The Intersection of Curiosity and Passion in Art: Collecting

The primeval human being, who grew with the need to collect and store items they deemed important, evolved and manifested the desire to collect and to discover into museums and museology, an extension of which is diverse art collections in our day. Viewed as a hobby or a passion by some, collecting demands budget just as much as time and effort. The “Nature, Gardens, Fantasies in Arkas Collection” exhibition, opened in Istanbul with an exchange collaboration between Arkas Art Center and Elgiz Museum, and Myths and Daydreams exhibition opened in Izmir, are manifestations of the viewpoints of Arkas Holding Chairman Lucien Arkas and Elgiz Museum Founder Can Elgiz towards collecting. While collecting is a passion for Arkas, for Elgiz it was rather a consequence of his family’s affection with art. So, the common views of Arkas and Elgiz is that collecting requires attention, love, knowledge, research, as well as time and budget.

Collections are seen as important cultural assets for nations and societies. Researchers especially emphasize that collections play a key role in ensuring the sustainability of cultures. Collections, which are socially important in terms of disseminating art and increasing knowledge, experience and artistic sensitivity, also illuminate us since they reflect the identity of their era and make temporal comparisons possible. Two different exhibitions, recently opened in Izmir and Istanbul, are important in terms of interpreting modern and classic art, and seeing how collecting is perceived. The “Nature, Gardens, Fantasies in Arkas Collection” exhibition, opened in Istanbul in March, immediately followed by the Myths and Daydreams exhibitions opened in Arkas Art Center, Izmir, continue to deliver elegant works of classic and modern art to art lovers. Bringing the two collectors together, these exhibitions also have interesting aspects in terms of reflecting Lucien Arkas’ and Can Elgiz’s perspectives towards collecting. Sharing the common theme of nature, both exhibitions can be visited for free.

Long-time contributors to culture and art lives in Izmir and Istanbul, Arkas and Elgiz shared their passions of art, and their views on collecting, in the chat at the opening of the Myths and Daydreams exhibition in Izmir, which was hosted by Project Director Müjde Unustası, Myths and Daydreams Exhibition Curator Billur Tansel and Nature, Gardens, Fantasies Exhibition Curator Jean Luc Maeso. They talked about their exemplary cooperation in the collection exchange, which has many examples in the world.

Knowledge, Passion and Budget

Arkas Chairman Lucien Arkas defines collecting as a passion established upon his lifelong curiosity regarding art and reading. But he points out that the budget is also important:

“I didn’t start out to become a collector. I have never claimed that I’d become a collector. I like paintings and beauty. In my childhood, I started out with the desire to own what I saw. But of course, this is a matter of budget. When my budget allowed me 30 years ago, I started acquiring Turkish works. I found a very beautiful masterpiece by İsmail Hakkı. I wanted it so much, and I acquired it. So I kept on researching, studying painters’ lives, learning their perspectives, and basically rode my curiosity. Some painters paint such beautiful portraits that a whole lifetime is too short to appreciate them.

Can Elgiz said that as an architect he had a natural affinity towards art, his family has been his guide and that knowledge is important for a collector. According to Elgiz, art must be shared with the public.

“Because I am an architect, I have had an affinity for art from architecture. My family were also art lovers, but not collectors. They remained as art lovers. This probably formed a vision in me from a young age. When this combined with architecture, we started acquiring some works that could be acquired, and then continued with those we could access. Our interest continued with foreign works. When we started visiting foreign exhibitions, we saw how nice a thing it was to share one’s collections, that is; it was immensely more valuable to share with the public a work of art after acquiring it, instead of imprisoning it to one’s home or office. That’s how we got to where we are today. There’s also the fact that every artwork, such as those you see on the wall, carry a different meaning in a different exhibition. In this exhibition, they come together to create a different discourse. They are gathered under a new theme. Hence our attachment to collecting gets stronger and stronger as we keep experiencing the artwork as part of different exhibitions. A prerequisite to becoming a collector is to have knowledge. As Mr. Arkas mentioned, we also tried to have our own library. We worked to create an art library and spent a long time to understand, and become more aware of what is what. When you talk about what it is like to see an exhibition or evaluate artworks from the eye of a collector; the collector must really have prior knowledge of the artworks they are interested in. Or else, you might lose your interest in an artwork the day after you’ve acquired it. So, you need to obtain that knowledge”.

An Artwork Acquired Through Hardship Leaves a Permanent Mark

It is also a matter of curiosity whether there is a connection between the collector and their works. Can Elgiz expresses that when a newly acquired artwork arouses a desire to view it later on, this indicates that the artwork was a right choice, and that such right choices intensify the bond with the collection. Lucien Arkas mentions that he strives to acquire an artwork which he likes, and that struggle leaves a mark on him, inciting an emotional bond.

“What commits me to the artworks is the struggle I gave to acquire each one of them. A painting of a woman we exhibited in Istanbul; quite elegant. Everyone loves that painting. I wanted to buy it in New York, and I literally bargained until the morning. Finally, I won. Would I ever forget that? I wouldn’t. You don’t forget the works which you strive to acquire, you always love them”.

A Collection Reflects Its Collector

Lucien Arkas answers the question “Is it possible to get clues about the collector by looking at the collection?” with the remark that a collection reflects a collector’s identity, but also provides hints to every element that moves the collector, adding, “For instance, there is nature and woman in the Arkas Collection.” Can Elgiz says “Yes, of course, [a collection] reflects its collector’s style and understanding of art. However, for example, each collection reflects each other, that is, the identity of the person, the collector, in a certain way. For example, ours has a nature that can rather be called eclectic. Of course, a collection reflects the identity of its collector.”