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Can Has

Can Has

President, Kadir Has Foundation and Deputy President, Kadir Has University

What makes a society beautiful is its people..

27 February 2016

Regularly following the latest on both the established names in Turkish painting and the new directions in contemporary art, reading, investigating and travelling constantly, Can Has revealed to us his collection that emerged in three decades. We talked to him about the place of art in business life, the individual and social benefits of collecting and the current status of the art market. Making a wise distinction between the market aspect of art and his individual passion, Can Has is a collector who internalized the story of each and every piece he owns. He kindly shared with us some behind-the-scenes tips on the art world and his own experience.


How did you start collecting? How did it become your passion?


Collecting generates a different kind of pleasure in you, creating a combination of passion, research and legacy. As anyone else I had a stamp collection when I was a child. There is a lot of interest in artworks in the family as well, we grew up among antiques. Consequently, I began collecting in 1983. During that time, some of the greatest names in business world had begun building collections and I was the youngest among them.


I remember the deceased, Mr Sakıp Sabancı, saying: “When talking about politics or business, people look sad, but when talking about art everyone starts smiling”. Thus we should think of art as a hobby as well. Once I go to a museum or gallery after work my mind is liberated, I forget about the stress at the office. Collecting has such a place for and effect on me. When I buy a new work I wake up at night, turn on the lights and look at it once more. 


How much intuition do you involve in your buying decisions? Do you work with consultants?


Some collectors need to consult experts they can trust when starting this endeavor, but more importantly you need an educated eye. I’m not an expert but during the three decades of my life as a collector I developed an educated eye. Talking about classic artists, I prefer that my works depict certain areas in Istanbul; particularly like Kurbağalıdere or Göksu. Moreover, I prefer the work to be figurative oil on canvas, because many artists like İbrahim Çallı worked on hardboard or cardboard as there was shortage of supplies back then, and canvas was rarely available. The canvases used by Halil Paşa usually had the quality of sacks, in his paintings fractures easily emerge. This is a level of development you can only reach in time. Once you show me the works of classic painters or contemporary artists from a 10-15 meter distance, I think I can tell you the name of the artist without laying eyes on the signature, seldom with mistakes.


 When I buy a new work I wake up at night, turn on the lights and look at it once more.



Can Has
I would not buy an artwork I cannot look at even if it has a great investment potential

You reached this point by reading, studying and travelling. What would you recommend the new collectors to do to develop themselves?


As you have already said, first of all they have to educate themselves scientifically by reading a lot. Second, they have to educate their eye. For example, if they want to collect works by Turkish artists, they must visit museums. International museums are also very important.


This also means we have to use the limited resources in our country more efficiently.

It is truly saddening to have so few museums at such a big metropolis like Istanbul. New museums are emerging everywhere in the world, while we have 3-4 private museums at their project stage, and even these are facing bureaucratic barriers. The amount of funding spent on museums is also very high abroad. I guess the sales volume of the Turkish art market to be around 250-300 million dollars, but today one single painting by Modigliani can be sold at 170 million dollars, nearly half the total volume of our art market. The most expensive work sold here, Osman Hamdi’s Tortoise Trainer sold at 3,5-4 million dollars a decade ago. In contemporaries the most expensive ones are Burhan Doğançay and Erol Akyavaş, followed by Fahrelnisa Zeid. Turkish artists must have international demand if we want higher values for them. Additionally, the number of galleries in our cities except for İstanbul, İzmir and Ankara is extremely low.


How is the situation right now in global art market? Which countries do you follow?


The total sales volume of the global art market is around 45-50 billion dollars. The leading percentage of 33% of this belongs to the U.S.A., followed by China with 25-30% and the UK with 22%. It is saddening that the share of France, the center of the art market in early 20th century, is reduced to a mere 3-5% . This growing interest in art market in China is also due to the fact that the Chinese art is both popular in China and abroad. And as we all know, the art market develops at the centers where global financial markets emerge: places like London, New York, Paris or Istanbul. The growing white collar population also has an impact on it.


Can you inform us about the content of your collection? Are you also interested in contemporary artworks?


After 2000s, I began to collect contemporary works. My collection features artists like Mehmet Güleryüz, Fahrelnissa Zeid, Erol Akyavaş, Burhan Doğançay, Abdurrahman Öztoprak and Canan Tolon. My knowledge is too elementary on the emerging artists, and I’m too busy for catching up. For instance something called video art has emerged but I have no idea. I mean I’m not that well equipped in that subject, perhaps I will develop curiosity in time. As a natural consequence, as in science, technology is also reflected in art. In the meantime I developed some sort of curiosity in photography. At home we have works by a prominent American photography artist, Drew Tal.


