Shopping malls become an unexpected art space

Shopping malls become an unexpected art space

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Shopping malls become an unexpected art space

Hosting an art exhibition in a mall or using a shopping mall as an art space became a trend as urbanization grew and almost every artist began to use those spaces to reach a wider audience.

Light installations, oil on canvas works, sculptures and performance art all have a new, rather unexpected place to be showcased rather than in museums or art galleries. All of them are popping up in shopping malls. As the growing population in the cities becomes more integrated to consumer culture art has evolved into new spaces, becoming more visible through placement in shopping malls.

While Turkish artists Genco Gülan and İmsail Acar signed their marks by opening shows at various malls in Istanbul, American artist Julian Opie setup his LED walking man and woman at a public space outside a mall. Artists gathered at the Aventura Mall, 10 miles north of Miami Beach, for a contemporary public art collection that was being constructed. Jorge Pardo and Lawrence Weiner made unique installations for the space.

 In 2000 The Guardian published an article saying that the National Gallery was preparing to embrace mall culture, taking an exhibition of works from its collection matched with drawings by artist, author and poet Quentin Blake to the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent. “Bluewater, which has quotations from Shakespeare and Milton built into the aisles, was an obvious first choice, but the gallery director, Neil MacGregor, said they were ready to continue the experiment. “We will go on if we are asked, we are poised to go from mall to mall,” The Guardian quoted him as saying.

Higher-rent shopping arcades and malls have been commissioning artworks since they were invented in the 18th century, according to an article from But largely malls are a part of a new urbanization style seen in the large cities. Generally, shopping areas have commissioned artworks to attract high-income clients. “Unlike other public artworks, the artworks are prominently located in the central space or the main façade. Spending money for a back corner, as is seen in many government buildings or parks, would seem foolish to the operators of the shopping place,” said the Artsjournal article.

Shopping malls and urbanization

Hosting an art exhibition in a mall or using a shopping mall as an art space became a trend as urbanization grew and almost every artist began to use those spaces to reach a wider audience as well as for other purposes. However, according to some experts that is not the case.

According to Fırat Arapoğlu, curator, art historian and academic, shopping malls are a part of the shopping and consumption culture. “All of them exist on this culture. Shopping malls are the building that contains first and second type brands in them while they try to bind them with each other.”
Can consumer culture and art culture exist together is the key question. “A gallery or a gallery like structure does not belong to a shopping mall. A gallery cannot exist in a place that it does not belong to,” said Arapoğlu. According to Arapoğlu a gallery existing in a shopping mall or a shopping mall exhibiting art means one thing. “It would only mean that more sales exist near the commercial venues.”

“In this way it is possible to convince an artist to open an exhibition,” added Arapoğlu. “However, we should also note that non-aesthetic buildings such as shopping malls may add aesthetic and beauty in them with the contemporary art exhibitions.” Noting that in order to feed the information and art they have to exist in the same parallel as they belong, Arapoğlu said: “this is the same thing when you cannot see the tea or coffee at the menu at the ‘food’ part of the menu, because it is evident they do not belong to each other.” The same situation is valid for the art and malls. “In this case art would become an existence that is there when the bourgeoisie wants to look.”

Exhibitions of  Akmerkez Shopping Mall

Akmerkez is one of Istanbul’s most prominent shopping malls, and its management considers supporting art to be a key part of the mall’s role in the city’s life.

“As a shopping mall we believe that we have a very important place in the cultural life of the city.
Therefore supporting contemporary art is not a luxury but a must for us,” Akmerkez brand manager Nur Ziyaoğlu Aytekin said, speaking to Hürriyet Daily News. “Each year we add new projects to our portfolio. We also receive international awards.”

Akmerkez’s project “Art at Akmerkez” received a Jean Louis Solal Marketing Award and a MAXI Award from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) for 2012.

Akmerkez has hosted exhibitions by very important Turkish artists such as Abidin Elderoğlu, Adnan Çoker, Erol Akyavaş, Ferruh Başağa, Genco Gülan, Mustafa Ata, Ömer Uluç, Burhan Doğançay, Komet and Sabri Berkel.

The mall also hosted an exhibition featuring young Turkish artists during the 12th Istanbul Biennial.
One of the most significant art exhibitions Akmerkez has hosted was a solo show by Genco Gülan’s. “Genco Gülan is open of the most important artists in Turkey,” Ziyaoğlu said. “We organized this exhibition under two different concepts in 2010. While the corridors of the shopping mall hosted ‘The future of archeology,’ by Gülan, other parts of the mall hosted Gülan’s interpretations of works by Monet, Manet and Andy Warhol.”

Exhibitions receive a lot of interest from visitors to Akmerkez, Ziyaoğlu said. “We see this project [‘Art at Akmerkez’] as a sustainable one and we hope further projects will develop this trend. For our ‘boyamiko’ and edible art projects, for example, we address both children’s activities and art from a different angle.”

Astoria and its exhibitions

Banu Enginkaya, the brand manager of Astoria mall said, “It is very important to make art accessible to everyone, and in this sense shopping malls are very important places.”

Astoria displays work by artists from different backgrounds. “We exhibited portraits by Rasin Arsebuk, which he dedicated to his wife. Designs by Haliç University students were also displayed in Astoria. Every exhibition draws interest from our visitors. We have also seen an increase in our visitors,” said Enginkaya.“We believe that the exhibitions increase the relationship between artists and society. We can also see the profiles of different types of visitors thanks to those exhibitions. We usually prefer to open exhibitions that amaze our visitors.”

Noting that the mall decided on exhibitions in accordance with their visitor profile, Enginkaya said they also gave space to young artists. “We also organize other events such as signature days and festivals. Visitors like to participate in these events.” She added that those events also increase the visitors to Astoria shopping mall. Astoria also organizes joint exhibitions. Not only contemporary art, but also classical art and sculptures are included in Astoria’s events. For example, an exhibition of miniatures by Hatice Ünal and an exhibition from Adil Menemencioğlu’s Ottoman collection have been exhibited at the mall. Astoria also hosted a Bonsai exhibition, which attracted different types of visitors.