Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Proje4L/Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art - Istanbul's best hidden Gem

Coming to Istanbul, everybody is standing in line to see the antique masterpieces at Hagia Sophia, the Topkapı Palace, or - if they venture away from Sultanahmet - the very 'French' Dolmabahçe.
But hardly anyone comes to Istanbul to see the young, fresh, and wild Turkish contemporary art. Big mistake!

In my last post "24 hours in Istanbul" I'm recommending to visit the Elgiz Museum and I think it absolutely deserves that I dwell upon it a little longer.


Homage to Masters of Sculpture, against the backdrop of Istanbul's financial center view,
Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

You know like when travelling you keep getting asked what your plans are and what you gonna see?! So when I answered that I was going to see this art patron's private museum, everybody was all awestruck: 'Ah, Sakıp Sabancı!'. And indeed Sakıp Sabancı - coming from a highly wealthy family - has also a private collection in Istanbul, but this one, housed in the former family mansion on the banks of the Bosporus, is rather famous for calligraphy, china, and the family's furniture and decoration. So Sakıp Sabancı is very famous and popular and said to have been a great philanthrope. While it's true that he donated to many institutions, at the same time he invested in really bad corporations. At his dead in 2004 he left 2.65 billions of Euro and was #147 on the Forbes list of billionaires.

But I didn't want to go to the Sabancı collection, I had to see the Proje4/Elgiz museum, Istanbul's first museum for contemporary art - founded in 2001 by Drs. Sevda and Can Elgiz.
Although Dr. Can Elgiz is - as far as I know - not on the Forbes list, I think we don't have to worry about his financial situation: In spite of everything, Istanbul is booming, and Dr. Can Elgiz is not only an architect, he also owns companies building skyscrapers and luxury housing.
So Dr. Elgiz seems to be wealthy. Very wealthy.
And he seems to be guarded. Very guarded.
And Dr. Can Elgiz collects art and has an excellent taste; which is not automatically connected, however, in his case it is.
Can Elgiz' amazing lack of vanity makes it difficult writing about him: One sentence on his person on Wikipedia, nothing on the founder on the museum's website; the art - and the art alone - is in focus.

According to Can bey's wife, political scientist Dr. Sevda Elgiz, the couple started collecting in the 1980s and owns an eclectic collection including Gilbert & George, Cindy Sherman, Tracey Emin, Jan Fabre, Tony Cragg, Sol LeWitt, and Jonathan Meese.
A really exquisite selection.

How I know this? Because the couple opened a gallery, and I've been there. I have the feeling that not too many tourists share this experience: Dr. Elgiz' company is in the financial district of Istanbul, the pretty secluded neighborhood of Maslak, and he has chosen this zone for his museum, too.
You need to go by subway all the way up to ITÜ Ayazağa station and then walk along construction sites - didn't I say Istanbul was booming?! - and cross a huge parking lot, all the time asking yourself whether you've lost your way because it seems improbable that there is an art venue in this unappealing surroundings. However, once you reach the unimposing building...there they are: overwhelming works of Turkish and international artists are greeting you. And since Dr. Elgiz is the real philanthrope, entrance is free.

To top things up - metaphorically and literally - on the flat, plain roof is a lot of space for the temporary sculpture exhibitions. This year, from July 4 to October 28, the 9th exhibition takes place, and again the curators chose the best from the best.

Each one of the exhibitions was assembled according a motto - e. g. artists over 40, artists under 40, artists born between 1952 and 1962 etc.; this year it's "Homage to masters of sculpture", a well ambitious theme.


Halil Daşkesen: Articulate, Meliha Sözeri: Cave, and Mahmut Aydın: Female Don Kişot in front of the backdrop of the financial district's skyscraper skyline.
Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

What do the artists have in common? Besides being excellent, you mean? They are Turkish, that's key, Dr. Elgiz acts local. Some are on show for the first time, some, like e. g. Caner Şengünalp or Mahmut Aydın have already participated in former issues.


Levent Ayata: I'm Bored, Tanzer Arığ: Dreaming on the Clouds II, Halil Daşkesen: Articulate, Uğur Cinel: Door, Mahmut Aydın: Female Don Kişot Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz


Mahmut Aydın: Not covering up
Mahmut Aydın: Not covering up
I might be wrong, as a matter of fact I hope I'm wrong, but I have the impression that this year's sculptures are less political, less audacious; let's hope I'm wrong. It would be a shame if the wonderful Proje4/Elgiz Museum lost its grit'n'edge.


I took the picture on the left showing Mahmut Aydın's pretty daring sculpture on my visit to the 5th issue that promoted young Turkish sculptors under 40. That show presented a noticeable number of works dealing with feminist and freedom subjects. This year, I don't see much of this sociological and political impact.

Please read in this post why my stay on the roof during the a. m. 5th terrace exhibition was a tad bit longer than planned and how I got the nice exhibition catalogue for free.



Besides the Terrace Exhibition the Elgiz rearranged works from their impressive collection under the motto - and the title - "Grey and Beige Portfolio". Although the title doesn't sound very promising, don't let it fool you: there are big shots like Eric Fischl, David La Chapelle, and Erwin Wurm, currently Austria's top seller with big shows in Duisburg and the Venice Biennal and individual pieces all over the place (I just hope that he never becomes another Keith Haring, whom I used to like a lot until they started to decorate basically everything with his iconic stick-men).
Next to these internationally renown names there are also many not so famous artist to look out for.

You see - if you are an art enthusiast like I am, the trip to inhospitable Maslak is absolutely worth it!

Beige and Grey
The current temporary exhibtion "Grey and Beige Portfolio" with works from the vast collection the Elgiz started in the 1980s.
Photo: Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art


By the way, once I'm on it: The art gallery 'Istanbul Modern' at the banks of the Bosporus in Karaköy is definitely worth a visit, too.

İstanbul Modern
Meclis-i Mebusan Cad.
Liman İşletmeleri Sahası
Antrepo No: 4 34433
Karaköy
İstanbul
Phone: +90 - 212 - 334 73 00
Email: info@istanbulmodern.org


To get more tips and info on Istanbul, check my latest post in the "24 hours in..."-series.

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