HOT SPOT ISTANBUL, Haus Konstruktiv Museum, Zurich
6th of June to 22nd of September 2013
HOT SPOT ISTANBUL at Museum Haus Konstruktiv is the first comprehensive exhibition of Turkish abstract,concrete and conceptual art in Switzerland, with works from over 60 years. The project's starting point is the development of Turkish abstract-concrete painting since the end of the 1940s and the impact that it has had on ayoung generation of artists who are active all around the world in a broad network.
For some years, a very special, energetic and inspiring art scene has been establishing itself in Turkey, especially in Istanbul. This divided city on the Bosporus generates a productive atmosphere for creative forces, as new stimuliemerge between tradition and innovation. This is drawing an ever-increasing number of young artists to Istanbul from other Turkish cities. New galleries are appearing and new art spaces can be discovered everywhere. Istanbul is the place where a lot of what brings the present in its wake today just seems to happen in a highly condensedmanner. Hot spot Istanbul!
Museum Haus Konstruktiv has set itself the goal of bringing Istanbul's vitality to Zurich, focusing on Turkish art history from the 1940s onward, as well as on contemporary Turkish art, by means of selected examples. This exhibition project is based on close cooperation with the participating artists, as well as with collections and private individuals who provided the museum with substantial support during realization.HOT SPOT ISTANBUL is shown on four floors and subdivided into five sections. In group projects and solo exhibitions, we present paintings, drawings, sculptures, videos, installations and environments, while addressing the subtle gray areas between abstract, concrete and conceptual art, as have developed over the past decades and up to the present day. The earliest painting is by Fahrelnissa Zeid from the year 1947, and the most recent works were conceived directly for the exhibition – by Renée Levi, Ebru Uygun, Arslan Sükan, Ekrem Yalçındağ and Can Altay.
Works by pioneers of post-1945 Turkish abstract art can be seen. We present artists from the middle generation,who already left Turkey long ago, or who live in two places. We show works by internationally networked minimalists, as well as by quite young artists who, like the pioneers, gather their impressions from all over. What is Turkish art anyway? We have repeatedly asked ourselves this question, together with our project partners. One thing we agree on, is that Turkish art today is just as heterogeneous as Swiss art or any other national attribution of art, and that it can nevertheless be illuminating to think about its roots. This is why the title does not focus on a country, but deliberately on a city that is a construct of its past and its present. A hot spot is a focal point, a hub.
Section 1: DNA, the way of thinking
For the first floor, artist Can Altay (*1975), who lives in Istanbul, developed a walk-through room installation, in which works from the late 1940s onward can be seen, e.g. works by Adnan Çoker (*1927), Nejad Melih Devrim (1923–1995), Burhan Doğançay (1929-2013), Renée Levi (*1960), Abdurrahman Öztoprak (1927-2011), Ahmet Oran (*1957), Mübin Orhon (1924-1981), Seçkin Pirim (*1977), Arslan Sükan (*1973), Canan Tolon(*1955), Seyhun Topuz (*1942), Ömer Uluç (1931-2010), Ebru Uygun (*1974) and Ekrem Yalçındağ (*1964)
As if it were the DNA of the whole exhibition, this course provides a multifaceted and informative inventory.
For years, Museum Haus Konstruktiv has occupied itself with across-generational dialog between artistic positions of the pastand their continuation into the present. For this reason, the course is supplemented by six key works from our collection, works that can be described as the DNA of the museum, and that have contributed to the history of constructivist, concrete and conceptual art, i.e. to the thematic realm where Museum Haus Konstruktiv is at home. Their creators were Max Bill (1908-1994), Fritz Glarner (1899-1972), Camille Graeser (1892-1980), Hans Hinterreiter (1902-1989), Verena Loewensberg (1912-1986) and Richard Paul Lohse (1902-1988).
Can Altay is an artist who works at the interfaces between art, architecture and philosophy. His installations and sculptural works frequently offer display-like presentations for reflective handling of various issues pertaining to contentual and aesthetic themes. Altay tellingly gives his walk-through sculpture, and with it the whole room, the title "It's not Istanbul, it's you." Thus, a special place of reflection, research and encounters emerges. Several works were specially hung and positioned in order to enable new perspectives. Anyone who engages with this walk-through installation can discover a lot, in a playful manner.
