News of the upcoming auction came on Thursday evening, causing outrage among artists and art lovers alike in social media in Turkey.
The Santralİstanbul complex, part of the İstanbul Bilgi University campus, was founded in 2007 in İstanbul's Eyüp neighborhood at the heart of the Golden Horn. Housed in the former Silahtarağa power plant, İstanbul's oldest power plant that operated from 1911 to 1983, the complex featured a museum of contemporary art, an energy museum and a cultural and educational center. The government rented the power plant to Bilgi University on condition that the building is used as an energy museum and contemporary art museum.
In its short life, the Santralİstanbul Museum of Contemporary Art held such major and critically acclaimed exhibitions as “Modern and Beyond” and “Yüksel Arslan Retrospective” but had closed its doors in 2012 due to a change of ownership of Bilgi University.
Rumors that the museum's collection was to be auctioned first spread in 2012, but was immediately denied by the school's management after reactions from some of the artists whose works were included in the collection.
The latest news concerning the sale of the artworks came in the form of a news release from Maçka Mezat, the İstanbul-based auction house which announced on Thursday that it has taken over the task of selling the collection.
The auction, scheduled for Feb. 17 at Sofa Hotel, will feature works by numerous prominent artists including Nejad Devrim, Selim Turan, Fikret Mualla, Mübin Orhon, Hakkı Anlı, Yüksel Arslan, Nil Yalter, Ayşe Erkmen, Seyhan Topuz, Mehmet Güleryüz, Neşe Erdok, Selma Gürbüz and Canan Tolon.
An outraged group of professionals ranging from art critics to curators from İstanbul's art circles released a press statement on Thursday night accusing İstanbul Bilgi University of “betraying the trust of the art world by putting the works in its collection up for auction.”
The group also called for the auction to be canceled in the statement. Noting that the works in the collection were turned over to “what was upheld as a public institution that would not only provide good custodianship for the works but also scholarship in the context of an academic institution,” the group argued that the works in the collection constituted “public good” and “cannot be handed over to private hands.”
“This is not a simple case of de-accession; it is a direct attack on Turkey's artistic commons,” the statement concluded.