“20 Modern Turkish Artists of the XXth Century: 1940-2000” at santralistanbul

By Cornucopia TR | March 17, 2011

Here at Arts Diary, we don't take undue pleasure in slagging off exhibitions. If someone has really tried to create something good, and failed in the attempt, who are we to criticise? However, santralistanbul is a major arts platform and we can't just avoid the shortcomings in their soon-to-open "20 Modern Turkish Artists" show, much as we'd like to. It's just no good.

The main problem is that there's just so much of it. With 430 pieces spread over three floors, quantity rather than quality seems to have been the guiding principle. The amount of space devoted to just five artists - Ömer Uluç, Selim Turan, Hakkı Anlı, Ferruh Başağa and Burhan Doğançay - is absurd, especially when the art fails to show any sense of progression. Uluç is a one-trick pony who gets two huge rooms in which to repeat his squiggly forms, and how many times do we need to see Başağa's works before we understand that, yes, he was interested in geometry? Quite frankly, the less said about the horrendously overrated Doğançay, the better. Less really would have been more here, where five pictures would have given us the same idea as twenty, without the attendant sense of weariness.

This problem becomes even more apparent when one stops to consider that other artists have been squashed into spaces which are too small for their art, purely in order to create more wall-area for the Big Five. Yüksel Arslan is cruelly under-served with a room only slightly larger than a phone box, and next door Ergin İnan's bright, busy canvases are too intense for the underwhelming area they are presented in. Perversely, the dull and muddy oeuvre of Alaettin Aksoy gets far more wall-space than it deserves, just next door to Arslan and İnan.

The other big problem is in the information provided to visitors. Why, exactly, are the panels giving basic information about the pictures - title, date, medium - in both Turkish and English, when the large blurbs concerning the artists' lives and works are only in Turkish? After all, it seems fair to assume that non-Turkish-speaking visitors will be more in need of facts about modern Turkish art than about which type of paint an artist used. Then again, the blurbs don't seem to be saying much. For example,  İnan's work is compared to Kafka, which is either a) a stupid comparison based on the fact that he portrays insects in his works, or b) a potentially interesting point which lacks any sort of supporting evidence which would make it useful.


This exhibition is not without some successes, in spite of the failures in curating and presentation. The division of the material between three floors is reflected in a different theme for each level - 'Two generations of figurative artists', 'Turkish abstract painters of the Paris School' and 'Geometry, light, music and walls.' This enables at least a sensible division of the works on display, and leads to some nice connections; a roomful of lovely works by Fahrelnissa Zeid, the grande dame of twentieth century Turkish art, is followed by a space devoted to Nejad Devrim, whose works (above) continue her themes. Perhaps curator Ferit Edgü had his hands tied by working with a pre-formed collection, provided by businessman Öner Kocabeyoğlu. He may simply have been trying to use what there already was to best effect. This could - should - have been a great explanation of how the now-vibrant Turkish art scene came to be. In reality, what it has led to is a badly laid-out mess which serves to exhaust rather than explain or inspire.

Eski Silahtarağa Elektrik Santralı, Kazım Karabekir Cad. No: 2, Eyüp 34060 İstanbul. 11 March-19 June. Entrance TL10/7/5/free.

Posted in Contemporary Art Tagged alaettin aksoy, burhan doğançay, ergin inan, fahrelnissa zeid, ferruh başağa, hakkı anlı, nejad devrim, ömer uluç, paris school, santralistanbul, selim turan, yüksel arslan
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