Erol Tabanca, a collector-businessman, well-known by culture and art circles, has recently made a name for himself with the Odunpazarı Modern Museum (OMM) he established in Eskişehir.
Set out with the idea of exhibiting the works he has accumulated for years in a modest area, Tabanca had Eskişehir gain a world-wide museum with the support of his immediate circle. We had a pleasant conversation with Tabanca on the OMM and culture and art understanding of Eskişehir, which has already affected the culture and art life of our country…
What was it that fed your love of culture and art in your life?
I studied architecture at university, and I was interested in culture and art at that time, but architecture education also fueled my love. Architecture is an area very close to art. I joined an auction with a friend about 20 years ago and bought a small painting. Of course, I didn’t start to be a collector; in time, my interest in art became a passion. My relationship with art has strengthened day by day. I bought the works I liked and wanted to see near me and a collection was formed.
How did the idea of establishing such a unique museum come to your mind first?
We used the works in the collection at home and in the office. In time, the works did not fit into the house and office. We have created art storage, but I thought that there was no point in keeping the works out of sight. In fact, we have experienced the beauty of sharing art thanks to the interest of our colleagues in the works exhibited in Polimeks office. Starting from the beauty of sharing, we looked for different ways. The first idea for this was not to open a museum. I also wanted to make a lasting contribution to the cultural and artistic life of Eskişehir, where I was born and raised. All of these came together in the common ground when a suitable place was found in the Odunpazarı area and the first step of the museum was taken.
What did you experience during the establishment of the museum, what were the difficulties and conveniences?
When you make a good attempt on behalf of your country, everyone generally understands your goodwill and stands by you. Fortunately, we had the chance to share a museum with everyone, as we had imagined, without experiencing difficulties that could not be overcome when implementing OMM.
Did the structure you pictured in your mind match the actual museum exactly?
The city of Bilbao, Spain, and the Guggenheim Museum inspired us at the beginning of my OMM dream. Bilbao was one of the most important tourist destinations in the world thanks to the Guggenheim Museum. I had hoped that the OMM project would bring people and art together, while at the same time providing a great added value to the city, Eskişehir, where I was born, and I see that my desire is realized.
Can you tell us about the museum’s features?
Kengo Kuma and his partner Yuki Ikeguchi were inspired by the actual firewood market, after which Odunpazarı was named, when designing the museum. Like the firewood market, they designed the museum as if the firewood was stacked on top of each other. The architecture office, which carries out projects that make a difference in many parts of the world, is known for using as little concrete as possible and concentrating on natural materials such as wood, stone, and paper. The wooden structural system you see in OMM is inspired by the structural system of Odunpazarı houses. Kengo Kuma and his partner Yuki Ikeguchi, with references to elements of Odunpazarı civil architecture, Ottoman dome architecture and traditional Japanese architecture, base OMM’s contemporary design on four main elements: geometry, light, clustering, and wood. The museum building with exhibition centers, a café, a rec hall, archives, offices, a museum shop, and multi-purpose areas creates a museum zone together with other city museums in the region.
Can you talk about the philosophy of the museum?
OMM’s philosophy is to become a landmark of art by introducing, exhibiting and supporting the works of emerging young artists. In addition to exhibitions that are responsive to change and keep up with innovations, bringing a new perspective to art in Turkey through different and dynamic projects and also serving the community through offering educational opportunities can be seen as part of this philosophy, the mission.
Your family is your biggest supporter to our understanding…
Of course. My daughter İdil Tabanca and my wife Rana Erkan Tabanca, one of the co-founders of the collection, made great contributions. İdil is the chairman of the board of directors of OMM. İdil’s vision has a great impact on OMM’s adoption of universal values and its innovative structure. My first dream of a modest museum has become a platform that addresses the whole world and includes every element of artistic production from İdil’s point of view. My wife Rana, besides all her support, is the narrator of our exhibition guide, which can be listened to via OMM mobile application.
What would you like the visitors feel while they are touring the museum?
If a visitor gets a completely different feeling when looking at a piece of work, or if a new thought emerges in his/her mind, and if a child starts dreaming which will shape his/her future, this will be enough for me. I acquired the works in the collection with similar feelings; now, if the visitors share my feelings while watching these works, it would bring such happiness to me…
Of course, there was no commercial concern for the museum; but was it still not a risk, looking at the ratio of museum visits in our country?
We never had a commercial concern, our goal was to establish a sustainable museum that was self-sufficient and capable of implementing new projects. I think there are stereotypes against museums in our country. We are trying to change the thoughts like museums are boring, didactic places, or only appeal to people who understand art professionally. Museums are for everyone. It should embrace all segments of the public. We set out with this philosophy at OMM. We have embraced a genuine, embracing attitude with doors open to everyone. We have structured our exhibitions, programs, and language according to this philosophy. As a result, 22,500 people visited OMM in the first month. We have been experiencing a great volume, especially on the weekends.
The museum will contribute to both Eskişehir and the culture-art life of the whole country; why should we visit the museum?
A selection from the permanent collection, curated by Haldun Dostoğlu, met art lovers for the first time. In addition to this exhibition mainly composed of Turkish artists, a bamboo installation made by the world-renowned Japanese bamboo artist Tanebe Chikuunsai IV especially for OMM is displayed in the museum. We also attach great importance to new media and digital art. Creating awareness about the environment and pushing all the boundaries of the technology for such a purpose, British art collective Marshmallow Laser Feast conducted two virtual reality experiences for the first time in Turkey in OMM: Treehugger and In the Eyes of the Animal. The installation of Treehugger promises a journey through the giant sequoia trees; In The Eyes of the Anımal offers the opportunity to see nature through the eyes of 4 different animals.
The opening was with the Vuslat exhibition; what will we see in the museum in the near future?
In addition to our collection exhibitions, we will have dynamic period exhibitions and events programs in cooperation with different institutions and individuals. We plan to bring together people of different ages, especially young people, students under one roof with our educational programs, events, speeches, workshops, and guest artist programs.
The 3D multisensory installation of Marshmallow Laser Feast that combines science and technology with art takes place at OMM for the first time in Turkey. What do you think about digital art?
In Turkey, new media, digital art is not yet widespread, but we attach great importance to it. Here you will see the works of artists using the latest technological developments such as AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality), and we will give them plenty of space in our exhibitions. We want to take the museum experience to a whole new level by making exhibitions that offer a completely different experience that surprises our visitors rather than always offering them the usual.
Which museums in our country and in the world had an impact on you?
I regularly visit and like the Tate Modern in London. In addition, the V&A Museum in Dundee, Scotland, the building of which was designed by Kengo Kuma, and I attended its opening last year, attracted my attention with its building, exhibitions, and programs. In Japan, I like the Mori Museum. I was also impressed by the visual experience of teamLab Borderless, where the digital artworks of the teamLab art collective at the Mori Museum were exhibited.