On Tuesday, January 18th, 2022, Stephane Ackermann passed away peacefully in his sleep. Born 1969 in France, he is survived by his mother, Josiane Ackermann.
Stephane was a graduate of Sorbonne University. He started his professional journey at Yvon Lambert Gallery, 1991-1995, and began a lifelong mentorship and friendship with Yvon. Stephane was close to many artists including artists Nan Goldin, Christian Boltanski, Annette Messager.
He was a curator at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris 1995-1998, after which he founded Stephane Ackermann Agency, Luxembourg, where he presented and realized site-specific installations with artists. Stephane was also a key partner at the time of the opening of MUDAM, The Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg. Stephane was deeply knowledgeable in modern and contemporary art in Europe, The United States, and the Middle East.
He had a keen eye for ingenuity and brilliance in art, design, fashion, textiles and was gifted at supporting artists to meet their potential. He loved to travel and was especially fond of Damascus and Istanbul. The latter became his home in 2008.
In Turkey, he was Artistic Director of Contemporary Istanbul and Art International art fairs where he organized projects with Gülsün Karamustafa, Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, Paolo Chiasera, and Ahmet Öğüt. Stephane was an active Advisory Committee member to Protocinema for ten years, and in 2016 he helped establish Köksal Atay Fashion Design. Stephane and Köksal worked and shared a life for the past eight years. He was an elegant, kind soul who respected and inspired those around him. He truly understood artists’ work and was integral to creative life in the Istanbul art community.
Stephane is an old, very old friend of mine.
The year is 2005, I finished my video film “Memory of a Square” in difficult conditions, it was just released. A thin tall man approaches me one day with quiet steps and wants to talk to me about this movie and everything. We are sitting in one of the cafes in Tünel, which were just starting to open at that time. He says that he has relationships with galleries in Paris and Brussels, and that he wants to introduce my film and other works to them. How nice, the situation he is talking about is the international relations that we all want and dream of at that time…
At the time of this conversation, I don’t think he thought about coming to Istanbul and settling in. I also do not believe that such a cooperation will lead to a positive result in the pessimism of the times, but we make mutual promises. At least we believe in each other. This is good, too.
I’m starting to see the tall and kind man more and more often in the city, now has a life in Istanbul. He even introduces me to his mother, whom he spoke about lovingly and carefully once when we met in Tepebaşı. What a pleasant coincidence.
After settling in the city, he comes together with me at every level of his new positions and produces projects. We believe in each other, but do others believe in us? We can never do a project together.
I’m doing a work for a screen located on top of a hotel in Tepebaşı in 2011. In the video, which points to Tepebaşı’s being an entertainment and fairground area at the beginning of the 20th century, the “Rope Dancer” dances on a rope by constantly making dangerous moves. I run into Stephane that morning. “Your belly dancer is dancing in my bedroom,” he says, laughing. ‘I wake up every morning watching your dancer,’ and this conversation continues for as long as seven months of screening. It’s nice that a little thing I made can seep into people’s lives and that having nice friends who can talk about it sincerely.
…and we become neighbors in Balat. ‘When I stretch my head out of my window, this time I see your workshop, your work desk,’ he says. As he passes my door, he presses the bell every time without getting tired and try his luck, and from time to time we enjoy our good coffee meetings.
I am shutting down my Balat workshop in 2022. We are sad, we are no longer neighbors.
The bad news right after that is that my friend Stephane Ackerman is shutting down Balat forever. From now on, we will not be able to meet on the streets of the same district and talk about the last project that we started with joy and couldn’t finish together anymore.
What can I say more?…
Sometimes I likened Stephane Ackermann to the character of James Cole in the movie 12 Monkeys. Not that Stephane has the same hairstyle as Bruce Willis, who plays Cole. I used to think that Stephane could rather time travel like the hero in Terry Gilliam’s work. It was as if Stephane had been sent from another time by another society to save us from the ugliness of the world. Everyone who knows Stephane knows that the aesthetic accumulation and eye of that person were too developed to fit into single life. And with his generosity, he tirelessly shared this beauty with his environment. It is not a coincidence that we encounter the typical profile lines of Stephane’s physique in Hittite reliefs, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and sculptures of the Greek and Roman periods. Like James Cole, they are documents of his coming and going to the world on different dates and his effort to spread beauty around the world.
Elmas came to our side in the office, “did you hear?” she said. My phone, which I didn’t have much time to look at before, also received some warnings from Instagram. Involuntarily, before turning my attention to her, I looked at my phone, HG had shared one of the portraits. Sometimes when you lose someone, you feel it in your body, the moment you find out you can’t see them anymore, you feel the lack of a part inside you, I said, ‘I was going to take the magazines and leave,’ before I started crying. I had to take pictures of Stephane, whom I met for different reasons in the art scene. I was immediately impressed by the effortless beauty in the house where they lived with Köksal. I remember his sweet shyness in every elegant person who posed for a portrait. Are these clothes good? The way he described the Sunday when he found the cover behind him, and that atmosphere in the kitchen… After many years, at a time when I was having a hard time, my phone rang and Stephane cheered me up with a nice offer. He ordered me a campaign for the fair. Could I tell him that it was like medicine for me in a very difficult time, or did I just hang around cool? I will not forget the table where we had menemen and watermelon after the meeting. He also kept the organizational troubles away from me and put up with my mischief. Finally, it became a work that was exhibited in many places. It’s not fair. Istanbul has lost this beautiful man who has not lost his smile, who has not left his elegant and calm state in differences of opinion or in difficulties.
