In Turkey the visual arts are booming. On the art market, prices for Turkish arts are rising and several new art fairs have emerged recently. Left and right new foreign and domestic publications on contemporary art are released and -in Istanbul- new and trendy art spaces and initiatives are popping up every day. Dutch artists can learn from their Turkish colleagues how to comment on and play with political and ideological connotations in a sophisticated way. Below follow some recommendations made based on interviews with arts professionals in Turkey and with organizations that mediate between Turkey and the Netherlands.
Beware of Orientalism
Artists from Turkey may use local issues for their personal or critical take on the big global or philosophical issues of this age, but they do not appreciate that foreign curators push them to make art about what these curators think are ‘Turkish issues’. Artists from Turkey want to be seen as artists first. To them the one sided interests of European audiences and curators, and their barely hidden prejudices about Turkey, are seen to be Orientalist. Be aware of projects that have the tendency to be Orientalist and which involve Turkish artists.
Show more Turkish art in the Netherlands
Currently there seem to be more visual artists and art going from the Netherlands to Turkey than the other way around. Given the fact that Turkish visual arts is doing well and will fit Dutch tastes, some efforts to make Turkish contemporary visual arts more visible in the Netherlands would be an obvious choice for 2012. There are several artists with Turkish roots living or studying in the Netherlands.
Dutch new media to Turkey
Vasif Kortun and other interviewees from various disciplines talked about new media based initiatives and how the Netherlands were already involved in new media very early on. There can be projects, talks, lectures, workshops and exhibitions on this topic. Contemporary art & design crossovers are becoming increasingly popular, including sound, movement and performativity. Video art is on the rise. Video animation and interactive art projects are popular with the youngest generations. Return to canvas has not yet arrived in Turkey.
Art and graphic design collaborations
In Turkey several interviewees are of the opinion that graphic design in the Netherlands is good and critical, (more so than Dutch visual art). In Turkey graphic design is mostly commercial and not so good, whereas some posters or cartoons made by Turkish contemporary artists and more artistic designers/cartoonists (for instance Hafriyat's poster exhibition entitled ‘Fear of God’ in 2007) are more critical. Maybe some combination between Dutch graphic designers and Turkish contemporary artists and more artisticly minded designers/cartoonists should be established.
explain art to non-initiated audiences
Beral Madra mentioned that exhibitions need to explain the context from which something or someone developed. Cermuseum in Ankara also explained that exhibitions that show and explain a movement (like Cobra) are better than exhibitions showing a single artist (like Karel Appel) because the wider context -of for instance a movement- helps Turkish audiences to gain insight in art and enable them to create their own connections. Otherwise the visitors are just told: this artist is good, but they do not walk away with a better understanding of the developments in art.
Museums in Turkey need to establish a wider local audience and the only way to do that really, is to develop programs that introduce art to first time visitors, groups, and youth. Collaboration with the Netherlands can be useful in this respect as the Netherlands have a tradition in these kinds of programs.
Beware of curator wars
Unfortunately some curators in this field are competing with each other so that a collaboration with one can jeapardise the collaboration with another in a later project. A few years ago Turkish artists had to choose sides in the ongoing curatorial fights, which both created opportunities (loyalty was rewarded) and limits for them to exhibit their works. Nowadays the situation is different because Turkish artists are less reliant on curators as gatekeepers to international visibility. It is good to be aware of the fact that different curators also have different agendas: for instance for 2012 Beral Madra is more interested in series of events and process focused art projects, whereas Vasif Kortun seems to be more drawn to one event with a bigger budget and impact that shows the strength of the Turkish cultural scene. Karşı Sanat and Hafriyat are two art groups that experiment with more democratic ways of artist-curatorial interaction. Working with local curators outside Istanbul may be a refreshing alternative to the power plays of Istanbuls curators.
One of the very few things that all parties in the contemporary arts in Turkey agree on is that artist initiatives and independents need to be supported. The artist initiatives have no support from any source other than the foreign funds that sometimes help them to realize their projects. Everyone acknowledges their importance and especially in the visual arts the amount of attention they get internationally –even if they are fairly young- is noteworthy.
TR and NL galleries collaborate!
After a boom in the last few years in the number of galleries (commercial galleries in Turkey are developing both in number as in quality) these galleries are increasingly looking for opportunities to expand abroad. This is mostly an Istanbul based phenomenon though. Prices of artworks are rising in Istanbul and Dutch gallerist Leyla Akinci (who has roots in Turkey) works with Turkish artist Cevdet Erek. It may be interesting for more Dutch gallerists to develop working relationships and collaborations with Turkish artists and counterparts in this developing market.
Art in public space
Apart from official statues of heads of state, art in public space is still a rare phenomenon in Turkey. A few years ago Istanbul was swamped by life sized glass fiber cows painted by Turkish celebrities and painters, followed by similar projects featuring large painted shoes and tulips. Fulya Erdemci, the current director of SKOR, organized more critical art in public space projects and in the context of 2010 Istanbul European Cultural Capital there were several photo exhibitions and events on the street. When interviewing artists in Turkey on the issue I got mixed messages on the meaningfulness of art in Turkish public space; one group thought art in public space was a good way to reach audiences that normally would not be familiar with art, whilst another group mentioned that because the public is so unfamiliar with art, the fact that it happens on the street does not make it more intelligible to these unsuspecting onlookers. If the art in the street is not explained, the interaction between the public and the art will be very shallow and meaningless.