Sunday, February 28, 2010

From Tullahoma to Turkey

A brief stop at the Pera Museum in Beyoglu. There is an exhibition of Picasso's etchings commissioned by Ambroise Vollard.  This is an apt segue for my upcoming residence in Vallauris where Picasso created his work in clay and in the process revitalized the local ceramics industry.  The work has been installed on walls painted in a rich red and all the labels throughout the museum are in English and Turkish.  

There are primarily historical exhibitions here. One hall displayed a show of weights and measures.  I noted that the transition to the metric system took them about 60 years, from the first imperial edict by the sultan in 1869 through several re affirmations of the edict as they kept reverting to the "dirhem" until finally, after the Ottoman Empire was replaced by the Turkish Republic, the metric system was irrevocably established with the Measurement Act of 1931.  

Walking down Istiklal Caddesi we came across a film crew. The lead character was apparently a current heart throb as a tall imposing bouncer leapt to admonish and disperse a clutch of squealing fans who had managed to cross the barrier to photograph themselves with the star. 

We headed to Hazzopulo Passage for tea and a chat before dropping by BabaJim, a recording and mastering studio in the neighborhood.  

Before leaving Turkey I spend time with my sister E. poring over the yellowed pages of our father's  journals and drawings, composed 40 years ago.  He was a bluegrass fiddler and country songwriter who died at age 50 when E. was around 13.   

 It seems a long way from the Lincoln Cafe in Tullahoma Tennessee to the Hazzopulo Passage in istanbul, but I could swear our waiter in the passage today was the same guy in one of Daddy's quick sketches.  

Old Friends, New Art

WInding up my last few days in Istanbul: Spent time with old friends at Galeri Apel. Nuran Terzioglu, who is the owner and founder of Apel Gallery, has represented or exhibited some of Turkey's most prominent contemporary artists.  Selma Gurbuz, currently at Istanbul Modern, is on the Apel Gallery roster, among many other established and emerging artists.  Mehmet Aksoy,  arguably the greatest living sculptor in Turkey, exhibited at Urart Gallery with Nuran 20 years ago when he first returned home from time spent in Germany.  Among his many public works  is a monument to the "Unknown Deserter" from Hitler's army. 

 The current group exhibit  at Apel is "Kultur Fizik" with a broad range of work connected to physical culture.  Y. Bahadir Yildiz  was represented by paintings and drawings with social and political overtones. 

 I liked a Muruvvet Turkyilmaz photograph entitled "Rythmic Movements" of a young girl on a balcony in her school uniform having her hair braided.  

Suzy Hug Levy's sculpture "Skyscraper" is composed of skeets.   

Nuran then took us on a brief tour of the Gallery's new space downstairs which currently hosts Yucel Kale's sculpture in glass and wood.  

Nuran's desks in both galleries are themselves found sculptures: they are old carpenter's benches salvaged from a local woodworking shop.  
The night closes with dinner at a favorite spot 

...and of course a bit of palm reading over the appetizers.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Semiha Berksoy: Genius

Semiha Berksoy (1910-2004) who would have turned 100 this year, was honored with an exhibition at at the  Kazim Taskent Art Gallery on istiklal Avenue, the wide pedestrian boulevard in the Beyoglu area of Istanbul.  This was the first time I had heard of Berksoy.  She was known primarily as an accomplished opera singer, a prima donna who trained in Berlin and her career paralleled the development of the Turkish Republic.  She appeared in the first Turkish film with sound, was honored by the father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk and her lover was the famous poet Nazim Hikmet, jailed for his communist sympathies. 
Her paintings, which she executed throughout her life,  are a cross between Basquiat and Freida Kalho.  They are mostly self portraits and she often writes on the canvas or bed sheets she used for the paintings.  At the age of 90 she appeared in a Robert Wilson opera at Lincoln Center in New York.  Wilson's eloquent tribute to her was part of this huge exhibit covering three floors of the gallery.  She filmed herself telling stories, in her bed, in a marathon production that was edited to seven hours.  It was titled "The Whole World is in My Bed"
This is a portrait of the artist with her cardiologist.