What truly mesmerize me are those old pictures of Istanbul with a historical texture. I love the historical realism in Nazım Ziya and Halil Paşa’s paintings. I also love Fahrelnissa Zeid and I have various portraits by her. Here in my office I exhibit more classic works while at home I prefer more modern ones. I am an admirer of Khalifa Abdülmecit, he sponsored many artists and sent them abroad, and for instance he is the one who sent Avni Lifij to France. I also enjoy İzzet Ziya, Bedri Rahmi and Eren Eyüboğlu a lot. I also have one work by Hale Asaf, an artist who passed away at a very young age. She has 25-30 known works and I own one of them.


You have actually created a small museum at home and the office. How do you document and exhibit your collection?


4-5 years ago I made a book for my collection. We organized an exhibition at Rezan Has Museum. In addition, we exhibited a few more collections like the İbrahim İper Collection that have never seen light before.


This way you prepare a source for the future generations as well.


Societies that do not embrace their past cannot build a future anyways. But my children are not that interested in classic works, contemporary youth is more interested in contemporary art. They tell me “Don’t turn the house into a museum again, Dad”, and thus we had to arrange our home at Zorlu more in line with the 60s or 70s.


Can you also talk about your toy car, old car and trinket collection?


Until 1992 we were one of the Turkish distributors of Mercedes and partners in their factory in Turkey. When I was studying abroad my first car was an old Mercedes 280 SL. I was interested in old cars while everyone was pursuing new cars. If you pay attention you realize that all the little cars in my collection are the old models of Mercedes produced in limited numbers. Now you cannot find any of these anywhere. When I go abroad and come across something new I immediately collect it. For example when I was a Mercedes board member I was given the first handmade Mercedes toy as a gift.


I am not a classic automobile collector but I have a few old cars. I use them during the weekends as I get the chance but you cannot release them that often in Istanbul.


Again when I was little I enjoyed playing with little soldiers, here I have the entire set of army figures from the Ottoman Empire.


Calligraphy works on your office walls drew my attention too.

Yes, there are a few. This one is a poem; I actually use them for more decorative purposes.


When I started collecting, collectorship was more about prestige and less about investment.




How did your approach to collectorship change over time?


When I started collecting, collectorship was more about prestige and less about investment. In mid- 90s, as some people made big revenues in Istanbul stock market, they began to invest them to art. Thus an alternative group that invested in art emerged. There was no such thinking in the 80s. With the Özal era we opened up to the outside, and as our businessmen went abroad, they discovered, alongside other things, that their foreign colleagues collected artworks in their homes. As they saw that this was an indication of prestige, in the 80s Turkish businessmen began to express interest in art. Their number grew steadily and we seem to have reached a collector basis of 700-1000 people.


During those days collectorship was based on personal motivations, but today investment purposes seem to be more dominant. Would you buy an artwork you don’t like only as an investment?


I would not buy an artwork I cannot look at even if it has a great investment potential (kutucuk 2). No good collector acquires a piece thinking about its future value, not anymore. But, as I said, after 1995, people who made revenues out of various financial sources went on multiplying these revenues by investing in art. This was not the case in the past.


And it is a must to have an educational and cultural accumulation if you want people to be beautiful.




Finally, remarks you want our readers not to miss?


I say art, art and art! For what makes a society beautiful is its people. No matter how many skyscrapers you erect, how many shopping centers you open, it is the people who make a society beautiful. And it is a must to have an educational and cultural accumulation if you want people to be beautiful.



Interview: Yasemin Elçi

Can Has, portrait, home
From left to right: Fahrennisa Zeid, Zeki Faik İzer, Neşet Günal
From left to right, Abdurrahman Öztoprak, Erol Akyavaş
Entire upper row: Nazmi Ziya Güran, lower row from left to right: Halil Pasha, Nazmi Ziya Güran, Osman Nuri Pasha
Drew Tal
Burhan Doğançay
Can Has, portrait, office
Can Has, portrait, office
Abdulmecid the last khalifa (signed)
Nazmi Ziya Güran
Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu
İbrahim Çallı
Handmade Mercedes toy
Mercedes toy collection
Tin soldier collection, figures from the Ottoman period
Tin soldier collection, figures from the Ottoman period
Tin soldier collection, figures from the Ottoman period
Erol Akyavaş