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Cooking with concepts

HDN | 11/29/1998 12:00:00 AM |

Istanbul's contemporary art scene jets off thanks to new ideas and international exchange MOLLY MCANAILLY BURKE Istanbul - Turkish Daily News The opening of the Dulcinea Gallery, which is in the very capable hands of Frenchwoman Claire-Lyse Bucci, and the new Istanbul Contemporary Art Project in Asmalimescit, founded by the equally evolved Vasif Kortun, are but two semaphores heralding a palpable shift in consciousness in the city's visual arts scene. The question is whether the audience and the media

  • Istanbul's contemporary art scene jets off thanks to new ideas and international exchange
  • MOLLY MCANAILLY BURKE

    Istanbul - Turkish Daily News

    The opening of the Dulcinea Gallery, which is in the very capable hands of Frenchwoman Claire-Lyse Bucci, and the new Istanbul Contemporary Art Project in Asmalimescit, founded by the equally evolved Vasif Kortun, are but two semaphores heralding a palpable shift in consciousness in the city's visual arts scene. The question is whether the audience and the media in Turkey are quite ready to rock with a future where "art" is more about what takes place in the gap between the product and receptor than collections or sales. No surprise that much of this new work is photo or video-based, and may seem at first as eerie and depersonalized as the wrong side of Fassbinder's camera; the cyberworld is rapidly helping to efface the sender and put the weight in the slippery stuff of the message, including the lies. It can be frightening.

    Istanbul's Biennial has already established itself as equal to any in the world; the 1997 exhibition contained a great deal of conceptual work, much of it by women. Even the corporate galleries are catching on to a world where art doesn't have to hang on the wall or match the furniture; in fact selections from Rome-based Turkish artist Sukran Moral's Biennial contribution are among those on show at Borusan's "Roundtrip Istanbul" exhibition (continuing until Dec. 12) and Mehmet Gun's light box and voice installation at Yapikredi is another middling example.

    In keeping with the trend of the times, Claire-Lyse Bucci, for example, doesn't refer to herself as a curator but as a mediator, and the French painter Sebastien Gokalp (he has a Turkish father) doesn't even feel entirely comfortable calling himself an artist. Owing something to the tradition of photo-based "reference to reference" work such as that of Sheri Levine and Cindy Sherman, his "14 Famous Women" exhibition, which runs at Dulcinea until Dec. 20, is described by him as "disturbing estrangement" based on trash-mag disposable photos which indicate "that the paintings do not have a great deal of pictorial value." They concern a "question of identity," as they are pictures of hands and hips; "the faces in which you seek the expression of genius are absent." He also freely admits that the series resembles Gerhard Richter's "48 Portraits of Famous Men," which in turn was inspired by Andy Warhol's 1964 Guggenheim exhibition, "Thirteen Most Wanted Men." Nothing original under the sun?

    Gokalp prefers working from photos that have a grainy, sordid quality and plenty of flash burn, giving a sterile, tabloid effect even though the women are primarily well-known artists and writers. His previous work involved swimming pools, and his newest follows on from "Famous Women" with chillingly bare reproductions of crime scenes. And he doesn't really care much if they sell; he teaches history for a living. His style of work, he agrees, breaks down the consumerist aspect of the art world and the myth of "original genius," for every artist is truly working through bricolage, pasting together a consciousness of materials handed down by others or acquired in the environment. Such honesty is refreshing.

    Dulcinea, Meselik sok 20, Beyoglu Tel. (212) 245 1071 fax (212) 2455 6313 art@dulcinea.org

    One Special Day

    Likewise, Kortun's "One Special Day," which just closed in his new Asmalimescit artist's research center, was a startling example of cracking the precious corners off some of Turkey's best known artists; on Sept. 1, 1998, 28 participants were asked to forget about their own projects and styles for the day and simply take to the streets and record their observations. Materials were to be simple, everyday things that anyone could use or acquire, and the artists could select from four categories -- photos, pencil and paper, audiotapes or packages, the latter primarily taking the form of plastic shopping bags. What resulted was a series of impressions, photographs, voice recordings and other materials that showed how these people experienced a single day of their lives, as Leopold Bloom did in James Joyce's Ulysses.

    Who is Bedri Baykam when he can't splatter paint or strut? With luck you might get a chance to find out, depending on where the show ends up after its official closing this weekend.

    Another contributing artist is an American, James Walsh, whose "fountain cleaning" project took place in Istanbul over the last year and whose work is also currently on show at Beral Madra's Cagdas Sanat Merkezi in Nisantasi. He sees Istanbul's fountains as "the conduit of objective and cultural memory," and will be completing a book on the project. Walsh is interested in the traces left behind by man, how they reflect the past by either opening a window on it or covering and blotting it out.

    Vasif Kortun was director and chief curator for the Third International Istanbul Biennial in 1992; he is now a highly regarded critic and consultant worldwide and spent the years 1994 to 1997 as director of the Center for Curatorial Studies Museum at Bard College in the United States. Sculpture Magazine described him as having the sharpest curatorial eye in this country and anyone interested in the razor end of Istanbul's visual arts scene should pay the Istanbul Center for Contemporary Art a visit pronto. It contains 1,200 contemporary art books and catalogues, 600 periodicals and 500 titles in theory, philosophy and history.

    Istanbul Guncel Sanat Projesi Mueyyet Sokak 11/2, Tunel (across from the Swedish consulate). Tel 245 5652 konteyner.home.mL.org kortunOnetone.com.tr Open Monday to Sat. 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

    Beral Madra Cagdas Sanat Merkezi Akkavak Sok. 1/1, Nisantasi. Tel 231 1023 fax 247 4842 email btmadra@turk.net http://abone.turk.net/btmadra/homepage/html Open everyday 11:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m., show ends Dec. 31.

    Erkan Ozdilek's Hats and Heads -- an act of despair?

    On the note of Istanbul's burgeoning conceptual art progress, it is a pity that Erkan Ozdilek, who has been previously noted for magnificently organic and very Turkish installations as well as powerfully phallic expressionist painting, has put up a solo show at Galatea that looks like nothing so much as an exercise in frustration. Noted for his spear shapes and use of gold and red ("the only honest color," as the artist once remarked) he has strangely chosen dead, morbid purple backgrounds for many of these paintings, which give the impression of congealed blood. Nor are his attempts to force fantastic or representational images into some of the paintings successful and I can only imagine he felt the Turkish market demanded such a compromise. Worse yet, he attempts to add life (or death?) to the paintings by the use of vengeful little acrylic jellybean-hued splodges that are at cross-purposes with his normally vibrant sense of aesthetics and could at best be considered statements of his own outrage at having to paint the equivalent of fantasy/sci-fi b-movie posters for commercial sales to restaurants in order to secure a decent income.

    In one picture, a background of cypress trees indicates a graveyard, though the gold spikes and spheres which typify Ozdilek's style are literally being buried alive here, suffocated. I actually feel that, quite tragically, Ozdilek has wandered into a self-destructive mode, literally killing off his own prodigious life power in most of the works on show here. Fortunately there are a few examples of the artist's previous maniacal male spirit (I counted two, numbers 15 and 28), but they are likewise being choked by the spilled Buzbag violets and grotty greens around them. It is a great pity, because at his best Ozdilek tops nearly any artist in Turkey, but I doubt you'd get that impression at this exhibition.

    Galatea Sofyali Sok., Asmalimescit, Tunel Tel (212) 292 5430

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