İstanbul Modern celebrates its fifth year with a revamped display of its collection
İstanbul Modern is celebrating its fifth year of life with a revamped and expanded display of the works in its collection. “New Works, New Horizons”, an exhibition mounted with the support of İstanbul Modern’s main sponsor, Türk Telekom, reveals the development of modern and contemporary art in Turkey. Opened on May 26th, the 200 works by 134 artists in the “New Works, New Horizons” show occupy permanent and temporary exhibition spaces on both floors of the museum.
The works on display in the exhibition were selected from the İstanbul Modern Collection and they encompass a wide range of disciplines from painting to sculpture and from installation to video. As such, they provide a comprehensive view of the evolution of the modern and contemporary arts produced in Turkey.
The exhibition is being sponsored by İstanbul Modern’s main sponsor Türk Telekom. Others who have lent their support to the show are the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality as well as Marshall, Borsa Lokantaları AŞ, Doluca, Point Hotel, Sony Eurasia, Türkiye Denizcilik İşletmeleri AŞ, and Tepta Aydınlatma.
“New Works, New Horizons” is being curated by İstanbul Modern’s chief curator Levent Çalıkoğlu, who says that the name was chosen as a reference to the institutional reputation that the museum has built up and the changes that it has undergone in its first five years as well as to the museum’s openness to innovation and the dynamics of exhibiting a collection in a brand-new home.
Texts accompanying the works in the exhibition spaces relate the social, cultural, economic, and political aspects involved in the process of this development. Emphasizing that a work of art is a part of life and exists along with the interactions surrounding it, these texts also describe the historical transformation that art in Turkey underwent in the course of the 20th century.
As the only venue in Turkey where modern and contemporary art is regularly on display, İstanbul Modern presents the historical development of Turkish art since the onset of Westernization to the present day by means of a continuously growing collection of works executed by different artists during different periods and at different stages of their careers.
Designated as a “working area”, a smaller hall is simultaneously being used as a setting in which to undertake projects exploring development in the contemporary arts. An exhibition format that juxtaposes artists from different places and backgrounds is intended to encourage production by providing a home for the projects of individuals and groups.
An internationally recognized name in the world of the contemporary arts
Referring to the special commendation given to the museum at the 32nd convention of the European Museum Forum for its “innovative approach”, Oya Eczacıbaşı, Chair of the İstanbul Modern Board of Directors, that İstanbul Modern had taken its place among Europe’s foremost museums and added “We have come to symbolize Istanbul in a very short time. Those who want to see what Turkey is today make certain to visit İstanbul Modern. Our museum is a window for those who closely study modern and contemporary Turkish art in the world today. İstanbul Modern has become an internationally recognized name in the world of the contemporary arts”.
Noting that İstanbul Modern has been shouldering a responsibility of representing our country’s art, Oya Eczacıbaşı emphasized that it was the only museum in Turkey in which the approximately century-old process of modern and contemporary art in Turkey could be observed in a single place: “İstanbul Modern not only gives people from abroad an opportunity to become acquainted with the different endeavors made in the modern and contemporary arts in our country but also undertakes an important role in publicizing the riches that we possess in the visual arts. In addition to collaborating internationally with other museums and collections, our museum also sends exhibitions that it has created itself abroad.”
Oya Eczacıbaşı reminded listeners that in the course of its first five years İstanbul Modern had mounted three permanent exhibitions, sixteen temporary shows, sixteen photograph exhibitions, and eleven video programs and said that the museum has also created a multidimensional social and cultural environment that enables it to carry out a large number of projects ranging from educational workshops to interdisciplinary activities and from joint projects with non-governmental organizations to new communication strategies.Noting that İstanbul Modern has been averaging half a million visitors a year, Oya Eczacıbaşı said “So far this year we’ve been seeing 1.200 visitors a day but on weekends that number can reach as high as 3.000. It gives us great pleasure to see that there is so much interest in a modern art museum in our country”.
