In Istanbul: Elgiz Museum of Modern Art Marks Its 20th Anniversary

Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art, a small private museum located in Istanbul’s Maslak district offers a respite from the office spaces that surround it.

Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art is a private museum located in Istanbul’s business district, Maslak. It was established as Turkey’s first contemporary art museum by collectors Sevda and Can Elgiz in 2001. It is an unlikely sight, a small building tucked away amidst skyscrapers, but staffer Irem Saritekin says that is also an advantage.

“We get a lot of curious office workers who see our terrace exhibitions from the skyscrapers they work at, and come on over for a visit,” she says. The terrace was closed in November, and Saritekin says it will re-open in September 2021 at the end of the summer.

“The terrace exhibition was popular because it was in open air, and a lot of people wary of being indoors to view art at galleries and museums decided to visit us,” Saritekin explains. While the terrace is closed for the time being, there are two exhibitions at Elgiz Museum that visitors can enjoy, free of charge.

The opening hours of the museum are Tuesday to Saturday, however because of the weekend lockdown in Turkey due to coronavirus precautions, these days the museum can only be visited from Tuesday to Friday.

The first exhibition a visitor encounters upon walking through the door is “From Wuhan to Istanbul: Broken Dreams” which is one culled from the Elgiz collection. Saritekin says that the exhibition’s opener, ‘Kreuzung Mit Passanten, Wuhan (Intersection with Passers-by, Wuhan)’ is actually not a new photograph. Taken in 1995 by Thomas Struth and added to the Elgiz collection in 2005, it nevertheless indicates the point of origin of the coronavirus and takes on a new meaning with its inclusion in the exhibition.

Saritekin says the grey walls consciously chosen for the exhibition signal a dark journey that a visitor partakes in, equivalent to our isolation during the pandemic and our collective, yet individual depression. “It is a reflection of depressing moments that we lived through,” she says.

While the exhibition originates from the feelings triggered by the pandemic, it does not leave a depressing aftertaste. It is worth seeing, with artworks by Cindy Sherman, Hale Tenger and Nan Goldin on one wall, and many other worthy artists surrounding them.

The press release also introduces other well-known artists in the exhibition: “While Hakan Gürsoytrak’s Meeting makes us rethink the role of digital media in the age of global capitalism, Self-portrait by Hale Tenger, who leaves marks from her life on her works, and the sculpture Deep in My Heart by Hande Sekerciler tell us different ways to hear ourselves. As Wang Xiaoshuang’s City of Memories No:5 reveals the deep silence of emptied cities, Hesap with two hand figures by the artist Sarp Kerem Yavuz, who stands out with his neon works, suggests the story that we are all familiar with.”

What Broken Dreams aims to do is to present “an internal journey that brings together artists from different areas, different times, and countries. Even the names of the works in the exhibition tell us that we are not alone with our feelings during the time of the pandemic and, one by one, they remind us what we have been experiencing. The audience will be facing their anxieties on this road, listening to their inner voices, and exploring ways of co-existing.”

Elgiz Museum also has a permanent exhibition on display on the ground floor, on view right after a visitor is done with the From Wuhan to Istanbul: Broken Dreams temporary exhibition. According to a press statement, the collection has been evolving since the 1980s, and “has an eclectic character of conceptual and formal variety” that spans the last 40 years of developments in contemporary art, holding a variety of styles, materials and forms.

Writing in Elgiz Museum’s 10th anniversary catalogue, Elgiz10, in 2011, in an essay called ‘Crises and Triumphs of Contemporary Art’, Necmi Sonmez, curator, posits: “Without regard for the nationality or cultural background of the artists, but simply taking note of the impact of a work had on them, from the very outset the Elgiz’s developed a collection of ‘international’ character and thereby shaped an identity. At heart, every private collection emphasizes a kind of discovery of the world, a personal excitement in the collector’s eyes to venture out on a range of voyages.”

The press statement lists the “must-see” artists that are on display as part of the permanent collection exhibition as Gilbert & George, Cindy Sherman, Abdurrahman Oztoprak, Azade Koker, Tracey Emin, Barbara Kruger, Jonathan Meese, Bjarne Melgaard, Tony Cragg, Erwin Wurm, Paul McCarthy, Adnan Coker, Markus Oehlen, Julian Schnabel, Mehmet (Dennis) Gun and Stephan Balkenhol.

The museum’s materials note that it continues to “contribute to the globalisation of Turkish art” with its “dynamic structure, outlook and acquisition of young artists’ works”.

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