Art and Travel with Özlem Avcıoğlu
Does one who travels knows better than one who reads? With her active and adventurous lifestyle, Özlem Avcıoğlu redefines this much known argument: she both travels and reads a lot. Engaged in many fields simultaneously, she successfully merges all her interests. You may know Avcıoğlu from travelmodus.com, a website she founded to inspire “sophisticated travellers”, from Haaz, the design store which she is the co-founder of, or her popular Instagram account.
As Art50, we could not be just a witness to Avcıoğlu’s vast travel experiences and true interest in art. So we decided to have a conversation with her and talked about everything from her travels from Peking to Basel, from an art exhibition she ran into during her ski travels to a Jeff Koons-designed luxury yacht and of course, her Instagram account.
How did your passion for travelling came about?
I was born as the daughter of parents who used to travel a lot. My oldest memory goes as far back as to a Germany-Austria trip with my parents when I was 4 years old. The other things I remember from my childhood are being left with my grandmother or aunt, parents who travel often and the postcards they used to send from where they were, be it London, Paris or somewhere else. My father was in furniture business. My parents used to travel to Milano with my mom for furniture fairs. In order to travel freely, they did not have children for more than 10 years.
What kind of effects did your parent’s passion for travelling have on you?
I am a very curious person. My desire to discover places has increased over the years. I like travelling not only to widely known places, but also visiting interesting places and examining the culture of people living there. For instance, once I was very into Indian culture. I started with Utah and then travelled to Wyoming and Seattle. In those places, I met with the Mormon belief. I did not know about the Mormons that well. We went into the Arizona City, the Mormon city that not everybody is allowed in. They even stoned our car when we entered the city, because they still live as if they are in the 20s…There are times when I become very interested in certain things and I follow my interests.
You find the most alternative venues in the cities you travel. In addition to visiting the conventional places, you discover the local tastes. Is there a secret formula for doing this?
I research a lot. I read a lot before going somewhere. I take the opinions of people who have been there before and whose interests are similar to mine. But nothing is ever the same, the research I make only become a small guide for me. If I am visiting a city for the first time, I directly go to a bookshop in that city. The bookshops tell you all about a city. There are cities that have no bookstores, or bookstores that are no good or that have great bookstores.
If I am visiting a city for the first time, another important thing is staying at a hotel that has great concierge service. Because good concierge saves you time and provides you with useful information. In a new city I ask the concierge and check out magazines such as Wallpaper, Timeout, various websites, art websites and find out about good bookshops. The city-related books in one of the shops give me an idea about that city. Afterwards, I start reading. I also take a look at local magazines.
Would you tell us about one of your most enjoyable discoveries?
Once we went to Beijing without knowing the area well and we discovered an art town one hour away from the city. There was a town where they support young artists who do not have a gallery or a studio in the city. I found out about this place when I went to Beijing. There, we discovered some places with pure sense of curiosity and discovery.
One other thing about Beijing: there is an art zone called “798”. This is my favorite art area in the world. It is unparalleled in the entire world. They have turned a whole neighborhood into an art zone. It is a place that I visit regularly for 10 years. In fact, more and more it has become a commercial area. On the table next to you, you can hear people from MoMA or Guggenheim speak. The government supports this area. Think of a neighborhood as big as Ataşehir in Istanbul. It used to be occupied by gun factories during the Cold War. They completely evacuated the place now and started housing artists in the big warehouses.
This is actually a great example. Let us think about growing and changing neighborhoods. If a neighborhood is prospering in a city, most probably artists have been going there before everybody. And why is that? Because they need studio space. Because of the need for wide studio spaces, in 1970s artists in New York have started going to SoHO. Cafes, restaurants and hotels have followed the artists. Nowadays, SoHO is filled with shops like Luis Vuitton, Victoria Secret, and GAP… The same thing goes for Meatpacking District and Williamsburg in Brooklyn. The galleries have started up there first and then those places turned into hip neighborhoods. The same thing is happening with us in Balat these days.
On average, how many days a year do you spend by travelling? What percentage of these travels is for business, art or leisure?
I do not prefer dividing my travels because I am a person who interconnects everything somehow. My job, my hobby and my lifestyle are intertwined. At Haaz, we sell small art pieces and design objects. In order to do that, we sometimes need to travel to certain places. The second reason for my travelling is my website titled travelmodus. And the third one is hobby. They are all related. Other than these, if we count the summers that we mostly spend on the boat, an average of 5 months of the year is spent on vacations, outside of Istanbul.
Do you go on specifically art-focused travels?