Oya Eczacıbaşı said that the İstanbul Modern Collection had grown stronger over the last five years as a result not only of purchases and of donations made to the museum because of the confidence people had in it but also through works on long-term loan, in some cases up to twenty years. She added that she hoped that such support would become increasingly more prevalent in the years ahead.
In a statement congratulating İstanbul Museum of Modern Art on the occasion of its fifth year, Türk Telekom General Manager Dr Paul Doany said “We believe that art is one of the deepest forms of communication. Türk Telekom supports art in order to enrich the culture heritage and to pass it on to future generations. As a main sponsor of İstanbul Modern, we engage in a synergetic collaboration with this institution in order to invest in Turkey’s intellectual storehouse.”
According to İstanbul Modern Chief Curator Levent Çalıkoğlu, there are two fundamental and linked dynamics conceptually at work in the museum: its institutional identity and a collection which was both born of that identity and which revealed a brand-new structure as a result. “On the one hand we have İstanbul Modern as a cultural symbol that transcends its own geographical constraints. This is a gigantic structure which puts its own stamp on the sociocultural and economic processes of the 2000s and which creates its own memory and network of relationships. İstanbul Modern has learned much and been a venue for many different experiences. It has created a huge representational domain. To be sure it has also been the target both of tremendous criticism and of tremendous praise. But one thing is certain and that is that it has shown that a museum as an institution can be the most important stage on which socio-cultural life is played out.”
Levent Çalıkoğlu offered this appraisal of İstanbul Modern’s approach towards museology: “İstanbul Modern takes a thoroughly professional approach when dealing with the most important issues that are involved in museology such as museum management, interdisciplinary relationships, changing viewers habits about visiting museums, making effective use of modern exhibition practices and techniques, and responding to the institutional-level expectations of the international community of culture and the arts.
Saying that the “New Works, New Horizons” was a summing-up of the museum’s first half-decade of life, Chief Curator Levent Çalıkoğlu added “With this show our museum is not only opening up a new avenue for the growth and development of the contemporary arts but will also be demonstrating its sincerity, trustworthiness, and institutional soundness on such matters”.
Artists who have made their mark on our contemporary arts during the last thirty years
The İstanbul Modern Collection has grown stronger and been renewed over the last five years as a result not only of purchases and of donations made to the museum because of the confidence people have in it but also through works on long-term loan.
“New Works, New Horizons” highlights new additions to the museum’s collection with a particular focus on works by artists who have made their mark on the contemporary arts during the last thirty years. Enriched with the efforts of such recent contemporary artists as Kutluğ Ataman, Ayşe Erkmen, Gülsün Karamustafa, Nil Yalter, Hale Tenger, Erdağ Aksel, Sarkis, Nezaket Ekici, Canan Şenol, Taner Ceylan, Hussein Chalayan, Halil Altındere, Seza Paker, Serkan Özkaya, Leyla Gediz, Ramazan Bayrakoğlu, Selim Birsel, Şener Özmen-Erkan Özgen, Ekrem Yalçındağ, Gülden Artun, Metin Talayman, Tayfun Erdoğmuş, Azade Köker, Hüsamettin Koçan, Mithat Şen, İpek Duben, Şükran Moral and Nur Koçak, the İstanbul Modern’s collection has become crucially important for anyone who wants to grasp the currents that flow through Turkish art history.
“New Works, New Horizons” also includes four outstanding works by internationally recognized artists that were produced contemporaneously with those of the Turkish artists represented at the exhibition: Ex It, an installation donated to İstanbul Modern by Yoko Ono, who received the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement at the 2009 Venice Biennale; Eye Catching, an installation created by Jennifer Steinkamp for exhibition in the Yerebatan Cistern during the 8th İstanbul Biennial; Tony Cragg’s Ugly Faces; and William Kentridge’s homage to the work of the pioneering French filmmaker and “cinemagician” Georges Méliès Three-Dimensional Horse.
Among the new additions to the İstanbul Modern Collection which are indicative of social, cultural, economic, and political trends and which reflect such developments during the last three decades, particular mention should be made of:
• 1 + 1 = 1, a video by Kutluğ Ataman (recipient of the Carnegie and the Abraaj Capital Awards) which was originally entered in the 8th International İstanbul Biennial and is now in the İstanbul Modern Collection.
