Finally. I found some time in my busy schedule to visit the Istanbul Modern, one of the better museums in Turkey for modern art. I went on a Thursday, so the museum is open until 8 PM and Turkish Residents get in for free. After showing my Residence Permit and dropping my bag at the cloakroom, I took out my notebook and started my first visit to the Istanbul Modern.
As soon as I walked in, my attention was drawn to a big aircraft nose, sticking out the wall. I walked over to take it all in, and my Istanbul Modern experience started. The aircraft nose is part of the museum’s permanent exhibition, the first part of the museum. I’ll cover some of the pieces that I liked the most here. In the middle of the main exhibition space there is an installation consisting of suitcases with magnifying classes. When you walk up to the artwork you see these clean suitcases, with some damage here and there but nothing major. But once you take a look at the suitcase’s surface with the magnifying glass, you see all the little nicks and cracks in the surface, giving it much more character and depth. In the next room, there is a big picture of a shark, made out of clothing labels pinned to a white background. The meaning behind this is that people sometimes assume a certain personality by buying clothing from certain brands, so the majority of society perceives them as part of the social group associated with this brand. However, when you take away the pins in the artwork, the clothing labels will fall to the floor and your true identity, your ‘clean’ version, will appear, in the form of a white background in this particular artwork. This piece is one of my favorites, first of all because I think there is a very powerful idea behind it and second of all because it made me understand the rest of the exhibition. For me, the exhibition is about how we perceive not just each other, but also the world around us. The suitcases are a good example. There is much more to these objects than just the smooth surface we perceive, as you notice when you take a look through the magnifying glass. Other pieces in the exhibit referred to this perception of things as well, ranging from one’s perception of photos and media to people’s perception of territorial bounds and politics. I really liked the exhibition because of the message I got from it, even though this might not have been the intended message. However, this is part of what makes art beautiful for me; everyone has different associations with it and takes away a different message because we all perceive art differently. Again, the word ‘perception’ comes back.
Past and Future
After the permanent collection, it was time for the exhibition ‘Past and Future’, the second part of the museum. This temporary exhibition, also created from Istanbul Modern’s collection, discusses the two main roles of a museum; showcasing the past and influencing the future, for example by showcasing new art or ideas which can be an inspiration to others. The exhibition kicks off with an overview of Turkish art in the past 150 years, starting with the Ottomans. In the Empire’s later years, it struggled with its association to Europe, and to which extent it wanted to implement European culture in its daily life. The exhibition kicks off right around this time, showing artwork by some of the first artists with a serious interest in or influence from European art. Among these people is Sultan Abdülmecid, whose self-portrait is shown among many other things. The exhibit then progresses through time, and shows how modern art in Turkey has evolved. From the influence of cubism and pop art to the start of a more feminist art movement, this exhibition has it all. The artworks show how artists have dealt with the political and cultural issues of their time, and can therefore inspire artist in the present or future. Art will always be used to criticize or provoke society, and this exhibit shows how artists have done that in the past. One piece that particularly impressed me was a video installation playing four interviews conducted in the Turkey of the 90’s. The interviews feature four women that have to wear wigs for various reasons, and discuss the difficulties they experience and how they overcome them. One interview for example features a transvestite, and shows the acceptance of transvestites in Turkish society in the 90’s. Some of the anecdotes are very compelling, and certainly impressed me.
Plurivocality and 100 years of Turkish Cinema
After finishing the second part of the exhibit I had covered the entire top floor, so the bottom floor was next on my agenda. As one can expect in a museum, the stairwell was also a piece of art. A big glass box with gun shot marks covers the stairs, and I think it looks very cool. The idea behind it is that every building has signs of war or violence hidden behind its facade, no matter how beautiful this facade may be. Again, this made me think about the way I perceive my surroundings and I liked how the idea behind the permanent exhibition is present not just in that part of the museum hall but everywhere. On the way down, walls made out of chains flank the stairs, creating a cool effect. Once I got to the bottom floor, there were two exhibits to see.
First of all, there is an exhibition celebrating 100 years of Turkish cinema. The exhibit consists of memorabilia from all time periods, ranging from movie tickets to advertisements and newspaper reviews. In addition, the exhibit features scenes from famous Turkish movies, information about actors and much more about movies. If you want to know everything about Turkish cinema in the past 100 years, this is definitely the place to go.
Second, the temporary exhibition Plurivocality is shown here. This show treats the connection between art, audio and video. The first part of the exhibition is dedicated to an artist’s music collection, and talks about the idea or drive behind collecting. There are several cassette players present, so you can take a cassette you like from one of the shelves, put it in the player and start listening to it. I really liked this interactive part of the exhibit, because it makes all the band memorabilia in the room come alive, and if you close your eyes you can picture yourself at a concert of one of the many bands. After lingering here for quite some time I continued, and enjoyed the rest of the exhibit. There are several interesting video installations, the exhibit is about audio and video after all, and one of those videos is a project that was shot in Sharjah, UAE. The three screens in the installation show a wide range of instruments being ‘played’ by the surroundings. The artist pours sand on drums, rolls tambourines through the streets, and lets the surf play a djembe. I found myself watching this video for quite some time, wondering how the next instrument would be played.
Some videos were shot in Turkey, and there is one interesting piece that consists of a flipper board showing all the different names Istanbul has had over the years. It discusses language, and how one object or place can have multiple names or sounds, while its identity doesn’t change. All in all, this exhibit features a lot of videos and a lot of sounds, and is very enjoyable for the visitor. I spent a fair amount of time in the cassette player section in particular, listening to the different available cassettes.
So, that was it! My first visit to the Istanbul Modern was complete. I think I spent a good 3 hours in total, watching all the videos and taking in all the art. The main highlight for me was the message behind the permanent exhibit and the way it was conveyed, in addition to the cassette player section. It was also cool to see how modern art in Turkey has progressed through time, and how artists have commented on the society of their time. Of course, this article just contains my personal view; maybe you will take away an entirely different message from the main exhibit or skip the cassette player section and linger in the movie exhibition. I haven’t even covered half of these exhibits it in this article, as I think you should go to see everything for yourself. So, take some time out of your schedule to go to the Istanbul Modern and experience it all yourself!
Photo Credits: Istanbul Modern