Section 2: Ornamental concepts
On the second floor, we present Ekrem Yalçındağ, who studied art in Izmir and in Frankfurt on the Main. Today, Yalçındağ lives and works in Berlin and Istanbul. He develops his works in the two studios set up in these two locations, where his assistants paint according to precise specifications. Like in an apprenticeship, he meticulously teaches them his specifically developed painting technique and shows them how they can continually optimize it. Ekrem Yalçındağ is a conceptual artist and a real painter, in equal measure. As a conceptual artist, he does not consider it absolutely necessary that the "magic hand" of the artist is involved. For him, it is much more important that a work is accurately thought-out, and that the technique is faithfully implemented – only the two of these together produce the desired result. Yalçındağ 's stringently conceived paintings emanate from an examination of flower blossoms. In a way, these provide a vocabulary of abstract forms that he has since used in many of his works as a basic structure or coordinate system for the subsequent application of paint. In his large-format tondi, he draws inspiration from his environment: the color sequences of the ring structures are always based on specific color observations that the artist has made in everyday life. Yalçındağ finds them on packaging or on advertising posters, in cafes, in restaurants or on the street. They are color constellations that spontaneously please him. He perceives these color combinations, takes note of them or photographs them and subsequently transfers them to his paintings.
Section 3: Abstract concepts
In the large columned hall, we present artists who, in their works, address the connections (on the one hand) and the discrepancies (on the other hand) between intellectually abstract and aesthetically vivid concepts: in this room, looking, reading, thinking and combining interconnect in a very particular way. One thing that all the works shown here have in common, is that although they are by all means conceptually oriented, at the same time they also possess a high degree of aesthetic, visual power. These works unite strong presence with profound intellectual power.
Serhat Kiraz (*1954) and Ahmet Öktem (*1951) are among the most important representatives of minimal art and conceptual art in Turkey. Both are founding members of the "Art Definition Group," an art movement that, in 1977/78, distanced itself from conventional art concepts and devoted itself to new techniques and approaches. Serhat Kiraz, for example, is not only interested in art and its history, but also in religion, archaeology, astronomy, astrology, philosophy and sociology. Thus, intellectual approaches from these domains are incorporated into his complex installations which, as a consequence, can only be deciphered gradually: star charts, I-Ching symbols or mathematical formulae provide a chain of associations which the observer, often in vain, tries to decode.
Ahmet Öktem takes a different approach: in some of his works, he addresses the political system in Turkey. For the work "Untitled," which Öktem began to develop in the 1980s, he used copies of photos and letters from the Istanbul city archive. These served the employees as reference examples or guidelines, enabling them to adhere to the system of order in the archive. Removed from their original context and given a new code, the image panels and text panels in the museum can be ascribed new meanings. The 1994 installation work "Government Decrees" shows a blue neon tube inserted in a metal profile, casually leant against the wall at an angle of about 45°. Hanging beneath are four bundles of newspapers with news about the Turkish government's decrees and amendments; these are not accompanied by any pictures or illustrations. For his installation, Öktem dyed each title page with blue ink, so that in combination with the blue neon light, a new visuality is created. "One Fiftieth of the Text" comprises an edition of 50 books and is based on the famous publication "Le degré zéro de l'écriture" (Writing Degree Zero) by French philosopher Roland Barthes. Each individual copy contains 50 identical printed pages; all together, the edition's 50 copies yield the complete work. The idea is now to motivate the owners of the literary objects to enter into an exchange, so that each collector can own a complete book. With his video "The Beginning, the Head," the artist Sarkis, who was born in 1938 in Istanbul and who has lived in Paris since 1964, presents us with the permanence and fleetingness of artistic forms of expression. Spellbound, the observer can watch how a watercolor drawing is created with a brush, and how the hand, as the most important tool of gestural expression, keeps attempting new forms.
The conceptual interventions of Renée Levi and Arslan Sükan revolve around the reformulation of the paradigm of location specificity, which took shape in the environment of conceptual and minimal art in the late 1960s and 1970s. These room-specific works question their temporary surroundings and lead to reinterpretation of locations. The artist Renée Levi, born in Istanbul and living in Basel, attracts attention with her colorintensive, large-format paintings. Intuitively and gesturally, with her own, reduced handwriting, she paints calligraphic forms on 10 canvases, giving them the letters B, U, L, E, V, I, S, T, A and N, which can be combined, and thus read, in different ways, for instance: ISTANBULEVI. Thereby, "BULEVISTAN" also creates an imaginary place, as Levi thematizes her place of birth, her name of Jewish origin, and her relationship with the exhibition HOT SPOT ISTANBUL.
