An Interview with Erol Tabanca

Erol Tabanca portrait by Gökhan Polat
Portrait: Gökhan Polat.

Erol Tabanca needs no introduction in the rarefied world of multi-million project property developers.

He is the founder and CEO of Polimeks, a mega construction company based in Istanbul, but perhaps best known for its landmark developments in Turkmenistan and more recently, Russia.

Tabanca is, however, trailblazing in the even more rarefied world of art by donating his vast collection of primarily Turkish artists’ works to a dedicated museum, opening in Eskişehir, north-western Turkey.

The collection, consisting of some 1000 works, has been built over two decades and was until recently displayed in the corporate headquarters of Polimeks.

An engaging man, Erol Tabanca is not your standard art collector, if indeed there were such a thing. He is knowledgeable without being pretentious; he tells you that there was no specific strategy behind building the collection. Rather, he went on as he started: collecting what he liked, following his personal sense of aesthetics, and honing his instincts over the years.

Tabanca is an architect and that has informed to a great extent Polimeks’approach to all projects. The interplay between art and culture on one hand and architecture on the other is clearly visible, with each building subtly inspired by Polart and its founder’s aesthetic sensibilities.

In many ways, the Odunpazari Modern Museum (OMM) is the natural culmination of Tabanca’s passion for, and championing of Turkish artists and Turkish contemporary art at large. It is also a legacy project which will continue across generations (the museum’s director is his daughter, İdil Tabanca, an art graduate who shares his passion).

The OMM building was designed by world-renowned architects Kengo Kuma and Associates (in recognition of this, one of its first exhibitions will host a Japanese artist, Tanabe Chikuunsai IV).

The design resonates with the city of Eskişehir’s rich cultural past (Eskişehir was founded in 1000 BC and is known for its archaeological museum, among others). The wooden lattices on the outside structure reflect the name and history of the location itself, Odunpazari (wood market).

The city, one of the most beautiful in Anatolia, is Tabanca’s birthplace, of course, and his mission is to turn it into an art destination in its own right. Recently, a serendipitous and auspicious chance meeting that Tabanca and his daughter had at the Saatchi Gallery in London was with the exhibiting artist Ersinhan Ersin (part of the London based experiential studio Marshmallow Laser Feast) who was not only Turkish, but a native of Odunpazari itself.

Although Tabanca remains a property developer and investor (Polimeks’ most recent projects include the first ever Ritz Carlton hotel in Moscow and several projects in the city of Kazan), one senses that he is placing ever greater emphasis on philanthropy. His next project is developing a sustainable ranch in Bodrum, where one of the programs will be to introduce underprivileged children to art.

Erol Tabanca is like all philanthropists a renaissance man, in the sense that he thinks multi-dimensionally and is blessed with an inquisitive mind. He is also multilingual, which makes a conversational exchange all the more interesting for those fortunate enough to engage with him.

The OMM will be opening its doors in September 2019, God willing, as is customary to say, and BBeyond Magazine, along with art lovers around the world, is looking forward to it.