Berksoy's iconography included the snake as commerce or the marketplace and in several paintings she depicts the artist's struggle with money and finance.

This exhibition view gives an idea of the scale of many of her works

A still from her seven hour film "The whole world is in my Bed"

Arrived in Istanbul a week ago and the time has been thick, full of visions and art and friends and no time to transfer all the blah blah blah to Bloggonia.  I will only touch on a few things here. It is a magnificent city but with three times the traffic and with a forest of new high rise buildings since I was last here seven years ago  The traffic, apart from the superhighways, is arteriosclerotic in the older hilly neighborhoods. There is a mass transit system and they are building more subways but every time a shovel is plunged into the earth anywhere in Turkey, they strike yet another, older civilization and the project is slowed as archaeologists salvage and carbon date... they've recently uncovered a settlement 12 centuries old. 

 Went to Istanbul Modern  at the edge of the Bosphorus. This relatively new museum in a vast redesigned warehouse along the Bosphorus  is situated behind  the weathered grandeur of Nusretiye Cami.  Their juxtaposition is an apt signifier of  the seductive charms of this ancient yet startlingly modern city.  I was not allowed to take photographs in the museum but assumed I could gather  ample documentation from the internet.  Unfortunately I was unable to find a lot of work I saw.  The museum's website was spare as far as images go and some of the artists' websites, if they had them at all were difficult to navigate.  I found images  on auction and sales sites, but these were not the ones from the exhibit. Ekrem Yalcindag, the artist whose work i saw in Germany, had a huge multi colored installation on a vast wall of the special exhibition "From Tradition to Contemporary".

The Turkish art scene is in general heavy on discourse. There is ample exposition of ideas yet inadequate images to illustrate the the concepts discussed.  There are artists sites with paragraphs of text and no images.  I find discourse to be a vital or at least stimulating part of a deep understanding of art but I like the option to bypass it for a direct visual experience of the subject at hand.  In this environment my impulse seems a guilty superficial  indulgence. One could deepen the overheated discourse with a further discussion of whether the intellectual framework of all this discussion serves to illuminate or alienate the viewer and the resulting the socio-political ramifications, elitism vs. populist sentiment... and so it goes, blah blah blah.  Yes, I am shallow: I want to SEE pictures, and not always TALK about them.  One artist, easily accessible online and with a great amply illustrated website is  Inci Eviner.

She too had a vast wall installation of shadow like images reminiscent of Kara Walker,  although here the discourse is  illuminating:  Eviner is in the same club as Walker but her sources include the ancient local tradition of golgeli oyunu, shadow theater.  Evinir's wall of silhouettes was punctuated with videos of traditional images altered with sometimes hilarious variations.
 Selma Gurbuz, whose large images also reference shadow theater, also has a calligraphic aspect that echoes older cultural idioms.  i couldn't find an online image of the particular piece in the Istanbul Modern but this is similar.  In general, women are well represented in this and many other exhibitions in Istanbul.
Ergin Inan is an artist I am familiar with from my time in Turkey twenty years ago.  He was then part of a huge exhibition of modern Turkish art held in a large government space. I was writing a column for the Turkish Daily News at the time and I was especially taken with his work since, unlike most of the artists in that particular show, he successfully merged a specific Turkish  or traditional identity within the contemporary idiom.  Before my piece went to press, the large painting/collage I was writing about  was removed from the show because some Islamic fundamentalists felt it was disrespectful.  He had used pages of a religious text as a collage element.  There were protests by artists and others against the removal of his piece and I submitted the article anyway with a description of the work.  So I was pleased to see his work here but I could not find that particular masterpiece on line.  

