection, but I must say it is pretty outdated. I also run my @openspacecontemporary account for Open Space; and I would prefer to spend as less time as possible as Instagram can easily turn into an infinite black hole. In my personal account, I mostly follow friends, art institutions, artists, and key art professionals I admire, along with some meme pages—I trully love @freeze_magazine Instagram account, which puts a smile to my face every morning.

How do you discover new artists and artworks when you can travel less during the past year?

I mean, to be honest, even before the pandemic when I could travel more internationally, I still used Instagram to discover artists. This year in particular, I did, however, discover great initiatives, such as Art Relief for Beirut which I supported the cause with a stunning print by Hajra Waheed. I discovered and furthered already existing dialogues with artists through Open Space’s 10 Minute Interviews, highlighting the multidisciplinary practices of a diverse range of arts professionals both on our social and digital platforms.

Who inspires you most in the art world?

Those who have inspired me greatly are deceased: My late father, Nahit Kabakcı; Peggy Guggenheim; Louise Bourgeois; Okwui Enwezor; Gertrude Stein and Harald Szeemann.

You are also a curator yourself. How does your curatorial practice interact with your art collection?

Up until now, I have always tried to keep my curatorial practice separate to the collection, but of course there are inevitable crossovers. I suppose the first time I ever connected the collection to my practice is through the Open Space Residency, where we invite an emerging curator to stay in Istanbul and use the collection as a resource and archive. The residency officially started in 2019, but is currently on hold due to the pandemic.

Following the above, how much are you involved in the curating when you loan your art collection to various exhibitions?

When I loan artworks, there is not much curating involved as I generally loan to already planned and organised museum-quality exhibitions. The Last time I loaned a work was to Axel Vervoordt for ‘The Crime of Mr Adolf Loos’ curated by Alistair Hicks. As for the co-curated show I mentioned above, I was very much involved in the process.

What is your motivation behind establishing Open Space?

I founded Open Space as ‘Open Space Contemporary’ in 2014, right after I graduated from my Masters in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art. Following four years of experimentation I decided to re-launch Open Space as a charitable arts organisation dedicated to supporting emerging artists and curators through an itinerant international programme. Taking the name of Open Space as a starting point, we themed the 2019 programme ‘Space without spaces’, which playfully references our model: a young arts organisation operating without a fixed exhibition space, choosing instead to explore multiple and unexpected spaces.

In light of recent political shifts across the world, and with tightening geographical borders making us feel more isolated than ever, there is definitely an urgency to talk about ‘spaces’ and investigate what space can really mean.

What is the mission of Open Space? How to achieve it?

When we were developing Open Space’s annual programme, I wanted to make sure that it would challenge and interrogate the curatorial and theoretical concept of ‘space’ through different cross-disciplinary frameworks: discursive (Forum, a three-day series of interactive artist performances and talks), culinary (the Edible Goods food-art exhibition series), educational (the Open Space Curatorial Residency in Istanbul) and literary (Writing Space, a series of commissioned essays).

I really thought of the different ways to question what space can mean and how best to provide a platform for emerging and mid-career artists and art practitioners – to allow them to experiment and explore things they might have not be able to do otherwise.

What is your vision for Open Space Contemporary in 2021?

Similar to many small non-profit organisations, Open Space did struggle and had to put its physical projects on hold. However, we did increase our online commissions and projects, especially during March-July 2020. For 2021, our theme is Metamorphosis (the biological process of an animal physically developing, involving a conspicuous and abrupt change in the animal’s body structure through cell growth) used as a metaphor to our current climate where we are all on the cusp of change with an unforeseen future. Along with our already existing Writing Space and 10 Minute Interviews, I want to introduce a project that includes career and portfolio building and networking workshops with various art professionals.

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