• Nil Yalter’s The Headless Woman or the Belly Dance, a video that will be exhibited at a show that is to be held at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
• Hale Tenger’s Cross Section, a video installation that was created for the first Pan-European Manifesta biennial.
• Hussein Chalayan’s Repose I and Repose II installations that were originally exhibited at Art Basel.
• Ayşe Erkmen’s PFM-1 and others, which was included in a retrospective exhibition held at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.
• Gülsün Karamustafa’s Memory of a Square (perceived from an interior), which was exhibited at Neue National Museum in Munich.
• Halil Altındere’s Dancing with Taboos, which was shown at the 5th İstanbul International Biennial.
THE HISTORICAL PROCESS OF THE EXHIBITION
“New Works, New Horizons” is an exhibition that begins with the process of Westernization in which painting in the Western sense manifested itself in Turkish art through such names as Givanian, Hoca Ali Rıza, Abdülmecid Efendi, and Zonaro. It continues with the arrival of Impressionism, introduced into the country by a group of artists such as Feyhaman Duran, İbrahim Çallı, and Nazmi Ziya who had been sent to Paris in 1910-1914 to study art, and is represented by their works.
With the establishment of the Republic in 1923, Turkey set its gaze strongly in the direction of Europe. Artists such as Cevat Dereli, Mahmut Cüda, and Hale Asaf who brought new art forms home that they had acquired abroad home with them formed the Association of Independent Painters and Sculptors and created syntheses that blended a variety of approaches.
From the D Group, which adhered to Cubist aesthetics in form and art, is represented by Cemal Tollu, Zeki Faik İzer, Nurullah Berk, Zühtü Müridoğlu, Elif Naci and Abidin Dino among others. From the Yeniler Group, whose members were largely students of Léopold Lévy and took a sensitive approach to social issues, we have Nuri İyem, Ferruh Başağa and Selim Turan.
Beginning in the early 1950s as Turkey’s links with Europe were restored in the wake of the second world war, the currents of abstract art manifested themselves in the works of such artists as Adnan Çoker, Ferruh Başağa, Zeki Faik İzer, and Abidin Elderoğlu.
Other champions of abstract art in Turkey during this period were İlhan Koman and Kuzgun Acar (who were instrumental in the birth of abstract sculpture in the country) and such representatives of the Paris École as Nejad Melih Devrim, Fahrelnissa Zeid, Selim Turan, Hakkı Anlı, and Mübin Orhon.
In the 1960s, opposition to the modernist trends of abstract art manifested themselves in the work of artists such as Neşet Günal, Nedim Günsür, and Nuri İyem, who made use of figurative language in their approach to social realism; while others, such as Cihat Burak, Adnan Varınca, Avni Arbaş, and Orhan Peker invested figure with a new and ironic identity as they evolved personal styles that addressed the changing social atmosphere of the day and dealt with themes like migration, urbanization, and life in the city. By the 1970s, traditional figure was being confronted by a new sort of figurative painting that both incorporated an innovative language and addressed ironic, critical, and existential concerns, as is witnessed in the works of Mehmet Güleryüz, Alaaddin Aksoy, Burhan Uygur, Metin Talayman, Utku Varlık, Komet, Nevhiz Tanyeli, and Neş’e Erdok.
Artists such as Ergin İnan, Balkan Naci İslimyeli, Hüsamettin Koçan, and Ali İsmail Türemen translated the art and design-fraught training notions that they received at the State School of Applied and Fine Arts into the present and in the process produced work whose diversity transcended the subjects and forms dictated by academic traditions.
Beginning with the late 1960s, there appeared a group of artists who tended to move away from “painted art” and experiment with materials and objects instead. Pioneered by Altan Gürman, this approach simultaneously explored problems of meaning and form through the international language of contemporary art. Among its adherents we find Sarkis, Ayşe Erkmen, Serhat Kiraz, Gülsün Karamustafa, Tomur Atagök, Cengiz Çekil, Yusuf Taktak, Füsun Onur, Şükrü Aysan, Ahmet Öktem and Canan Beykal.