While Levi created a new work for the exhibition, Arslan Sükan occupied himself with photographic views of previous exhibitions, leading these back to their origins. Sükan, born in Ankara, now lives and works in New York and Istanbul as an architect and artist. His photographs question the perception and illusion of spatial concepts. He uses the techniques of traditional photography, as well as digital manipulation, changing the perspectives and thus establishing an abstract language of forms and new spatial views.
Erdem Taşdelen (*1985), who now lives in Vancouver, occupies the two cabinets. The sound installation "YOU YOU YOU" in the left-hand cabinet refers to the word "you" in all songs by Kylie Minogue. The individual "yous" are arranged in the chronological order of Minogue's recordings. The sound is activated via a motion detector when the public enters the room. On the one hand, this sound piece thematizes the stylistic changes in pop music over the last 25 years, while on the other hand it also demonstrates an important function of pop music, namely that of speaking in a simple manner to the listener: you! In the right-hand cabinet, "Tide" is an animation based on the sentence "I never want to see you again." The individual words are faded in and out with a steady rhythm, like ebb and flood tides. Erdem Taşdelen often addresses text and language in his works. This can also be appreciated very well in the letter-based work "Dear," which consists of romantic letters. At first glance, they appear to be correspondence, but they were all actually written by the same person, to an anonymous counterpart. Presumably, the author formulated and corrected these letters in the obsessive hope of communicating with this "Dear." Evidently though, none of the letters turned out to be sufficiently perfect to ever be sent. In a self-reflective manner, the letter-writer gives us open insight into his emotions and wishes, through his words.
The paintings by Nejat Satı (*1982) appeal by means of their colorfulness. With the precision of a chemist, this artist experiments with chemical mixtures in order to discover new, unique tones. Often, several colors blend into each other, thus creating new color spaces. For Satı, the colors resemble natural cycles, such as sunrise or sunset. One could ask oneself the question: Where does a painting start, and where does it end?
Section 4: Painting as language
The small hall on the 4th floor is dedicated to Ebru Uygun (*1974). This is the second individual position to be presented within the group exhibition. Over the past ten years or so, Uygun has developed a complex way of handling the medium of painting, which constitutes a link between the act of painting on canvas, a deconstruction thereof, and a subsequent synthesis: Uygun tears several previously painted canvases into strips, a process which is physically quite strenuous, and collages these strips in a new sequence on another canvas. In turn, this canvas is mounted very traditionally on a stretcher frame. The process of fragmentation and synthesis gives rise to abstract constellations, the components of which hint at a possible, former whole, which nevertheless remains intangible. Thus, the nonrepresentational fragments of forms and lines, which sometimes almost seem calligraphic, generate a kind of picture puzzle which, however, defies deciphering and leaves open the question of whether one of the paintings used was representational before its deconstruction. Ebru Uygun causes a new image to emerge, in which everything that essentially constitutes painting is put under scrutiny: the image ground, the colors, the forms and the image space which painting can thus create – be it representational, abstract or concrete. For HOT SPOT ISTANBUL, Ebru Uygun has realized two full-wall painting installations for the first time, one in white and one in black.
Section 5: Art history, repeatedly relevant
In the cabinets on the fifth floor, rounded off by four historically significant positions, we offer a solo presentation on each of the artists Nejad Melih Devrim (1923–1995), Mübin Orhon (1924–1981), Ömer Uluç (1931-2010) and Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901–1991). These are important pioneers of post-1945 Turkish art. What connects the four, is their exploration of the issue of what is actually still possible to show with painting (after the supposed end of painting) and of what the means are that let a painting become a painting. These artists also have other things in common: their studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul and their stays in Paris, London and the USA. While Fahrelnissa Zeid and her son Nejad Melih Devrim occupied themselves with abstract, non-figurative images, Mübin Orhon was influenced by Parisian abstract expressionism and art informel. Inspired by traditional Turkish calligraphy, Ömer Uluç developed a unique contemporary style. His works navigate between abstraction and representation, providing a wealth of associations in a conceptual sense.