- What’s On
The doors of the new Museum of Painting and Sculpture opened briefly in May, offering a tantalising glimpse of the great collection to be housed there. The ground floor has displays of the new building’s architecture, a striking blocky design inspired by shipping containers appearing to stick out like Lego bricks. An alarming future panorama showed four toy-like cruise liners tied up at Karaköy and Fındıklı. Upstairs, alongside a formidable array of Turkish greats – Osman Hamdi Bey, Şeker Ahmet Ali, Ibrahim Çallı – were wonderfully expert copies by students of European Old Masters. Chardin, Lorrain, a Frans Hals Gypsy Girl… The gallery will show a changing selection; surprisingly, this first was rolled out with no dates or descriptions beyond artist and title.
With entrepreneurial Syrians already setting up shop in Turkey, one can anticipate new Syrian talents making their mark on Istanbul’s visual arts scene. Salt has already staged a discussion on Syrian film-makers featuring at Sundance and Cannes. Turkish art has long been shaped by war and its migrations, says the veteran painter Mehmet Güleryüz. Likened (at least by his promoters) to a Picasso, Güleryüz is set for a retrospective at Istanbul Modern early next year. From Ottoman times new arrivals from “countries we used to govern gave us new energy, different ways of looking”, he says. The tolerance shown by the Conqueror paved the way for a society that at its best created “a structure you could join as you cared to; you didn’t necessarily have to be assimilated”.
Even the Crimean War, says Güleryüz, was a catalyst for Turkish art. Perhaps one could include the German art historians so influential in Istanbul’s art colleges after the Second World War, bringing Bauhaus to bear on the city’s design giant Autoban, for example.
In a chat with Güleryüz at his son Kerimcan’s Empire Project, we tried to categorise contemporary galleries for a visiting buyer. For photography, say, Empire or Elipsis; for conceptual, Rodeo or Galeri Non. Art here, like the city, is shaped by cross-currents: the pull of Western contemporary, Islamic abstraction and calligraphy, the influence of Sufism. Older painters and sculptors grumble over the cash and attention lavished on contemporary fads; to be a figurative artist was once a protest in itself.
But Turkish art is once again being shaped by raw political experience. In the back streets of upmarket Bebek you find the work of artists such as Nur Gürel (pictured), whose recent show, Kuşatma (The Siege), at Artgalerim featured giant young women perched on office blocks like park benches, giant towels draped on the arms of cranes – a Gulliver-like essay on urban growth. In almost every Istanbul artist’s studio, it seems you’ll find a canvas reflecting a fear of doors closing, landscapes being remade. Güleryüz says, dryly, that today’s wary state of mind is captured by the enigmatic title of his 2008 painting Ümitliyim – I’m Hopeful.
Tim Cornwell is a freelance journalist and arts writer; tim. firstname.lastname@example.org. Online reports: cornucopia.net blog
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