In line with the “new expressionist” attitude that appeared in the 1980s, we find artists who created works that criticized not only newly-emerging social habits but also entrenched policies concerning body and identity: Bedri Baykam, İsmet Doğan, Kemal Önsoy, Arzu Başaran, Fatma Tülin and Şenol Yorozlu.
The 1980s were also a decade during which momentous changes took place in both the materials and content of “works of art”. Among the artists who interpreted abstract art with a quite contemporary language were Yusuf Taktak, Güngör Taner, and Bubi.
The 1990s were characterized by an interdisciplinary approach to art in which artists went beyond a language that was closed and purely aesthetic and instead turned their attentions to a host of issues ranging from sociology and philosophy to pop culture, cinema, and technology. Along with this, there appeared artists who pursued different artistic issues in different artistic styles that were not so much chronological as they were synchronic such as Ayşe Erkmen, Gülsün Karamustafa, Erdağ Aksel, and Hale Tenger.
In the 2000s, artists with brand-new approaches are shaping brand-new relationships among different parts of the world while making use of every possible means as a way of expressing art: Hussein Chalayan, Kutluğ Ataman, Haluk Akakçe and Halil Altındere.
THE ARTISTS AND THEIR WORKS
In addition to incorporating elements of drawing, theater, and music, William Kentridge creates animations that pay homage to the work of the pioneering French filmmaker and “cinemagician” Georges Méliès. Stereoscopic Horse can be seen as a product of the artist’s admiration for Méliès as the inventor of so many of the cinematographic tricks that we take for granted nowadays. Two drawings done by the artist and placed on opposite sides of the room create a composite, 3D image when viewed in mirror mounted on a tripod centrally located between them.
Jennifer Steinkamp created her Eye Catching installation for exhibition in the Yerebatan Cistern during the 8th İstanbul Biennial. Three computer-animated trees were projected on the walls of the cistern opposite two ancient Medusa heads that were pressed into service in Byzantine times as column bases. In Eye Catching, animated trees sway while their branches move like Medusa's serpentine hair. Each tree gradually moves through the seasons of the year: the first buds of spring appear followed by the leafy foliage of summer which turns red in fall before the image finally resolves into the pale, bare branches of winter. As the trees go through their elegant and somewhat eerie evolutions, the installation relates the ancient Medusa legend as a celebration of the power of female sexuality and beauty.
One of the leading names in contemporary sculpture in the 1980s, Tony Cragg began making the rotational energy of cyclones the essential starting point of his works in the late 1990s and this force eventually manifested itself as dramatically-formed vertical columns. In contrast with this, his Ugly Faces represents the starting point of a new concept whose aim is to incorporate the notions of cellular fission and recombination into this process.
Ex It is a work donated to İstanbul Modern by Yoko Ono, who received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 53rd Venice Biennale. Although she has produced works in many different genres, they share certain features in common in terms of their simplicity combined with forcefulness. This is evident in Ex It in which olive trees are growing through holes cut into the covers of fifty crudely-made wooden coffins. The installation is accompanied by bird sounds that seem to be coming from no particular direction. Concerning this work the artist has said “It’s just the kind of work that inspires optimism and what happens to us. There may be death but then there’s always life growing from it.”
In PFM-1 and Others, Ayşe Erkmen shows us the coordinated motion of lethal sculptural forms with the entertaining yet ephemeral aesthetics of an MTV video clip. Although each of the forms is presented as if it were a character in a computer game or a cartoon, the soundtrack continuously signals their concealed menace.
In Dancing with Taboos, Halil Altındere’s banknote with the usual image of Atatürk but covering his face provokes the viewer into thinking about situations in which we must shield ourselves against things for which we are not responsible. The artist’s sarcastic comments challenge the viewer to consider both the true value of money and the role of countries and of national economies as sources of pride or shame while dramatically touching upon feelings of cover-up / concealment / camouflage while also questioning the things that are represented by identity and money.
