Canan Tolon: You Tell Me


September 6, 2019 – February 2, 2020

The exhibition “You Tell Me” organized by Istanbul Modern is a cross section of Canan Tolon’s artistic practice which spans from the 1980s to today. “You Tell Me” aims to bring Tolon’s unique expressive and technical pursuit into view through her works, which range from drawings to photographs and paintings to installations. While bringing together notable examples of the transformations and developments in Tolon’s artistic practice, the exhibition also presents re-creations of some of her works that have already secured their place in the history of art.

Canan Tolon’s artistic practice centers on nature's continual renewal and on architecture as a cultural enterprise. Tolon designs an intellectual and visual world around the resistance between nature and architecture, and the contradiction and consequences borne out of their encounter. Her experimental works always remind one of the border between life and death, as she makes the viewers question whether these images are real or illusion, photographs or paintings.

Incorporating natural materials such as grass seed and water in her paintings, Tolon lets nature come to life by setting metal pieces on her canvases and leaving these outside as a means to let weather transform them. For Tolon, traces of time become an important starting point for the development of her paintings.

The architectural sections that show vast, endless and abandoned geographies in her compositions remind one of the struggle of humans against nature and the processes of destruction, construction and reconstruction. In these paintings where every little detail is constructed with paint, Tolon depicts the human processes of transforming and reforming nature, and the chaos, conflict and uncertainty caused by these processes in a distressful atmosphere.

Without a doubt, Canan Tolon is one of the most original and creative artists of her generation in terms of the richness of the variety of her areas of research and her intellectual breadth. Tolon’s works in this exhibition provide us with the opportunity to rethink nature and environment as well as architecture and culture, which impact both the artist and the rest of humanity today.


CuratorLevent Çalıkoğlu


After studying philosophy and literature at the French High School in Istanbul, Canan Tolon graduated from the Edinburgh Napier University with a degree in design in 1976. Tolon went on to study interior design in Germany, completed her interior design degree at the Middlesex University in London, and received her graduate degree in architecture at the University of California, Berkeley in 1983. Tolon’s works are included in various collections and have featured in several exhibitions in Turkey and abroad. Canan Tolon lives and works in Istanbul and San Francisco.


Canan Tolon, Untitled, 1998
196 x 414 cm
Mixed media on canvas
Dr. Nejat F. Eczacıbaşı Foundation Collection
Long term loan


Exhibition Sponsor