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Keeping curiosity and motivation fresh

We had a conversation with Nazlı Yayla and Gizem Demirçelik from the Zilberman team, who are currently preparing to celebrate the gallery’s 15th anniversary. With its six venues in three different countries and an international fair agenda, we tried to look at the gallery's busy schedule, responsibilities, program and motivation


Interview: Merve Akar Akgün & Huo Rf

Photos: Berk Kır


Nazlı Yayla & Gizem Demirçelik


Zilberman, which will soon celebrate its 15th anniversary, has been engaged in many new formations in recent years. Lately, the gallery’s presence abroad has been increasing and we observe that you have determined new strategies. Could you share with us how you set up this system from within and what you look out for? What kind of vision does Zilberman foresee for itself in the national and global art market? What are you doing currently?


Since its beginning, Zilberman has endeavored to develop and transform its spaces and program in accordance with the ever changing dynamics and needs of the Turkish contemporary art scene. Starting with Art Hong Kong in 2011, we have actively participated in a wide-range of international fairs across various countries every year. Through these engagements, we have established strong connections, especially in Asian and European countries. Zilberman Berlin, which opened in Charlottenburg in 2016, has enabled us to reach an international art audience and initiated a close dialogue with institutions, particularly in Berlin, whose programs we closely follow.


In addition to fairs such as Art Basel Hong Kong, Untitled Miami and Zona Maco, which we have been participating in for years, we are also interested in exploring fairs held in countries where our artists live and work. Last season, we participated in Kiaf Seoul and Art Singapore, along with many other galleries that were seeking a new center in Asia, especially with Hong Kong’s closure until this year. In the coming period, we will be exploring West Bund in Shanghai and Taipei Dangdai in Taiwan. Sharing experiences with the artists we represent is the most reliable guide for us.


Pedro Gomez Egana, Site-spesific installation for 16. Lyon Biennale A Manifesto of Fragility, 2022, Photo: La Biennale de Lyon


We can say that Zilberman is based in Turkey, how would you position it? In your policy of opening up to the world, do you follow a local or international path wherever you go?


Nazlı Yayla: Istanbul is our main office and headquarters, but we strive to ensure that the programs we run in each of our venues are international in nature. With the addition of Miami, we are shaping our work around three different countries, taking into account different art audiences, collectors and local institutions. For example, as a result of our discussions with local art professionals during our preparations for the Miami gallery, we are planning to organize the Young Fresh Different (YFD) selection, which has been held in Istanbul for the past 12 years, in Miami next year with a format tailored for young artists from Miami and its surrounding areas.


How many exhibition spaces do you have in total? For what purposes do you use your spaces? Do you have a policy in this regard? How do you choose your programs?


With the inclusion of the spaces planned to open in the upcoming season, Miami gallery and Platform Berlin, we have a total of 6 venues. Every time we say it, we still find ourselves needing to pause and list all of them again. (Laughs) Each space has developed step by step as a response to the projects and needs that we want to form within Zilberman, that attract our curiosity and excite us. The first of these is our main exhibition space on the 3rd floor of Mısır Apartmanı, which we can call our home. Here we follow our annual program, which includes solo exhibitions of the artists we represent, group exhibitions that we create together with various curators we invite, and the YFD exhibitions that close each season. In our project space on the 2nd floor, also in the Mısır Apartmanı, are Highlights exhibitions organized simultaneously with the solo exhibitions in Berlin to create a dialogue between the two cities. This is a space where the exhibitions at the Berlin gallery extend to Istanbul. With the new season, we will announce the name of this space as Zilberman Dialogues.


The program of our exhibition space in Piyalepaşa primarily consists of group exhibitions in order to create a space where we can include artists we do not represent. Depending on the content of the exhibition and the artist's preference, solo exhibitions can also take place in this space. For example, Isaac Chong Wai's exhibition titled If we keep crying, we will go blind took place here, with an installation that spilled out of the exhibition space. In Berlin, solo and group exhibitions are accompanied by public events as part of the program. Platform Berlin, the non-profit project space where we transformed the already existing space in Berlin, will follow a program shaped by our collaborations with institutions. For the upcoming Miami gallery, we have prepared a calendar of two solo exhibitions, one group exhibition and a special project per year.