Birsel’s Testis-Tank-Ear-Field, Vienna video shows the creation and production processes involved in another of the artist’s works, Tank Flowers. The rhythmic rumble of tank treads in the video is visually rendered on the same ground as fields of grain undulating in the wind, something plucked from the artist’s memory years before near Turkey’s Thracian border, and brings the work to life. Making use of armaments such as tanks, ships, and anti-aircraft guns, Testis-Tank-Ear-Field, Vienna gropes the boundaries of beauty and nationalism as well as of naiveté and minimalism.
Hale Tenger’s Cross Section is a video installation that was created for the first Pan-European Manifesta biennial. Cross Section is the artist’s response to the pan-European dream on which the Manifesta biennial is erected. By relating arduous bureaucratic red tape that an ordinary Turkish citizen wishing to travel to a European country must put up with, the artist makes a statement about the realities confronting individuals who must relocate themselves whether willingly or otherwise.
Nil Yalter’s work in video art is regarded as a landmark in the history of that genre in France. In The Headless Woman or the Belly Dance video, the artist focuses her camera on the dancer’s belly-button while the text of a feminist manifesto written over the dancer’s body juxtaposes Orientalist male fantasies about women with demands for women’s rights.
In Memory of a Square (as seen from inside) (2005), Gülsün Karamustafa uses two projection screens on which she balances images of public and private moments. Plucked from the memory of Taksim square, a symbol of political activity in İstanbul, are images of the 1960, 1969, 1971, and 1980 military interventions; the “First of May Incidents”; and the 1985 demolition of three early 20th century buildings to a musical accompaniment provided by a municipal band. Juxtaposing glimpses of interiors and exteriors in her work, Karamustafa shows their interactions with the public space, in the process revealing her memories of that space with the privacy of a domestic setting.
Erdağ Aksel’s sculpture Suzan II consisting of a found yellow surveyor’s tripod to which yellow carpenter’s rules have been attached probes the technical problems involved in the production and history of sculpture as an art.
In Signed Anonymity III and Signed Anonymity VIII, Sarkis makes it possible for the works to enjoy the unique distinction of simultaneously being both anonymous and signed without otherwise physically interfering with the paintings.
In Don’t Worry You Won’t Get Hurt!, İnci Eviner tells us a story woven from drawings, animations, and words. The images are executed in black acrylic paint on white canvas while the animations displayed by a closely-placed projector. The viewer is made to feel like an old-time story teller. As he/she resolves the layers of meaning concealed in the drawings, walls, and objects he/she encounters his/her own fears. Approaching taboo from the direction of curiosity, İnci Eviner takes a woman’s point of view in her treatment of it.
Kutluğ Ataman reflects in his video 1 + 1 = 1, a Turkish woman who lived in the Greek sector on the southern side of the island of Cyprus. Split into two parts it tells a powerful, emotional story. In one part she relates her flight from Greek massacres prior to the Turkish intervention in 1974; in the other she describes her flight from life under Turkish nationalism and her reaction to the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus. Each describes experiences that are opposite yet unifying: one talks about her experiences as a Cypriot living in the Greek zone and the other about her experiences as a Cypriot living in the Turkish zone. Like the wall that divides and joins them, they are both on the same island.
In Repose I, Hussein Chalayan shows us his interest in aviation with a section of an aircraft wing that reveals Swarovski lead crystal glass and LED illumination when the canopy is opened, Other parts of the installation consist of a collapsible seat symbolizing air travel and a counter reminding the viewer how swiftly “time flies”. In Repose II the artist probes the issues of motion, speed, travel, and technology in the form of a section of aircraft nose installed as if emerging from the wall.
Emotion in Motion is a piece of performance art by Nezaket Ekici in which every surface in the room is kissed with exuberant energy. The artist uses her body as a vehicle in her performances as a means of entering into a new kind of interaction with the viewer while also revealing her passions and desires in the most straightforward and honest way possible.
