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City gains new art center with 'Molecular Istanbul'

ISTANBUL - Referans | 9/8/2009 12:00:00 AM | MÜGE AKGÜN

After a long wait, the Mayor Synagogue in Istanbul's Hasköy district welcomes the city's cultural life with a very special event, Romanian-born contemporary artist Serge Spitzer's installation titled "Molecular Istanbul"

The opening of the “Molecular Istanbul” installation today at the Mayor Synagogue in Hasköy is just the beginning of a boom in exhibitions coinciding with the start of the 11th International Istanbul Biennial this weekend.

The coordinator of this striking event, Nilgün Mirze, is one of the leading names in the field of culture and art. She worked for the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, or IKSV, for many years and was a member of the core team that started work on the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture initiative. Mirze initiated the Center for Young Art & Design, one of the long-term international projects being conducted as part of Istanbul 2010, and won the European Culture Award for it. But though all the artists and supporters were ready for the project, there was not space for it, and thus it was not possible to find a sponsor.

This problem now seems to have been solved with the opening of the Mayor Synagogue in the Hasköy district to cultural events with the contributions of Istanbul’s Jewish community.

[HH] Artist was very affected

One of the leading names in contemporary art, Serge Spitzer has created a special installation at the Mayor Synagogue to welcome members of Istanbul’s culture and arts scene.

Mirze had mentioned her project while talking to Spitzer, who came to Istanbul some time ago. The artist was very affected by theMayor Synagogue and wanted to show the energy of the venue through his work. The entire process of creating “Molecular Istanbul” was completed in just three months; the installation opened Tuesday at the synagogue.

What excites Spitzer the most is not the reaction of art lovers but that of the artisans who worked hard for him in preparing the installation over the last few weeks.

As in his installation at the synagogue, Spitzer’s works generally reflect the confluence of art and daily life by using objects like marbles and tennis balls as metaphors. In this installation, he created a connection between the past and the present with these marbles, which everyone played with in their childhoods.

The at least 500-year-old historic synagogue is empty and ruined today and some parts of it serve as a storage facility. This is what Spitzer finds interesting about the synagogue – the way it exists in real life. “The fact that it is not an isolated art space, and its desolateness and emptiness despite its real existence, drew my interest,” he said.

[HH] Values should not be forgotten

The developing city of Istanbul creates its own dynamics, and some innovations were inevitable even if they are not popular, Spitzer says, adding that there will surely be more changes in the future. He believes these dynamics and unplanned changes make Istanbul a haven of hidden treasures. “But authentic values should not be forgotten while making these changes in the city, which reminds one of a patchwork,” he said.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the work is that the synagogue used to host the remaining artifacts from Neve Şalom Synagogue, which was attacked by terrorists in 1986. But from now on, thanks to Mirze and her new project, the synagogue will change and create a stronger heritage for the future.

“It is a big chance and also a happiness for me that the work of a very significant artist like Spitzer is displayed at a place that will turn into a culture and art center in the future,” Mirze said, adding, “This gives us an extra responsibility for our next projects.”

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[HH] A leading name in contemporary art

Serge Spitzer came to Turkey for the first time 15 years ago, later joining the 4th International Istanbul Biennial curated by Rene Block in 2005 and received much interest for his project “Flying Carpet.”

The Romanian-born artist has been living in New York since the beginning of 1980s and has attended the world’s most respected exhibitions and biennials. Spitzer’s works are currently being displayed at significant art venues such as the Brooklyn Museum in New York; the Valencian Institute of Modern Art in Valencia, Spain; the State Art Museum in Copenhagen; and the National Gallery in Berlin.

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