In all of these venues, we organize one solo exhibition for each artist every two years.


İtamar Gov & Sim Chi Yin, Transit exhibition, Site-spesific installation, 2023, Photo: Chroma


Maybe it is a technical question, but we would like to ask a question that we think is important: Zilberman is an important organization for the Turkish art scene. We get this idea by following your exhibition productions and the fairs you participate in. How do your responsibilities and commercial planning align?


Gizem Deirçelik: As a team, our priority in the production process is to provide all kinds of support that the artist needs to compose the imagined project, from material research to bringing together with the right people until the exhibition. We prioritize providing production, transportation and publication support not only for the exhibitions organized within Zilberman and the fairs we participate in; but also, for the projects of our artists who are invited to non-profit projects in Turkey or abroad. One of the projects that excited us the most was Pedro Gómez-Egaña's installation Virgo, which was shown at the Lyon Biennale in 2022. After discussions with the artist, we had our craftsmen in Istanbul produce Pedro's house-sized kinetic installation and send it to Lyon. And it worked on the first try.


Simon Wachsmuth, Seven Deadly Sins exhibition, Site-spesific installation, 2022, Photo: Chroma


You have a policy of publishing a publication accompanying each exhibition. You offer these publications to the audience free of charge. This means both a serious production and labor force. Is there a new system you would like to develop for your publications?


NY: Since its foundation, Zilberman has published a publication for each of its exhibitions, a tradition we are happy to preserve. The writings of the authors we invited from Turkey and abroad for these publications both accompany the exhibition and form a valuable archive for our exhibitions. Despite having to make adjustments to the printing and page numbers due to the rising costs, the fact that all publications are both free of charge and accessible on the website and the continuity of this is a priority for us. Apart from the exhibition publications, we are starting a monograph series in the fall. Together with a Berlin-based publishing house, we are currently preparing a book by Pedro Gómez-Egaña.


You have an artist residency program in Berlin. This program only works through the artists you represent. Is this program productive for you, do you have the potential to open the program to be more inclusive or create a space for project-based artists?


GD: We have a residency program both in Istanbul and Berlin. We primarily work with the artists we represent, but we also invite curators and artists we interact with to Istanbul or Berlin and support their research and projects. At the end of this program, we do not expect an output, our priority is for the artist or researcher to get to know and interact with the city they are in.


NY: Together with Platform Berlin, we plan to structure and expand the residency program. We aim to create a model that we can run together with other programs, not only between Istanbul and Berlin, but also in cooperation with institutions in Hong Kong and London.


Zeynep Kayan, One One Two One Two Three exhibition, Site-spesific installation, 2022, Photo: Chroma


How do you evaluate the state of art in the world? How does Zilberman fit into this picture? What kind of gaps does Zilberman fill in the framework of Turkey and the world?


First of all, we think that Zilberman is at an important position to carry the practices and productions of artists working in Turkey, dealing with contemporary socio-political and conceptual issues, within different geographies. Nowadays, we observe that galleries and museums, biennials and public collections are working much more closely, and that the distinction between commercial and non-profit is becoming a bit more apocryphal. For example, Zilberman has recently become one of Delfina Foundation's "gallery circle" supporters, and we welcome the support that curators and institutions can receive from galleries to enhance the programs of biennials.


With projects such as Zilberman Residency, YFD, Berlin Platform and new models we are working on, we aim to expand our reach and opportunities to a wider circle. In order to revitalize the art market in Turkey in particular and to offer a more accessible and beneficial program to the audience, we are dynamically researching "how to do it better" and taking steps to put it into practice.


What would you like to share with us about your future projects?


As we mentioned, the big projects that excite us and keep us up at night are Platform Berlin in Goethestrasse with our new 350 m2 exhibition space in Schlüterstarsse in Berlin, located in the former Hotel Bogota building; and Zilberman Miami, which will start its activities in the new season. We plan to announce our YFD in Turkey with a new format in the following season and to start local YFDs in Berlin and Miami. And finally, to keep our curiosity and motivation fresh, we find ourselves researching the artists, curators and institutions we dream of working with, without falling into the comfort of “usual suspects.”


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