I sometimes go on art-focused vacations. At times though another vacation can become an art-focused one. For instance, I have been to Basel for the art fair. But while I was there, I have decided to go a little further up to see a museum, or transit to Germany, from there go on to Neuchâtel for the weekend. Or when in Basel, I usually visit satellite fairs such as Scope or Liste. These interest me more because we already have seen and know about the works in Basel.
For example this year we travelled to Courchevel. They have placed artworks in certain places in Courchevel [the exhibition titled “L’art au fil des sommets”]. Some works were in places that could be seen by skiing, like they are at a summit. After that trip, we continued on to Megève and visited the art galleries there.
The specifically art-focused trips I do are usually for biennials. I never miss Venice biennale, neither the art nor the architecture biennale. I love it because the whole city becomes one with art. There is also the Milano Design Fair that I never miss. There, art and design is interconnected. If we are speaking strictly of the fair, it is about design, but around the entire city you find such great exhibitions…from works that combine art and design to you name it.
Have you ever encountered any surprising coincidences during your travels?
Sometimes very nice coincidences take place. Once, when I went to Mykonos, I met Dakis Joannou, the Greek gentleman who is the owner of Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art. He has converted an old slaughterhouse on Hydra Island into an art house. Artists such as Maurizio Cattelan, Urs Fischer, among others, have visited this place. This year they are organizing another exhibition. Now I purposefully add Hydra Island on my route to visit this art place.
This gentleman had Jeff Koons build his yacht. He has a very colorful yacht. One day, I was going to write an article about his yacht but somehow I could not find the photo of the boat anywhere! I was searching online, researching, but it was not available anywhere. The interior of the yacht is full of works of Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst by the way. Coincidentally, we were in Mykonos at the time. The yacht arrived at Mykonos harbor unexpectedly. I saw the yacht moving towards the harbor at the nighttime. The first thing in the morning I got up and took photos of the yacht from every angle!
What are some of the art-related places you like and prefer the most?
I believe that art should exist within life. For instance, I do not like museums full of restrictions where it is forbidden to take photos. Once we went to Capri Island in Italy. When we were picking out a hotel, I chose Capri Palace because there are great works by Italian artists and they are being exhibited. I love the places where artworks are alive. Therefore I always prefer to stay in an art hotel if there is one in the area. It is amazing to be able to sunbathe next to a sculpture of Calder. There is of course the garden of MoMA with its sculptures as well. For 20 years I have been feeling peaceful there.
Other than in Istanbul, are there any art-related activities that you keep track of in Turkey?
I always keep track of the main art activities in Istanbul but I do not follow much of the art world outside of Istanbul. I have never been to Mardin Biennial or the Baksi Museum but I would like to visit sometime. These events are not promoted enough. If they were, it would be really nice because these are also great places. I was amazed by Mardin and Diyarbakır. Maybe it’s because a part of my family comes from Mosul, I do not know.
Are there any art activities worldwide taking place until the end of this year that you think should not be missed?
There is Venice Architecture Biennial that definitely should not be missed. The exhibition in the Prada Foundation in Venice is spectacular. It is an exhibition about instruments and is completely unrelated to architecture. Compared to its exhibitions of last year during the art biennial, Prada Foundation has organized a great exhibition this time. In Venice there is also Ai Weiwei’s installation of bicycles. One sometimes asks whether these are art or design. Some things intersect greatly. Therefore, they should definitely be seen. These exhibitions are open until November 23.
You have thousands of followers and very lovely photos on Instagram. We are curious about like the importance of Instagram in your life.
Instagram is a place where I express myself. I believe it reflects me very well. When I first found out about Instagram, I knew it was going to be the next big thing because it speaks the language of the world. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, there is just image and video in Instagram. It is purely visual. I have a certain code that I practice in Instagram. I share the places I have seen. Just the photos of places, scenery, architecture and artworks. I do not share anything else besides these. I have a style and it is the reason that my followers follow me. If I share anything else, they unfollow my account. When I shared political posts during the Gezi protests, I recieved a lot of reaction. Instagram gives me the chance to narrate the places I explore. There are people I have met on Instagram. For instance, someone who is frequently travels to Italy did not know about Spatzio Rossana Orlandi and learned about it on my Instagram. On Instagram, you can find out about people’s unfiltered reactions, and see what they think. This is a beautiful thing. There is a gripping sense to it because everyone is on social media now.
First piece you acquired: Qu Guangci’s angel sculptures.
The piece you would like to own the most:A work by the Chinese artist named Yue Minjun who creates laughing or screaming portraits.
The type of art that intrigues you: I mostly like 3D works. I am excited by sculpture, neon panels, video art, installations rather than painting.
The meaning of art for you: Every type of art is an indispensible part of life.