Last week, I had the absolute pleasure of taking a private Istanbulite tour with my fellow Yabangee, Mira with the lovely Sena Başöz as our guide. Sena Hanım was the best kind of tour guide - passionate, highly educated and working as a professor in her field. We kicked off our tour with a short tea at Ara Cafe so we could ask Sena a bit about Istanbulite and her process. To our delight we saw the famed photographer and owner, Ara Güler, also having tea. The best kind of celebrity sighting for an art lover! When we were done with our tea and giddily stealing glances, we embarked on our 3 hour art adventure. In perfect English (she is a native Turkish speaker) Sena Hanım shepherded us to a number of galleries off of bustling Istiklal Caddesi. From young, ultra, contemporary artists, to a more established field, every show was different and well presented.
Our first stop was the Mısır Building for a number of gallery visits, followed by the behemoth, Arter and finally to independent two-story gallery, Sanatorium. Though I have explored many local galleries, the formidable Mısır Building, with its many floors, even more galleries and lobby construction, had kept me at bay. Mild anxiety about which gallery to see (you can't see them all!) and my terrible, but slowly improving, Turkish skills all held me back from entering. Like any great tour, ours was blissfully free of decision making. A thoughtful expert had curated our tour, we were free to look and inquire without wondering where the next stop might be, or how to get there. Sena Hanım happily inquired gallery owners and staff, many of which she knew personally, as she is immersed in her field, if there was a question which she couldn't answer or if the information was not readily provided.
Love, Hate and Edit by Saeed Ensafi @ PiArtwrks (Mısır Building)
This work is ultra modern created by a mid career, Iranian artist currently living in Istanbul. All created within the last six months, the work utilizes reedy-mades, hyper personal items and images, as well as, elements of pop art and craft. Ready-made items include frames, wallets and compact mirrors, which work to compliment and challenge the handmade, craft elements, which range from hand-cut family photos to multi-layered, site-specific screen printing. A soft, pastel, color palette in conjunction with metallics and bold pop color choices make for beautiful and, at times, calming aesthetics from near and far. This creates a complicated contrast to the subject matter and theoretical underpinnings which address a contemporary and timeless trauma – the loss of a loved one to violence, specifically, war. These contradictory elements are thoughtfully integrated to create a disturbing push/pull in the work. While personal, indeed, some photographs come from the artist's family albums, it is a universal sentiment of loss, suffered by individuals the world over, since the beginning of time. A subject matter for any era, but a body of work that is utterly of the moment.
Euphony/Percussive Sculptures by Koray Ariş @ Galeri Nev Istanbul (Mısır Building)
We encountered a rare treat here – interactive art – and not of the technological variety! Ariş, an established Turkish artist, continues to explore abstract (non-figurative) forms in these large-scale, leather covered sculptural pieces. Each work of art is a huge percussion instrument which visitors are encouraged to handle and play. The pieces work well sitting quietly on their own in the gallery as traditional large scale sculptures. It is easy to imagine a group of gallery goes walking quietly among them with out a single touch or tap. This action of physical interaction with the work transforms visitors from 'viewers' to 'performers'. Enter the gallery and enjoy a show put on for you, while putting on your own show. Quite a delight!
Ambivalence by Alpin Arda BagXcik @ Galeri Zilberman (Mısır Building)
A small show by an up-and-coming artist. The bulk of the work is not-quite photo-realistic, large-format paintings of famous photographs. The work addresses a very contemporary conversation around photography and the questioning of photography as “reality” as well as it's surreal nature, i.e. its ability to 'show' us something truly impossible to convey, like walking on the moon for example or witnessing a lynching. However, the small-scale series depicting the visual disambiguations of a single figure was my favorite.
Spaceliner @ Arter, various artists
Sena Hanım identified Arter as a “can't miss” for art viewing, as they alway put on a great show. In fact, I had been there before but initially did not recognized the location since they completely transform the space to accommodate each individual show. This show explores the “tension between spacial image and the actual experience in space.” While focusing on the drawn line and how that line transcends the the gap from from the second dimension to the third and beyond. Follow the threads in this delightful show from top to the bottom floor and you will not be disappointed. From the fetishistic and disturbing, (video work), to the funny, if unsettling cartoons-style vignettes drawn directly on the gallery wall, there is plenty to see for any art viewer. Peppered throughout with undercurrents of a feminist inclination, the show flows from uncanny to surreal and from in-your-face to the barely visual.
In My Mind by Sevil Tunaboylu @ Sanatorium
A solo exhibit by a young Turkish artist working in painting and drawing but also multi media. The clear standout for me was a handmade artists book. The small scale seemed to best suit Tunaboylu's strengths. Another memorable piece was small, cast in soap and flesh-like in appearance. The show seemed a bit large and consequently a bit disjointed at the edges. However, it is great showing from a young artist exploring a number of mediums.