Serkan Özkaya’s Confectioner’s Apprentice is a sculpture of a youth carrying flats of eggs who has tripped and is about to fall face forward. Everything about the work –including the eggs– is a life-size “copy” of their “original”. The action is caught freeze-frame a moment before the inevitable disaster and the equally inevitable consequences.
Aydan Murtezaoğlu’s Blackboard consists of a free-standing blackboard with letters in the old and new Turkish alphabets on it. A plastic hand connected to part of a forearm is attached to the lower right quadrant of the board. Inspired by a photograph showing Atatürk teaching the letters of the new alphabet on a portable blackboard, the artist’s installation both interrogates the history of the past and writes the history of the future.
Haluk Akakçe’s The Birth of Art is a truly visual feast in every sense. In this video, the artist explores the relationship between people and technology while simultaneously making allusions to biology, geometry, and architecture. Akakçe’s videos usually have soundtracks whose music was either specially composed for the purpose or else was adapted from a classical work and which heightens the hypnotic effect of his computer-generated images.
In her Still Life video, Seza Paker’s subjects are old combat vehicles being kept in a hangar on the banks of the Seine in Paris and a number of collectors who have passionately devoted their lives to such machines. Composed along strongly documentary lines, Still Life focuses particularly on one collector, a transsexual by the name of Sophie. The story flows along different timelines. Although these weapons of war make the artist think of still life (nature morte) painting, for Sophie they are an obsession, the roots of which reach into that which is old, the past, and the history of warfare. But Sophie’s obsession is also part of the present in which she strives to conserve her beloved machines to ensure their existence in the future as well.
Finally you’re in me is a work that artist Canan Şenol did during her pregnancy. Originally exhibited as a sign in a public space, the work was intended to surprise the viewer by conveying a message whose content was covertly subversive and potentially infuriating. In Finally you’re in me the artist delivers an extremely straightforward yet striking criticism of the moral and physical expectations and pressures to which societies everywhere have subjected women’s minds and bodies.
One of the most successful practitioners of the photorealistic style among the current generation of young Turkish artists, Taner Ceylan regards realism not just as a problem of technical success but also as an expression and even accentuation of the reality of meaning and invests his canvases with the elements and settings of gay life and culture. In Alp on a White Background there seems to be no doubt that the figure staring out at the viewer from this out-of-focus image is a woman but the attribution of a man’s name (Alp) to the figure might be seen as “clearing up” the ambiguity somewhat.
One of the founders of the “Excavation” group, Murat Akagündüz approaches matters ranging from paint use to setting preferences and composition layout with a sense of originality while adhering to a “multilingual” style in which the language that he employs in the expression of a work is specific to that work itself. As an artist who takes an interest in current political issues, he shows us the power-based, symbolic elements that pervade city life.
Mustafa Pancar is a member of the “Excavation group, who style themselves “urban travelers”. Excavation, the work from which the group’s name was taken, underscores İstanbul’s reputation as a perpetual building site. In the 1990s he created compositions that pointed to a “live-for-today” attitude that is out of keeping with the architectural identity of a city which is several thousands of years old. In his most recent work, Mustafa Pancar’s compositions draw attention to different aspects of life in İstanbul.
One of the founders of the “Excavation” group, Hakan Gürsoytrak points to the sociocultural relationships that exist in Turkey in his paintings and three-dimensional works. Taking a political point of view, the artist problematizes the relationship between individual and authority, the impact of consumerism on habits and denominational rankings, and all of the information, signals, and meanings that underlie the individual’s existence. He is known for a style that is immediately recognizable as his. Orientalist is an ironic statement about how cultural history functions and what lies behind our awareness of the history that led to our present.
Ramazan Bayraktaroğlu invites us to think about the social and cultural codes that we use when interpreting visual information presented to us in the form of transformed and redefined film stills as well as of photographs clipped from newspapers and magazines. In A Portrait of Alexandra Maria Lara, the artist confronts us with the image of a woman’s face that is deeply lined with feelings of anxiety as well as with a surface skillfully stitched together from colored fabric.