Two very different shows are on view on Bankalar Caddesi, one a sprawling and free-wheeling exhibition of a collective, and the other a collection of various artists. Each, though, use their scope to great effect.
Initially, Mouth to Mouth, the mid-career retrospective of Berlin-based collective Slavs & Tatars, seems like a bit of a lark. With satirical characters decorating hanging carpets, balloons bearing the image of monobrowed cartoons, and posters emblazed with “What’s the plan, Uzbekistan?” in highlighter green, it’s easy to assume that the artists are focusing primarily on the silly. However, a collection of books written and curated by the collective that are on display in the SALT Galata library quickly put this notion to rest. It’s clear that Slavs & Tatars are well-versed in the linguistic and political complexities of the region stretching from the Berlin Wall to the Great Wall Of China, both past and present. An entire book of annotated satirical cartoons from the late-Ottoman period put those hanging carpets into context. The group is pulling from their deep understanding of a visual history to make something that delights.
The group show at Anna Laudel Contemporary successfully groups a handful of disparate artists with varied styles into a show that constantly engages. The large entry space serves as a sort of artistic overview, displaying a piece or two from each of the featured artists, allowing the viewer to compare and contrast each style and idea. Later, each artist has their own defined space in the gallery, and encountering this more in-depth view feels like hearing a familiar tune. Of particular note is Detlef Waschkau’s wooden sketches of Istanbul, which slip between the concrete and the ephemeral within each gridded frame. Turn a corner and encounter Bilal Hakan Karakaya’s series of sculptures featuring small figures carrying epic monoliths on their heads, a vision that veers between comedy and commentary. A favorite is Ekin Su Koç’s colorful and grotesque collages, with Alice in Wonderland-like flamgoes blooming out of a girl’s hips and spines visible from the outside. Each artist brings a distinctive, particular perspective to their work, and collectively makes the exhibition a series of surprises.