I found an image of the artist standing next to a domed sculpture that was in the show. The shape references the inscribed monoliths from many cultures, including early Ottoman funerary monuments but also  the sculptures at Mount Nemrut in southeastern Turkey.  Ergin Inan is also known for his exquisite drawings of insects that he includes in a lot of his work. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Valentine for Houdon

February 14
C&B returned yesterday with tans and tales of adventure.  We slept in, talked, ate and talked some more.  Slept, ate, talked and the day half gone before we headed to the Houdon exhibit at the Liebieghaus,  a sculpture museum here in Frankfurt.  The special exhibit is called: Jean Antoine Houdon, Die Sinnliche Skulptur which they translate as " sculpture and sensibility", although sinnliche also connotes sensuality.  There were also a few portraits in the Houdon exhibit by the great French portrait sculptor Jean Baptist Lemoyne (1704-1778) who was active in the generation before Houdon 1741-1828). Houdon was invited to The United States by Benjamin Franklin to sculpt the US founding fathers.  The portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Franklin were all sculpted by Houdon.  These from the exhibit:

Voltaire's last portrait before he died:

Steve McQueen before he lived (actually Robert Fulton)

This by Lemoyne:

A Roman portrait head:

There is snow outside. C. photographed me in the museum's "atelier"

Happy Valentine's Day

Friday, February 12, 2010

17th Century to the Future in Present Tense

February 12

So, today I went by tram to see the galleries Laura recommended.  The weather was still cold and snowy but in the daylight not so forbidding.  First dropped by Bernard Knaus Fine Art . There was a group show with a few videos, some  large photographs in light boxes and some other interesting things.
Marcel Odenbach's large installation "Im Kreise drehen" (something like "the circle turns", although it may be an idiom)is a grid of sepia montage prints pinned to the wall that seem to tell a visual history.  There are German phrases cut out of the paper I couldn't translate.  I have seen a lot of text in the contemporary art here.  

Peter Schlor  has a fantastic photo of a row of trees in winter.  It's about 10 feet long and a little over a foot high.

There was a video by Tamara Grcic, a portrait of Bolek, a 24 year old Roma, telling disconnected stories about her life.  Very simple and I couldn't understand a word but I enjoyed watching her expressions and listening to the tone of her voice.

I kept hearing heavy breathing and on my way out discovered Lawrence Weiner's arty porn video "Water in Milk Exists".  It's a laid back orgy in a gallery among six or seven twenty somethings.  The sex is very graphic with a lot of variations but there are also conversations going on, some philosophical, some playful.  It looks like a bunch of interns and a few friends decided to hang around after an opening, drag out a few mattresses and have sex... and some film makers  just happened to be on hand to record it all.  

From there I went to see the Neil Beloufa exhibit at Kai Middendorff Gallery. The very charming and accommodating director , Mr. Middendorf set up the Baloufa films for me to watch, both great.  I also got to see Ekrem Yalcindag's work, as impressive in reality as the online images suggested. (see February 11 post).  

detail of a painting by Ekrem Yalcindag

Kunst, kunst and more kunst.  I then went back to the Staedel Museum.  The Botticelli was crowded so I checked out the 17th  Century Northern European galleries:  Vermeer's geographer,  a Rembrandt portrait and Adriaen Brouwer with his mouth agape. 

Discovered Johannes Verspronck.  They call it a millstone collar.  They don't know the identity of the sitter in this portrait yet she looks so familiar.

And later checked out  the exhibition of the museum's art school, the Staedelschule. This also was Laura's suggestion.  Here are a few images from that scene.  Unfortunately I don't have the artists' names:

I thought this interesting little piece, about the circumference of a dinner plate, was clever until I found out that it is encased in an educational toy you can buy from the Discovery Store.  When you look inside the circular lens on top, there is a kind of diorama of two tiny sculptured figures in a landscape. They seem to be embracing, but you couldn't really tell. Then your eyes play this trick and there's an optical illusion, like a hologram, of the figures, larger and seemingly suspended in space above the plate, and you see that one figure is holding a gun to the other's head.  I couldn't photograph the optical illusion, it looks out of focus here.  You can make out the tiny 3D figures at the bottom of the circle.

 In closing I will honor the  kunst objekt at every blockbuster exhibition the world over: 
the international Refrigerator Magnet