An age where the meaning of love is still ambiguous and unproven, she claimed that her only love was her art by saying “Art is my husband!” The meaning of her everyday in this world is to create infinitely. This girl can always be recognized with the glitter in her eyes and her fabulous smile along with her funky head – pieces she uses to complete her romantic style. Known as the queen of Post – It’s, Ardan Özmenoglu for me is the Queen of the Contemporary Art world in Turkey. So comitted and so passionate, her lifestyle just like her artworks is literally an inspiration to everyone around her including collectors, gallerists, artists and celebrities. At only 36, Özmenoglu has managed to expand her art career to Berlin, New York, Geneva, Zagreb, Mumbai and very recently Boston. The storyline in this case can be read as “An Artist’s Success Story” but I prefer to rephrase it as “A Woman’s Love Story.”
Here we are at Soho House Istanbul on a Sunday evening enjoying the traditional Turkish “sucuk” with hot red wine. Ardan hangover and ultimately tired from the previous gala dinner of Istanbul Modern where she donated a neon artwork especially made for the occasion to support art. The artwork “VICDAN” meaning “CONSCIENCE” was written in red capital letters and was sold at the gala auction for 70.000 Turkish Lira to a well known businesswoman who unsuprisingly has an eye for paint and color. “My artwork that reads “VICDAN” was donated last night. The meaning of the work doesn’t have a direct translation in English but its along the line of “Conscience” I guess. But in Turkish it has a more holy subtext as it also derives from religious texts. I think it’s the most important word of the 21st century, especially when we are living through the “3rd World War”. This artwork is not only a reference to Turkey, I wrote it in capital letters to emphasize its existence as well as its absence today in a more global context.” says the artist.
As in all fields, there are a group of envious names who criticize Ardan for becoming an international artist ‘all of a sudden’. So she explains; “No I didn’t become Ardan Özmenoglu ‘all of a sudden’ or overnight. There are many years of hard work behind it. I first did my international solo exhibition in 2008 in Berlin during the 5th Berlin Biennial. That is when my international art journey started and I began to build a network in every city I went whether it be Berlin or New York. Especially New York is not a city waiting for us to arrive and welcoming us with a big warm hug. You really need to work your way through to be able to be recognized and it sure is not easy. And throughout this journey it was me and myself. Ofcourse I get professional help from my gallerist in Turkey or other people whom I trust their views whenever I need to. But it was never a Cindrella story for me, that’s for sure.” Other than just networking, being internationally recognized needs the talent, the state of mind, the passion, the commitment and serious disciplined work along with the magic word: Luck! “I wake up thinking about art and I sleep thinking about art. I live according to my exhibition deadlines. I never plan anything further until I have accomplished to produce my art for the expected deadline. Long story short, I work a lot! People say that I do too many exhibitions a year. But when you look at the successful artists in the art world of today, you see that opening many exhibitions is actually the only right thing to do. Jeff Koons opens a few exhibitions on the same night in different cities simultaneously. For example, by the time you will be reading this interview, I will be in Mumbai for an art festival. In January I have a show at Siyah Beyaz Gallery in Ankara and in Öktem Aykut Gallery in Istanbul, later on in April I have a show in Hagen and after that I will have a show at Baden-Baden and Selaniki. I recently started working with a gallery in Boston. I met them during my last visit to New York. I am very excited of course, so soon I’ll be having an exhibition in Boston too. And so the story goes…” Having a chance to observe the gallery system, the fundings, the institutions and the government’s support to the arts in many different countries I ask Ardan what is missing in Turkey in terms of art?
“There aren’t as many institutions to fund the arts. Turkey needs more institutions, more volunteers and more foundations to build a stronger art world. But instead of moaning about why we don’t have it yet, we should all just help to build it. Artists, collectors, museum owners, gallerists, publications and so on, every single person apart of the chain is already owning up to their side of the responsibility. This just needs to become more and more and the chain needs to get longer. But apart from the system in general another important thing Turkey is missing is public art. During the biennial this year the big sculptures in the water at Büyükada were the works that attracted most attention and drew hundreds of viewers to the island. Turkish people need to experience art in public.”
Famous for her use of Post –It stickers in her works, her beautiful glass sculptures and her affectionate neon word arts, Ardan uses a lot of cultural details in her works too. No matter how far she reaches out in the world, her local and humble sides are always visible to the eye. Therefore she is one of those rare artists who is able to make every gallery owner smile at the end of the vernissage. Because she sells! And I mean it. No matter where the show is, her art finds a mutual language to be able to communicate. “Because art is my love. Because every single piece of post-it you see in a work of mine is touched by me at least 10 times with pure love. I am selling because all my pieces have to do with emotions. And this is the advantage of being a woman. Also because each and every one of my works have their own story and personality. And simply because they are just great works of art! That’s it!” You must have made a lot of money by now, I say, “Of course I earn money but with all I earn I invest in art. For example now we are working on a catalogue to be published in Berlin and we are working with a very creative group. It’s expensive!” she tells. Ardan believes every artist needs to update herself/himself in the best way possible, just like our Iphones do. She visits a number of galleries, watches documentaries, she definitely goes to Artbasel each year. “I am always keeping myself updated, I love gallery hopping and not only in my country. Buying a plane ticket and flying to another country for an exhibition or fair is nothing unusual in my case. You can see me popping out of a very unexpected gallery exhibition in the city any time and day. I always like to see new shows and works. At the time I was at an art residency in Vienna. And I had heard about Marina’s exhibition at MOMA I bought a direct plane ticket to New York and I flew just to see her. I stayed there three days and I visited the exhibition and saw her during her seated performance. There were hundreds of people in queue, I didn’t have a chance to sit infront of her but just by watching the performance was enough to make me feel transformed. I was a whole new person now. Watching Marina Abramovic is like going on the pilgrimage to Mecca.” Marina Abramovic has always managed to be an inspiration to everyone with her amazing performances and unforgettable exhibitions in the best museums around the world. What about you and your future dreams when you are Marina’s age, where will you be then, I ask. “I will be having an exhibition at Tate Modern with a huge installation and a retrospective at the Guggenheim.” I’ve always thought dreams are just beautiful decisions waiting to be made. And Ardan heading towards her dreams with a busy international schedule, working between Berlin and New York and rapidly adding new destinations and exhibition deadlines to her To – Do list, I wonder if we are going to be able to stick around in Soho at this very spot for the next few decades or if one day time difference will ever get in the way. “No matter how many countries I divide myself into or however many studios I work in, I will always remain as a Turkish contemporary artist and I will always belong in Turkey.”
– Interview Gulben Capan