Positioning the Gallery with Can Yavuz

Can Yavuz is the Founder and Managing Director of Yavuz Gallery. Born in 1972 in Turkey, Yavuz grew up in Germany and completed his studies in Development Economics from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. His first banking job led him to Singapore in 1999. Fascinated by the artistic voices in the region, he started collecting Southeast Asian Art. In 2009 he opened a commercial gallery space in Singapore and left his corporate job to pursue a career as a gallerist.

Do you feel the role of the gallerist has changed, in recent years? Have your motivations and vision shifted or changed since you first established Yavuz Gallery in 2010?

The art world and business models have shifted and changed over the last ten years. For instance, the incredible and swift rise of social media, particularly Instagram, has ushered in a shift in how we experience, share and conceive images and art. Collectors can now easily search at will for information, and likewise galleries are able to easily reach out and provide additional spaces (digitally or otherwise) to showcase their artists. This in turn has opened up a myriad of new roles a gallery must embrace, which is increasingly multi-faceted and complex. It has a democratising effect – we are part of wider dialogues and can reach broader audiences, including artists, art professionals and collectors. Personal and relationship management is still core to my business.

The gallery’s vision has remained the same since 2010. We predominantly work with artists from the region who have a strong social significance to their works, which is the guiding principle behind our programming. In the past three years, the stable of our represented artists has increased to include artists from Australia and New Zealand.

How do you see Yavuz Gallery positioned in the artistic landscape of Southeast Asia?

For us, focus and consistency in our programming are important. The gallery is committed to showcasing Southeast Asian and artists from the Pacific region and beyond. We work equally with young and established artists.

You lived in Hong Kong prior to moving to Singapore. Why did you choose Singaporeas the birthplace of your gallery? What aspects of Singapore’s scene and potential prompted your choice?

I think we are in a unique position here as a commercial gallery in Singapore. We are functioning in an environment highly supported by a government programme, which runs parallel. There is a lot of funding to establish Singapore as one of the key hubs, and as a hub that links Australasia up with China, Japan, Pakistan, the Middle East, etc. There are institutions here such as the National Gallery Singapore and the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, and an incredible group of people run them – many of whom are well respected in the region and internationally. Eugene Tan for instance is voted one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Art Review’s “Power 100” for the sixth year running, which is a reflection not only of him but of the efforts on every level, whether commercial or institutional.

I had previously lived in Singapore from 1999 – 2001 and started collecting Southeast Asian art during that time. The art from this region was my first love and remains what I know best. Singapore is home to me and I am happy to be part of a welcoming commercial and institutional community that supports each other. Having said that, Hong Kong is also much fun and I love visiting on a regular basis.

You’ve expanded to Sydney. Why Sydney, and what are some key differences between the markets of Singapore and Sydney?

Opening our second permanent space in Sydney was a natural progression for the gallery – Since 2013 we have been showcasing Southeast Asian art in Australia and vice versa. We have been working on building a bridge between the two regions and opening a space there cements it. Sydney attracts many of its local Australian collectors as well as collectors from New Zealand, some of whom might find it too far to travel to Singapore.

Installation view of Yavuz Gallery Sydney’s inaugural exhibition, Abdul Abdullah, Contested Territories (15 September – 27 October 2019). Image courtesy of the artist and Yavuz Gallery.

Your exhibitions prioritise a strong social significance, while balancing commercial viability. Could you share more about the challenges and opportunities of this often delicate balance?

I don’t believe that having strong social significance necessarily opposes commercial viability. As mentioned, the gallery champions artists with a strong conceptual basis who are leading in their own specific field. We love presenting exhibitions with an element of surprise like our recent solo booth by Ronald Ventura at Art Jakarta. If they happen to be commercially viable, that’s fantastic!

Within the gallery’s yearly exhibition programme, it seems that solo presentations feature more strongly than group exhibitions. What drives this approach?

I feel that with solo exhibitions, the artist has more freedom to explore and tease out the nuances in their practice and specific conceptualisations. It allows them to showcase their works in an entirety instead of pieces. The gallery associates with artists and their works that are socially significant, conceptually driven or otherwise, and I feel that solo presentations tend to fulfil that direction and vision more rigorously.

While you represent artists from a wide range of backgrounds, there seems to be a leaning towards painting practices. What is it about the medium and practice of painting that continues to compel and inspire, in an age many may describe as ‘post-medium’? Who are some important contemporary painters, or artists employing the medium of painting, in Southeast Asia today?

I feel there has been a resurgence of painting practices, particularly with young painters from the region in response to the advent of said “post-medium” age. We are encouraged to see this return in our repertoire of artists, for instance with Alvin Ong, Yeo Kaa and Luke Heng

Could you let us in on a few young artists from the region you’ve been excited about and provoked by?

There are so many! To start, Singaporean artist Khairullah Rahim creates these complex mixed-media assemblages that blend the found and the new, from objects sourced through specific sites that minority and marginalised communities occupy. These sites, and therefore objects in the artwork, are imbued with powerful symbols that refer to their lived experiences and realities, which are often hidden in plain sight. He provides a powerful voice and platform for these communities. Khairullah is also currently part of the Singapore Biennale with one of the largest installations he has made called Intimate Apparitions.

Ronson Culibrina from the Philippines, paints these lush colourful paintings that depict the clash between tradition and modernisation. Oftentimes, he looks at this through the prism of ecological damages, inspired by his own coastal hometown in the Philippines. While inspired by a crisis, Ronson injects playful elements with references to pop culture (such as a Kusama-like polka dotted tentacle rising from the sea and chasing fishermen). Ronson was recently named one of the Top 10 Young and Inspiring Filipinos, and he has been chosen by Forbes as one of its 30 Under 30 Asia in the arts.

Ronson Culibrina, Walk the Talk, 2020, Oil on linen canvas and bamboo. Image courtesy of the artist, the Working Animals Art Projects and Yavuz Gallery.

With the Singapore art scene in mind, do you think there is a need for commercial galleries and public art institutions to work in closer tandem? How can closer cooperation bring about more fruitful dialogues and offerings for the public?

Absolutely, both commercial galleries and public art institutions are part of the larger art ecosystem. One cannot do without the other; there is a symbiosis in the relationship. Galleries present and nurture younger and emerging artists, as they have the capacity and flexibility to do so. This in turn ideally feeds into later shows at institutions. In doing so, institutions support the galleries, allowing them to be able to do what they do. It all comes full circle.

What are some exciting programmes or plans in store for Yavuz Gallery in 2020?

We have an incredible line-up this year with upcoming shows in 2020. The first one in Singapore will be with Ronson Culibrina opening during Singapore Art Week. Later in the year we will showcase leading Burmese artist Po Po, as well as Tada Hengsapkul from Thailand.

In Sydney, we are opening shows with Australian artists Debra Dawes and Dean Cross, as well as husband-and-wife-duo Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan for the first half of the year.

Aside from this, the gallery is also participating in art fairs in Tokyo, New York for the first time, alongside our staple participations in Taipei Dangdai, Art Fair Philippines, and Art Basel Hong Kong.

Yavuz Gallery will be participating in S.E.A. Focus 2020, presenting works by Luke Heng. Click here to find out more.