how i gained a free exhibition catalog

Why isn’t modern Turkish art more famous? The few times I spent in Turkey I saw outstanding, fresh and daring art – paintings, videos, and sculptures. Never heard of before.

“Visit the center of the world. You will find the secret stone there” by Caner Şengünalp. My favorite piece at the exhibition – probably because its centerpiece is a roof…

And I’m afraid that due to recent politics it’s not a prosperous time for contemporary Turkish artists to be introduced worldwide. While at least some people leave the beaten paths of Topkapı, Dolmabahçe & Co. to visit the Istanbul Modern, another treasure chest is still quite hidden: TheProje4L/Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art, founded by Can Elgiz in 2001.

One reason why hardly anyone besides some hardcore art aficionados finds his way to the Elgiz is certainly its location. You have to travel by metro all the way up North to İtü Ayazağa İstasyonu, which is located next to the University of Technology in the middle of Istanbul’s financial district. When you go there on a Saturday, as I did, it’s a frigging ghost town – no students, no bankers, no human beings of any kind.

So after meandering all bye:myself between the skyscrapers and a couple of construction sites – Istanbul is booming! – I reached the complex. Nodding ‘merhaba’ to the guard, I crossed a huge parking lot to get to the main building. Nothing “artsy”, nothing “trendy” round here. And no people.

Even inside the museum, I was the one and only visitor. Never mind – let me tell you: this museum hosts an exquisite collection of modern art – Cindy Sherman, Stephan Balkenhol, Tracey Emin, Gilbert&George, Jonathan Meese, Eric Fischl – you name it. Unexpectedly impressive. And the best part seemed to be their annual special exhibit of Turkish sculptors under 40 located on the building’s rooftop. I took the elevator to this open-air terrace exhibition. Almost reaching up there, it rattled a bit and stopped about two inches below the terrace level. The sliding door seemed stuck and slid open only a couple of inches. I’m not made to exit through a slot of a couple of inches, so I had to pull the door more open to squeeze myself out.

Oh, this place was so special – 1500 square meters of awe! Remarkable how many of the works dealt with the topic of – female – freedom and self-determination. Outstanding – I was amazed.

It was beginning of July and it got slowly quite hot on this white cobblestone covered terrace with no shade. Time to go. I squeezed myself back into the elevator – which unfortunately didn’t show any reaction to my button-pushing. Hm, what now? Out of the elevator. Standing between the seven orange figurines of Düzel’s work “Monads” at the terrace fence, I put my hand over my eyes and tried to see against the sunlight whether the parking guard could spot me. Nope, far too far.  Bending over the terrace fence, I raised my voice sheepishly to a handful of “Hello?!”s. While I was keen on someone noticing me, I felt a bit stupid at the same time. “Hello!” No, not a chance: Saturday at the financial district. But hey, what was this cage at the opposite end of the terrace? An emergency exit! A grid door, a door latch, an open lock – problem solved. Two flights of stairs down laid my personal – female – freedom. At the lowest step then another grid door, a door latch – and a locked lock; problem back again. “Hello!”

So I climbed the stairs back to the still awesome, still hot terrace. Back to the fence. “Hello!” There, on the patio of the small chain coffee shop next door: humans! The two ladies working at the museum! “Hello!” They looked around a bit confused. “Hello!” Now they looked up. They saw me. I didn’t have to explain much, they got me. One of them jumped up and rushed into the museum. Time to walk down the stairs again. By the time I reached the ground floor, the jumpy lady got hold of the janitor and he was holding an enormous set of keys, trying one after the other. The jumpy lady – completely petrified – didn’t stop to apologize; in English. And to whoop the janitor; in Turkish. I felt bad. For him for being whooped. For her for being so freaked out. For me for being locked in. They at least had something to do, I was just standing there replying that it was not their fault and not that bad.

Eventually came the great moment for the three of us – but before that, the janitor had to get some more keys – and one of the keys clicked in the lock and the door sprang open and I had my – female – freedom. Only the jumpy lady was still jumpy and apologetic and begging pardon. “I’m so sorry. It’s terrible that something like this happened. I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry. What can I do?! Do you want a catalog? Here – take a catalog. I’m so, so sorry!”, and with that, she imposed me the exhibition catalog – a really nice paperback with images of the beautiful works and information on all the participating artists.

And here are a couple of participating artist I personally liked the best:

Caner Şengünalp “Visit the center of the world. You will find the secret stone there”

Mahmut Aydın “Not covering up”

Meliha Sözeri “Transparent Democracy”

Kutlu Alican Düzel “Monads”
couldn’t find a link or further info – if you find something, please let me know

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