Out & About in Istanbul: Searching For the Art Scene Pt. 1

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Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul
January 15th 2013
Published: January 15th 2013EDIT THIS ENTRY

On the ferry

We began our glorious hunt by taking the usual route: a ferry from Uskudar iskelesi to Kabatas station in 'new' Istanbul and a bus down the scenic route by Bosphorus, up to Tophane station where Istanbul Modern is situated in. We were in the hunt for modern and contemporary art, but the first thing we saw were about fifty to hundred police officers in riot gear. We were confused, none of this apparent police control fitted our journey's themes of purification and inner peace. At first, we deducted that we must be somewhere close to a football stadium. After all, we had read and heard rumours that Turkish football fanatics can get extremely feisty. Later when we recounted this tale, we heard that this was not a case of controlling football hooliganism. Normally on Fridays, after the mid-afternoon prayer, there are demonstrations around university campuses and this is what the riot-geared officers were getting ready for. I shall bore you with the politics later on, so for now it's adequate to state:


We carried on our quest after the described scene. We managed to get off in the right bus stop by Tophane, after being pretty much dragged into the right bus. By the way: never ask anything from non-English speaking Turks if you can't be manhandled into a moving vehicle.

Istanbul Modern it was, right before our eyes. After security checks and ticket sales, we entered the first lobby where a collection of contemporary art was on display before our very eyes. On the right hand side begins a permanent exhibition titled 'New Works, New Horizons'. This part of the Istanbul Modern gives you the ins and outs of modern art in Istanbul - from the fruits of Ottoman modernization to Atatürk's efforts in the field of arts. Seemed to me that whatever the past political and social stance, sending gifted and aspired art students to western Europe was the way forward. For example, Paris was a destination for many now renowned Turkish artists.

Aside the 'New Works, New Horizons' exhibition, there was very little to look at. The photography exhibition (sponsored by Bank of America) and the temporary exhibition (on engineering…) didn't leave a lasting mark on us. After a quick bowl of lentil soup in the overpriced museum café, we headed out.

For some bizarre reason, all enterprises and shops in central Istanbul seem to choose their location based on what their category is. For example, if a Turk opens up a shop selling buttons, he will head to the Button Shop Alley. There are numerous examples of this pattern of behaviour near Grande Bazaar, and the same reasoning goes with the art galleries. We were told there would be tons of galleries on Boğazkesen Caddesi. We found about six.

First one was Riff Arts Project, that at the time of visiting featured sculptures of Bernar Venet and Frank Stella's paintings. If you ask me, this was a good pairing of colourful explosions on Stella's behalf with Venet's heavy-duty iron abstracts. But what do I know. Next stop hosted art work that probably would have been more affordable and within our budget limits. Asil Art Gallery and Bookstore sells, well, books and vintage photographs and knick-knack. The main attraction, however, is the 'garage sale' of art works. Everything is not neatly up on the walls or in display cabins, but you are encouraged to scan through the art scattered on piles on floors and in shelves.

PG Art Gallery's exhibition '01' byCandaş Şişman was a pleasant surprise. Not only the gallery assistant seemed to be a white terrier, but the installation/projections were mesmerising - rather than trying to describe myself the allure of the projections, I shall quote the artist statement.

"Candan Sisman takes a non-conventional approach to the perception of time, space and movement of the viewer in these works through the utilizing digital and mechanical technologies. The artist who uses natural sciences as a reference point, aims to construct hybrid emotion fields by bringing the images that he created in digital media together with physical forms, movement and process problematic being the focal point.

The artist uses simple language in spite of the complex substructures he creates, bases interaction as a conceptual problem other than the practice of being buried inside. The works of Sisman gives clues regarding today's aesthetics. Instead of the concepts which assess image with one centered point of view, they bear the traces of an organic image vocabulary which changes shape continuously and reacts to its environment."

It's an established semi-truth that artist statements are moulded out of profound fluff, that might even get lost in translation, so I'm including photographs that in their part ruin the work because they are static and what entrances in Sisman's work is the fluxation.

After this we saw a few places with Ikea-esque interior decoration paintings that were okay for what they are - unfortunately they were put on display with little or no care to detail. Aside those disasters there an exhibition that was being opened the following day and Ceylan Öztürk's 'Gördüm/I Saw' up on Daire Gallery. Öztürk's work challenges the value of images, according to the exhibition brochure and I could see that. 'I Saw' and its slightly humoristic sculptures were a pleasant experience after stepping into another world in PG Art Gallery.

Our final (intended) stop on the art gallery route was Nuray Özler's opening night at the Doruk Sanat Galerisi. Özler's 'Izleyen-Izlenen' (Watcher-Watched) exhibition featured her astutely crafted paintings. These are mainly portraits. Some we found slightly static, but most of her work demonstrates skill, vision and determination. The whole theme of politics of gaze and power of the eye contact (even when the other pair of eyes is fabricated, painted) was well thought out and represented. We had some language barriers with the artist herself, but her helpful cousin translated some of our questions. We found the red wine by ourselves alright.


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