I first met Stephane at Mental Clinic’s Marie Claude Beaud Mudam Luxembourg exhibition, where he was the model. Yes, Stephane was my model for this shooting 🙂
It wasn’t long after that he phoned me and said he wanted to curate an exhibition at the gallery he owned at the time, and he wanted me to take part. He told me he had a white wall and that I was free to put whatever I wanted on it as if to say do whatever you think is right.
I was to learn later that this was one of Stephane’s magical gifts, the ability to bring people together. Stephane’s presence made people feel like themselves, even a better version.
The kaftan Stephane was wearing when I first met him, the day he was my model, is what he was wearing the very last time I saw him. It’s so weird and random, life loves coincidences.
Stephane never missed the strange and beautiful things in life. He would see, find and capture the most beautiful, the weirdest, the rarest from every place he laid eyes upon. It was my favorite thing about him. I’ve always linked this to the fact that his spirit was a combination of the respect and virtue of a 100-year-old man and the love and joy of a 1-year-old child.
And this is why he’s a true talent and a friend hunter: -) When he looked at people, he never missed their beauty, weirdness, and rareness.
Women loved him particularly. With Stephane, they felt the most beautiful, the most interesting, the smartest, the most fun, and the nicest. And that was true. Because he would see all this and give them a white wall where they could be as they wanted. So women felt as free as they could with him. For me, this was my favorite, and one of the most important features in Stephane.
Later in Istanbul, in 2010, this time in a small apartment – Lena apartment in Cihangir- we were neighbors, it was like we were a family.
Life during that time was hard on both of us, but during these challenges, we always supported each other, listened to one another, and laughed. And most of all, we always reminded each other that the challenges we were experiencing weren’t so bad and that they were temporary.
Perhaps all this was a response to the very simple proverb: Similar birds fly together.
Now, on our journey through these boundless skies, Stephane will not be near my flapping wings, but whenever I see something beautiful and strange in life, Stephane’s spirit will embrace me and I will remember his childlike smile.
Stephane and I talked about death and dying all the time, a matter of factly without sorrow or fright. We thought that there was no death denial between us. We talked about the energies of dead relatives and friends around us. Yet we had the expected human blindspot – we had misjudged the timeline of our own mortality. His death was as surprising to him as it was for all of us. Death denial is the psychological perspective that does not allow oneself to think about, talk about or even acknowledge death as an inevitable reality. This makes the process of dying and/or the death of a loved one only more heartbreaking, to be so numbly unprepared.
I don’t know where Stephane got this information, or even how he would remember it, yet without fail, every time I departed from Istanbul Stephane would call me while I was in the taxi on my way to the airport. Speaking with a cigarette in his mouth, calling just to have a little chat & always to ask – “Do you have everything you need?” and then “Have a good flight, Love you.” Yes, there were also requests for special food items to bring back, like Vermont maple syrup every time I went to New York. Stephane loved to travel and he traveled quite a bit. When I visualize Stephane now there is a kaleidoscope of backdrops behind him, a backdrop of his Balat home, cooking in the kitchen, celebrating someone’s birthday in the salon, so many Christmases. Backdrops all over Istanbul. Backdrops of Stephane in Paris, New York, Tbilisi, Datça, Venice and so many places in Basel, Switzerland.
Maybe that is because we both loved the grand tour every spring, of biennials, fairs, studios, galleries, he loved art and being in the flow of friends and colleagues from all over the world as much as he loved his home-life & his precious cozy Kedi. Maybe that is because Stephane and I met in Basel fourteen years ago. He approached me slowly, hugging a big stack of magazines & books in his arms, wearing his calm, knowing smile on his face. Did he know then that we would become dear friends for many, many years? Did he know then that we would stand shoulder to shoulder through all kinds of celebrations and hardships? Did he know standing there in our booth, on the second floor of the convention center, with the sunlight coming through those huge windows that faced the center courtyard: Did he know that he would become a cherished confidant and primary council on so many issues of art & the heart? Stephane was expansively knowledgeable, really funny, and such a pleasure to be with that we would regularly just sit in his kitchen simply eating cookies, smoking, and talking for hours and hours & hours into the night. So, one day I just asked him – Did you know when we first met, did you know it would be like this? His response? He smiled his sage, Gandhi smile, and gave a soft, warm chuckle.
I will never forget the night that I went over to Stephane & Köksal’s Tarlabaşı home and he was delighted to learn that Köksal had a previously unknown skill – Köksal could sew – very well. There was a need for a pair of pants and so Köksal turned around and hand-made a beautifully detailed perfect pair of pants in one day. Stephane was so happy- and there they started their collaborations with Stephane’s discovery of Köksal’s superpowers. There is something else I want to talk to you about, Staphane’s superpowers. As we all know, Stephane had an exceptional exquisite ability to find the beauty in everything & everyone. It gave him a keen eye and ease to excel as a curator and artistic director. For example, Stephane could walk into the most crowded junk shop and instantly spot the one treasure. He was like that with us. He saw the good in us, even if we did not see it ourselves- and, he had a sorcerer’s ability to nurture it & coax it out of us, without us even realizing it. Yet a central feature to his superpower is that Stephane also had integrity & honesty which means that he also saw clearly his and our shortcomings & was brave enough to talk to us about both. This is why a studio visit with Stephane was so valuable, he told artists what he really thought were the strengths & weaknesses in their work. Absolutely no bullshit. Finally – this is the most significant part – he saw our swampy dark parts and loved us as we really are. While Stephane’s death is unforgivably untimely and sudden, we are at the threshold where it is time for us to send Stephane off & say our goodbyes. Stephane – I know that you are at peace, I saw it on your face the last time I laid eyes on you. Now it is my turn to say: “Do you have everything that you need? Have a good flight, Love you.” I say to all of you – Death itself is painless, Let life be painless.
Çeviri: Erdem Gürsu