Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Turkish art at Sakip Sabanci Museum

Some weeks ago, Cagatay and I headed to the Sakip Sabanci Museum on the coast of the Bosporus to catch the last day of an exhibit of Dutch Golden Age paintings from the Rijksmuseum (because we didn't see enough when we were in Amsterdam, ha). But since that's irrelevant now that the exhibit's over, I thought I'd talk about the grounds and two permanent exhibitions there.

The museum, formerly a residence, is in a gorgeous location, a bit up on a hill and overlooking the water. The view actually reminds me of Lake Como, which is a place I have never associated with Istanbul, though it's perhaps because the house was designed by an Italian architect, in 1925. It was built for an Egyptian family but acquired in 1951 by Turkish businessman Haci Omer Sabanci, and it eventually passed to his son, Sakip. (The family-owned Sabanci Holding is one of the largest companies in Turkey.)

Sakip Sabanci was apparently a large collector of Korans, illuminated manuscripts and calligraphic panels, which make up the appopriately titled Arts of the Book and Calligraphy Collection, a permanent exhibition housed in the mansion. We saw this section last, and I'd thought it would be really boring, but I was actually quite impressed, both by the works themselves and the presentation. Before you go into that section of the museum, you first pick up an iPad, and there were probably about 10 different panels to click on. Some of them featured these funny little animated scenes using the illuminations; others featured the books themselves, that you could scroll through, and it was really cool to be able to see the real book in front of you, behind the glass, while flipping through it on the screen. I've been really impressed lately with the way museums have been integrating technology with their exhibitions, reminding me of the amazing Dreams of Nature: Symbolism from Van Gogh to Kandinsky exhibit we saw at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Before the Arts of the Book and Calligraphy Collection, we'd gone through the museum's exhibition/collection on Turkish painting, While a Country is Changing: Turkish Painting from the Ottoman Reformation to the Republic. I don't think of Turkey as being particular Western -- it's really it's own unique place, a mash-up of East and West, with (currently) strong religious tendencies -- and I was so surprised to see of a history such obviously Western paintings from Turkish artists. Even more interesting, according to one of the information panels, the museum sees it as a continuation of the calligraphy collection, "reflecting the transformation of visual representation in Turkish art, changing concepts of art and the artist, and the process of modernization between the late Ottoman and early Turkish Republic periods."

From left to right: Hikmet Onat's Landscape with Bridge (1922) and Osman Hamdi Bey's Kokona Despina (1906) 

The collection starts with works from the mid-1800s, which was when Western literary forms were introduced to Turkey and Turkish painting started to reflect Western styles. According to the panels, artists gave up Ottoman miniature painting and started working on canvas, painting landscapes and still lifes. They also began to paint portraits of real people, whereas before, they could only paint the sultans. When Turkish artists went abroad, they -- gasp! -- also learned about painting nudes, which was forbidden in Turkey. (The exhibit has a whole wall devoted to this genre.) Many of the paintings were undated, but I'd say the exhibit ran through about the 1930s (though one of Fikret Mualla's paintings was from 1957).

From left to right: Nazmi Ziya Guran's Taksim Square (1935), close-up from Guran's Backgammon Players, and Cevat Dereli's Mevlevi Dervishes

Two paintings from Fikret Mualla: Moda and Street -- Blue 
I didn't realize it at the time but I'd apparently managed to soak in a lot of this information; we went to Istanbul Modern yesterday and saw their (much larger) exhibit New Works, New Horizons, presenting "the evolution of modern and contemporary Turkish art from its earliest stage to the present day." It all looked pretty familiar, and I even managed to recognize some of the artists by their style.
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