In Istanbul, Seeing Art Through Two Lenses
Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times
By DANIEL SCHEFFLER
Published: August 16, 2013
The art scene in Istanbul has gradually shifted from a heavily traditional one that celebrates the city’s history to a contemporary one that prizes its upstarts. Less than a decade ago, the city’s Museum of Modern Art was inaugurated. Last year the contemporary art space SALT opened. This year a number of Istanbul galleries will be on hand at London’s Frieze (as they were at the Randalls Island New York version and at Art Basel in Basel and Hong Kong).
Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times
Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times
Suyabatmaz Demirel Architects
Now, it seems, the city has truly come into its own as a contemporary art hub.
Because culture so often regenerates, even within this nascent world is an older guard — established artists whose work graces the sort of pristine minimalist galleries you’d find in Chelsea in Manhattan — and rogues who create subversive street art. They, too, are gaining a foothold, sometimes presenting works in cooperation with cosmopolitan institutions. But their art, which is often on view in public spaces, seems more accessible to tourists, who may unknowingly come across it on a stroll through the city. Many works by these newer artists were inspired by — and on view during — demonstrations at Taksim Square this summer.
As I wandered around Istanbul in the wake of the protests, I explored this bifurcated world, and realized that seeing one side without the other is an incomplete viewing. Below is a survey of the two approaches juxtaposed, the best way for the eye to recognize contrasts.
This small photography gallery, opened by Sinem Yoruk in 2007, is tucked away on a leafy street in the newly stylish neighborhood of Karakoy. But don’t let its size fool you. Elipsis has relevance in the broader art world; it even counts the Guggenheim among its followers on Twitter. It has the requisite white walls and charcoal matte floors of a big-city gallery, and when I was there had a show called Edition III that included the work of an art darling: Civan Ozkanoglu, a Turk who now lives in New York. (He is also part of a show at the Museum of Modern Art.) Opening next month is an exhibition featuring digitally reproduced works of the avant-garde photographer Sahin Kaygun, whose medium in the early ’80s was Polaroids.
Elipsis Gallery, Hoca Tahsin Sokaka, Akce Han, 10, Karakoy; elipsisgallery.com.
This gallery sits in a renovated row house in Besiktas, northeast of the old town, nestled in the little hills of the city and facing the Bosporus. Founded in 2010 by the husband-and-wife team of Arif and Leyla Tara Suyabatmaz, it is one of the most renowned galleries in Istanbul. It reliably delivers work by a set of high-priced artists who are no strangers to prestigious art fairs across Europe, and the gallery was part of New York’s Frieze this year. Its next exhibition, called “Open Phone Booth” (and opening Sept. 11), features pieces by the Turkish artists Cengiz Cekil, whose work is part of MoMA’s permanent collection, and Nilbar Gures, who now lives in Vienna.
Rampa Gallery, Sair Nedim Caddesi, 21/A, Akaretler;rampaistanbul.com.
Midway between the medieval Galata Tower and Taksim Square, and sandwiched between stores on the busiest shopping street in Turkey, is this well-regarded exhibition space. It opened in 2010 as an initiative of the Vehbi Koc Foundation. Since then it has regularly featured thought-provoking shows. Its recent solo exhibition by the Turkish artist Volkan Aslan, for example, included a memorable section with hybridized statuettes, like a lady in a red dress with a duck’s head, dispersed around the room. Come September, Arter will be hosting the Istanbul Biennial, this year cheekily entitled “Mom, Am I Barbarian?”
Arter, Istiklal Caddesi, 211, Beyoglu; www.arter.org.tr.
Ha Za Vu Zu
Your timing needs to be perfect to catch the experimental performance art collective Ha Za Vu Zu on stage, or on the street. This eight-year-old group is made up of a mix of five 30-something Turkish artists each of whom come with his or her own mixed-media super power. It seems fitting since their mission is to save the world, or rather to inspire social change and new ways of political engagement. One of their recent works unfolded at Bethnal Green in London, where as part of an exhibition with the Whitechapel gallery, they used 20 volunteers to supply vocals in an agitprop performance. Their intention was for these participants to make such statements and use them as a gesture of reaction for onlooking crowds.
This summer they tried to further their cause as citizens (not artists) at Taksim Square during the protests. To track down Ha Za Vu Zu, it helps to check their blog.
Originally from the Black Sea area, this protest artist regularly contributes cartoons to the political magazine LeMan. The writing may be in Turkish but the work is not lost in translation: it stars a cloaked superheroine on fantastical adventures within the Istanbul metro and on ancient cobbled streets. Ms. Nursad also sells some of her pieces online and through the Ilhami Atalay Gallery, which her father opened 30 years ago as a protest art haven. But the best way to enjoy her work is to keep an eye out for her feline murals around town, especially en route to the Hagia Sophia Mosque in the Golden Horn area.
Elif Nursad murals, Alemdar Caddesi, 22, Sultanahmet; elifnursadatalay.com.
Anonymous Protest Art
Politically charged street art proliferated across Taksim Square as the protests against redeveloping Gezi Park got under way. Temporary installations like a “Post-It” tree with revolution-inspired messages, a throne meant for a resting princess after protesting all day, a life-size chessboard with the Turkish police as the pawns and a Caterpillar loader sprayed bright pink all surfaced as artists were on view. More permanent works are still on view, for now. All manner of stenciling and graffiti with a political bent can be found on the tight streets in the bourgeois areas of Cukurcuma and Cihangir, including Liva Sokagi, Balyoz Sokagi (off the bigger Mesrutiyet Caddesi), Yüksek Kaldirim Caddesi and Sah Kulu Bostan Sokagi. The names might be a mouthful but they are certainly showcasing some of the best work in the city.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 20, 2013
An article on Aug. 18 about the art scene in Istanbul made several errors.
This year London’s Frieze Art Fair takes place in October, so it is not the case that nearly a dozen Istanbul galleries were already on hand there. It misspelled the surname of a Turkish artist who will be showing her work at the Rampa Gallery starting Sept. 11; she is Nilbar Gures, not Gure. It misstated the body of water the Rampa Gallery faces; it is the Bosporus, not the Black Sea.
And there were several misspellings in addresses. Rampa Gallery is on Sair Nedim Caddesi, not Cadessi. Arter gallery is on Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu, not Ystiklal Cadessi in Beyoolu; Elif Nursad murals are on Alemdar Caddesi, not Cadessi. And streets where stenciling and graffiti may be found include Liva Sokagi, Balyoz Sokagi and Sah Kulu Bostan Sokagi (in each case, not Sokaoi).