Public Art in Turkey: A Collection Without Boundaries

This week I am on the campus of Ege University (Aegean University) in Izmir, Turkey, giving a paper at the European Association of American Studies. Whenever I visit another university campus, I pay attention to its use and display of art. In this week’s post, I thought I’d share some of my impressions with you. (Note that this post was written and illustrated entirely with my iPhone, and accept my apologies for the quality of the photos!)

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Image: Art Gallery, Ege University, Izmir, Turkey.

Happily, our conference held its opening reception at Ege University’s art gallery, which was showing paintings by Günay Kazçın. Kazçın is a contemporary artist working in Izmir whose paintings reveal surrealist and cubist influences, with a sense of humor that ties them to magical realism.

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Image: Günay Kazçın, Untitled painting, 2012. Oil on canvas, collection of the artist.

Interestingly, music was playing in the gallery. There was live music for our reception, of course, which I didn’t think twice about (but wouldn’t it be great if we sometimes had music at Gardiner Gallery receptions?). But when I went back the next day, they were playing recorded music, which, to my entirely untrained ears, sounded like traditional Turkish folk music. I found that it added some energy to an otherwise fairly basic space.

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Image: Günay Kazçın, Untitled painting, 2012. Oil on canvas, collection of the artist.

Ege University also has public art displayed around the campus. In some cases, the art is actually fragments of antiquities — scattered in a courtyard, or more carefully placed in a plot of grass.

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Image: Courtyard of the Faculty of Letters, Ege University, with fragments of antiquities.

In other cases, there are contemporary works which are striking in their reconfigurations of ancient materials and imagery. I found myself wondering how contemporary artists’ practice is affected by an environment in which they are surrounded by powerful examples (both aesthetically and canonically speaking) of ancient and classical art.

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Image: Sculpture by Malik Bulut, installed as part of a 2009 exhibition. Marble, Ege University Campus.

As I walked around campus, trying to piece together a picture of how Turkish students experience art as part of their educational environment, I was naturally led to think about the university’s relationship to its region.

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Image: Sculpture by Yildiz Güner and Ozgür Turhan, installed as part of a 2009 exhibition. Wood and steel, Ege University.

Izmir is at the heart of the ancient world, and although the city center was devastated in a fire in 1922, the surrounding landscape is rich in history going back to at least 3000 BCE; prehistoric evidence of settlement goes back even further. One has only to go to a nearby archaeological site, or to one of several regional museums, to see breathtaking examples of ancient sculpture, painting, mosaics, ceramics, and more.

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Image: Marble figurative sculpture from the Fountain of Trajan, Ephesus (102-104 CE).

The other major category of outdoor art (so to speak!) is monumental art related to Atatürk and his regime.

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Image: Bust of Atatürk, hillside carving, Buca, Turkey.

Between ancient monuments and hagiographic celebration, what is the place of contemporary public art created by and/or for university students? Well, in one case, there has been little change: the graffiti on campus here reminded me of the 2nd-century graffiti at Ephesus!

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Image: Graffiti at Ephesus, 2nd century CE.

No matter when they have lived and whether or not it is officially sanctioned, human beings have followed through on their urge to comment on and visualize their world via public art-making.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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