Canan Tolon exhibition at Istanbul Modern: "You Tell Me".

Canan Tolon’s artistic practice from the 1980s to the present is on view at Istanbul Modern. Displaying the artist’s unique expressive and technical pursuit, which ranges from drawing and photography to painting and installation, the exhibition “You Tell Me” opens on September 6, 2019.

Canan Tolon is one of the most original and creative artists of her generation in terms of the rich variety of her research and her intellectual breadth. We are pleased to present the artist’s first solo exhibition in Turkey to be held in a museum.

Organized by Istanbul Modern and sponsored by the Eczacıbaşı Group, the exhibition “You Tell Me” presents a cross section of the artist’s work from the 1980s to the present.

Curated by Istanbul Modern’s Director Levent Çalıkoğlu, the exhibition provides us with the opportunity to rethink nature and the environment as well as architecture and culture, which today impact not just the artist but humanity at large in all aspects. The exhibition brings together important examples of the transformations and developments in Tolon’s art while also presenting re-creations of some of the artist’s installations that have already secured their place in the history of art.

The traces of nature and architecture

Canan Tolon’s artistic practice centers on nature's continual renewal and on the traces left by architecture as a cultural enterprise. Tolon designs an intellectual and visual world around the mutual impact and resistance between nature and architecture, and the contradiction and consequences borne out of their encounter.

Tolon’s experimental works leave the viewer undecided about whether the images they see are real or illusory, challenging them to question if they are photographs or paintings. Incorporating natural materials such as grass seeds, water and coffee grounds in her works, the artist lets nature come to life by setting metal pieces on her canvases and leaving them outdoors to let the weather transform them. Traces of time thus become an important starting point for the development of her paintings.

Press Conference

The press conference was attended by Chair of the Board of Istanbul Modern Oya Eczacıbaşı, CEO of the Eczacıbaşı Group Atalay Gümrah, Istanbul Modern Director Levent Çalıkoğlu, and the artist Canan Tolon, who shared with the audience information about the exhibition, her artistic practice, and production processes.

Chair of the Board of Istanbul Modern Oya Eczacıbaşı:

Works from different periods of Canan Tolon’s career have featured in every collection exhibition at Istanbul Modern since the day it was founded. “You Tell Me” presents a cross section of this career, which spans nearly four decades. We are also thrilled by the fact that “You Tell Me” is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Turkey to be held in a museum. This exhibition brings together important examples of the transformations in Tolon’s art, including works being exhibited for the first time and re-creations of the artist’s iconic installations that have already secured their place in the history of art. Tolon creates experimental works that lead us to approach her artwork from a different perspective. In the exhibition “You Tell Me”, she invites us to rethink architecture and culture as well as nature and the environment. Aside from Istanbul Modern, her work is held by the British Museum and other prominent museums and private collectors. “You Tell Me” presents over 150 works by Canan Tolon, whose art has featured in exhibitions at major art institutions and organizations worldwide. I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the main sponsor of “You Tell Me”, the Eczacıbaşı Group, and to the collectors who lent works to the exhibition.

CEO of the Eczacıbaşı Group Atalay Gümrah:

Since the start of our ALLforALL initiative in 2017, the Eczacıbaşı Group has taken concrete steps and improved its processes to achieve its equal opportunity goals at work. Another of our efforts is to help increasethe output ofwomen artists in contemporary art and enhance their visibility in Turkey and abroad. This is the context in which we became one of the first corporate supporters of the ‘Women Artists Fund’ initiated by Istanbul Modern. Hence, we're delighted to support this exhibition by Canan Tolon, one of the most original and creative artists of her generation in terms of the rich variety of her research and her intellectual breadth.

Canan Tolon:

By giving this show the title “You Tell Me”, I'm implying that I don’t want to be the one who does all the talking, that I'm leaving the narrative to the viewer, and that I'm also listening. Because the exhibition features works that I created 30 years ago alongside new ones, it allows me to view my works from a certain distance. In a sense, the coming together of old and new works places me in the same position as the viewer and the new works thus become more open to free association. Even abstract painting, while rejecting narrative in visual art, cannot prevent it because, after all, we cannot think of an artwork independently of its viewer.

Istanbul Modern Director and exhibition curator Levent Çalıkoğlu:

Spanning forty years, Canan Tolon’s unique artistic practice springs from a deeply personal impulse but ultimately concerns and intrigues all of us and belongs to a world whose limits we all endeavor to describe. In the exhibition “You Tell Me”, I've attempted to transport to the present Canan Tolon’s memory of the works and moments, and to contribute to her selection by taking into account her other works related to these contexts. Not only have we brought together close to 150 of her works, we have also re-created her notable installations that have already secured their place in the history of art. In particular, we have taken a new perspective in presenting the drawings that led to her installations. We searched private collections for her canvases, whose seeds were planted perhaps 30 years ago and are still alive today. Our temporary exhibition halls spread across two floors were thought of and arranged as installations in their own right. You will notice that each floor has its own distinctive layout, conceived taking into account the relationship between past and present.

About Canan Tolon

After receiving her baccalauréat in philosophy and literature from the French High School in Istanbul, Canan Tolon graduated from the Edinburgh Napier University in 1976 with a degree in design. Tolon went on to study interior design at the Fachhochschule in Trier, Germany, completed her degree at Middlesex University in London, and earned an MA in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley in 1983. Her works are held in various national and international collections and have featured in several exhibitions, both in Turkey and abroad. Canan Tolon lives and works in Istanbul and San Francisco.

Exhibition catalogue

Published bilingually in Turkish and English, the exhibition catalogue includes images of the works featured in “You Tell Me” alongside an essay by Levent Çalıkoğlu presenting the conceptual framework of the exhibition, as well as an interview of Canan Tolon by Evrim Altuğ. The exhibition catalogue and a selection of products inspired by the exhibition are available at the Istanbul Modern Store.

Workshops for children and young people

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Istanbul Modern Education and Social Projects department is organizing art workshops for children and young people as part of educational programs designed for different age groups.

Exhibition tours organized for school groups use puzzles to introduce the children to the artist’s career, the materials and techniques she uses, and her production processes. On the weekends during the exhibition, the workshops “Living Still-Life”, “Fairy-Tale Maps”, and “Surprise Results” will be offered to children, who can participate alone or with their family. Various events related to the exhibition will also be held throughout the course of the exhibition.

In a distressful atmosphere, Canan Tolon depicts the human processes of transforming and reforming nature, and the chaos, conflict and uncertainty they cause. Her works can be viewed at Istanbul Modern between September 6, 2019 – February 2, 2020 in the exhibition titled by the artist herself as “You Tell Me”.

The exhibition is sponsored by the Eczacıbaşı Group, and the mirrors have been contributed by Flotal.