Museums and a new consciousness of art history…

Burhan Uygur

Our first private-enterprise museum of modern art, Istanbul Modern, opened its doors a month ago with an eclectic collection, mostly derived from 20th century Turkish paintings… As an altruistic exhibition venue for modern art heritage, the museum unveils some certain masterpieces of private collections, which were away from public access.

Actually we have already had another museum of modern art, the state owned Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Istanbul Painting & Sculpture Museum (IRHM), that is, however, now on the verge of becoming a forgotten ghost town derelict with its only couple of dozens of visitors a day…

Istanbul Modern is surely more lucky with its USD 5 million establishment investment and a sustainable vision to make modern art more accessible to the masses. Nevertheless, shortly after its opening, something unlucky happened: Istanbul Modern tried to find fame, but failed in a recent auction, where patrons of impending Pera Museum shelled out YTL 5 million (USD 3.5 million) for “Turtle Trainer”, an orientalist but not “modern” painting by Osman Hamdi. By the way, in his “Turtle Trainer“, Osman Hamdi depicts himself as a red-robed dervish with a “ney” on his back, who patiently strives for the impossible: Turtles, by nature untrainable animals, are the metaphors of conservative authorities in Ottoman Empire, who defy social changes and modern thoughts…

To be honest, in today’s Turkey, we still combat with these “untrainable” opinion leaders, who are well-educated by certain post-modernist ideologies of ’80s and ’90s… Especially the last two generations are beguiled out of a modernist aesthetics and a consciousness of history, in exchange to a dazzling and intimidating “popular culture”, based on an insensitiveness and decay in artistic merits…

Now, maybe we should discuss, what the role of a museum of modern art can be to help younger artists with a hunger for reality and innovative ideas, who may want to criticize the popular culture and redefine the values of a new aesthetic look for a better existantialist notion for “quality of living”…

Soon we will see an interesting competition between different museums that will strive for being an attractive part of daily urban life in Istanbul. Yes, it is no surprise: “Competing for attention” is a new maxim of the near future’s “direct marketing strategies”… Thematic temporary exhibitions, education and infotainment (information + entertainment) programmes, in-house gift shops etc., all will be the mechanisms that would turn itinerant visitors into loyal customers of culture industry…

Against all odds, a museum shouldn’t be a profitable show-off platform of its investors, but an interdisciplinary communication and coproduction arena of art connoissenurs with a commitment to heal the derangement caused by the mediocre and vulgar values of mainstream pseudo-aesthetics…

In fact, every museum can produce and propagate its own ideology by re-writing and re-presenting art history and cultural heritage. It is as basic as the dialectics of “the look” at the ethics of usage for any art work: Since the artist (the sender) is not the owner or the controller of the media, through which his/her work would reach the masses (the receiver), the politics of culture industry becomes the vertical axis of the artistic production, where a consciousness of history only affects the artist horizontally…

Istanbul Modern as such a medium, seems to be promising a reconciliation between the disorientation of post-modernism and a new modern aesthetics… I hope…

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