Artist to Know: Ahmet Ertuğ

Liz Catalano
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Work from Turkish Photographer Will Cross the Phillips Auction Block

Ahmet Ertuğ’s eye for elaborate interiors did not grow from artistic training but rather from his background as an architect. A Turkish photographer, he gradually turned away from designing buildings to capturing the beauty of those that already exist. Ertuğ’s journey would take him from the temples of Japan to the Hagia Sophia to The Martha Stewart Show.

One of the artist’s signature wall-sized chromogenic prints will come to auction in Phillips’ upcoming Photographs event on October 14th, 2020. The sale will begin at 10:00 AM EDT and is split between morning and afternoon sessions. Before placing a bid, get to know Ahmet Ertuğ.

Ahmet Ertuğ with an antique camera. Image from the artist.
Ahmet Ertuğ with an antique camera. Image from the artist.

It was the height of 1970s Postmodernism when Ertuğ graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. Ertuğ spent the first few years of his career working in the field in England and Iran before receiving a fellowship for his travels to Japan. There, he gained an appreciation for both ancient temples and ordered rituals. He took those lessons with him after returning to Istanbul.

Ertuğ began using his lens to capture the history and culture of his city, particularly the lavish interiors of churches, public buildings, and other heritage sites. His method draws upon a tacit understanding of form and structure: “I put myself in the shoes of the architect who made and designed the building. And I think about where that guy would have stood to look at his work,” he says. “The entire soul of the building comes to life in my first photograph.”

Drawing on the complex history of Istanbul, Ertuğ has captured spaces of Ottoman, Roman, and Catholic influence. His domestic fame skyrocketed once he began releasing his photographs in luxury art books. Ertuğ’s publishing house has since produced over 30 of these collections.

Ahmet Ertuğ, The Hall of Perspectives, Villa Farnesina. Rome, Italy, 2019. Image from Phillips.
Ahmet Ertuğ, The Hall of Perspectives, Villa Farnesina. Rome, Italy, 2019. Image from Phillips.

Ertuğ prioritizes detail and symmetry in his work, but he allows for variation. The offered photograph from the Hall of Perspectives in Rome’s Villa Farnesina shows the polished marble floor of an ornate hall. The viewer’s eye is drawn into a long perspective reminiscent of the Renaissance masters. However, Ertuğ includes slight disruptions to the balance. Bars of light from the open windows reflect off the floors while steel scaffolding is almost invisible to the eye at the center of the work. This 2019 chromogenic print is offered with an estimate of USD 30,000 to $50,000.

Ertuğ’s artistic travels have taken him across Turkey and throughout Europe. He is regularly invited to photograph beautiful spaces, including the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. Among the notable locations in his oeuvre is the Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul’s most recognizable and storied landmarks. An Ertuğ photograph capturing its interior was sold for $62,500 in a 2013 Phillips auction, landing just above the high estimate of $60,000.

Crossing the Atlantic, Ertuğ has also extensively photographed famous American libraries. Deemed one of Boston’s “secular spots that are sacred,” Bates Hall in the Boston Public Library was photographed by the artist earlier this year. Ertuğ captured the space’s signature reading lamps, vaulted ceilings, and semicircular apse in a photo that came to auction in October. Its final price was $47,880.

These auction prices are not uncommon for Ertuğ. According to Widewalls, the majority of his photographs have sold for over $25,000 since 2016.

Ahmet Ertuğ, Bates Hall, Boston Public Library, 2020. Image from Sotheby’s.
Ahmet Ertuğ, Bates Hall, Boston Public Library, 2020. Image from Sotheby’s.

Photos from Ertuğ have been displayed in solo exhibitions at La Conciergerie, the Tuileries Gardens, the Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna, and the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. Though Ertuğ remains lesser known in much of North America, his work has not gone entirely unrecognized. It reportedly inspired TV personality Martha Stewart’s 2010 trip to Cappadocia. “When I asked her how she’d gotten interested in Cappadocia, she said that she’d seen the spectacular photographs of Ahmet Ertug and decided that she just had to come,” curator Robert Ousterhout recalled.

Some argue that Ertuğ has gone beyond mere capture of cultural sites. Rolf Sachsse, an active German photographer, has written about his art: “Ertuğ is not just an active contemporary of the world cultural heritage – his work has become part of this cultural heritage itself.”

Ertuğ’s photograph of the Villa Farnesina will be offered by Phillips in the morning session of the upcoming auction. Interested collectors may bid online, absentee, or by phone at 10:00 AM EDT on October 14th, 2020. Visit the auction house’s website for further details.