ICOM UK member Luigi Galimberti interviews Öykü Özsoy about the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, Turkey.
Öykü Özsoy, Curator, Istanbul Modern
Öykü Özsoy worked as an assistant curator at the Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center (now SALT), where she was the co-director of the first international artists residency program in Turkey, from 2002 until 2010. With the support of the German Federal Cultural Foundation (Kulturstiftung des Bundes), Özsoy was a Fellow at the Wilhelm-Hack-Museum between 2013 and 2015, where she worked as a curator for two international exhibition projects. She co-curated two exhibitions at the Heidelberger Kunstverein in 2015 and 2016, and since 2017 she has been a curator at Istanbul Modern. Öykü is a 2019 Tate Intensive Fellow.
Luigi Galimberti is a Board Member of Res Artis, the world’s largest membership-based network of artist residencies. He was previously Collection Care Research Manager at Tate, London.
Luigi: What is the history of Istanbul Modern and how has the institution changed since its foundation?
Öykü: Istanbul Modern was founded in 2004 as Turkey’s first museum of modern and contemporary art. Committed to sharing Turkey’s artistic creativity and cultural identity with the local and international art worlds, the museum hosts a broad array of interdisciplinary activities.
Learning activities at Istanbul Modern
Istanbul Modern embraces a global vision to collect, preserve, document and exhibit works of modern and contemporary art and make them accessible to the public at large. The museum offers a variety of cultural activities in its permanent and temporary exhibition halls, photography gallery, spaces for educational and social programs, library, cinema, café, and store.
Through its collections, exhibitions, and educational programs, the museum aims to instil a love of the arts in visitors from all walks of life and encourage their active participation in the arts. Established in a building occupying an 8,000 square meter site in Karaköy on the shores of the Bosphorus, where it hosted exhibitions and events for 14 years, Istanbul Modern has moved to a temporary space in Beyoğlu, where it welcomes visitors from May 2018 onward for three years while the new building is being constructed.
Luigi: Whose story are you preserving and whom are you telling them to?
From the collection exhibition In Pursuit of the Present, Istanbul Modern, 2019
Öykü: At Istanbul Modern, we present exhibitions that offer visitors the opportunity to view painting, sculpture, installation, video, new media and photographic works created in Turkey since the beginning of the twentieth century, while also learning about the fundamentals and following the transformation of modern and contemporary art in Turkey. We organize temporary exhibitions with themes that allow us to bring together works by important artists from around the world with works by artists from Turkey. Each artwork mirrors the social, cultural, historical, economic and political dynamics of the period in which it was produced.
The educational programs that we offer in conjunction with our exhibitions enable viewers of all ages to better understand and experience these exhibitions. Since the opening, Istanbul Modern’s most significant contribution to society has been to create a museum experience that is welcoming and easy to understand, while providing alternative educational approaches. Istanbul Modern is a living, breathing and continuously transforming space that brings new stories related to humankind, and where visitors can come together with artworks and artists.
Luigi: What would you like your audience to take home after visiting the museum?
Ara Güler, Eminönü, 1954. From the exhibition Two Archives, One Selection: Tracing Ara Güler’s Footsteps in Istanbul, Istanbul Modern, 2019
Öykü: Museums, with the approaches they develop, have the potential to create democratic spaces where communities of people from different walks of life come together and interact, in addition to their function to protect, examine, exhibit and carry works of art into the future. Programs that liberate audiences from their passive positions as mere viewers and to transform them into active participants, is something that Istanbul Modern is vigorously working on. With the exhibitions and educational programs that we realise at Istanbul Modern, we hope that our visitors will use their aesthetic and sensory experience to make sense of the world around them and develop new interpretations of it. Furthermore, it brings us great joy when visitors are curious to learn more about a subject, artist or artwork that they have not encountered before or are not familiar with.
Luigi: How has the museum been reacting to Turkey’s changing society?
Öykü: As a museum, we believe in sustainability and the importance of being able to offer interdisciplinary content in various areas of artistic practice to a wide range of people who are interested in art. In this regard, we act according to our founding vision to simultaneously host our country’s multicultural richness and universal values and to continuously present the transformations taking place in the world of contemporary art to our visitors.
Luigi: Can you tell us of a recent show, activity or commission that you have curated?
From the exhibition The Event of a Thread, Istanbul Modern, 2019
Öykü: The most recent exhibition that I have worked on is The Event of a Thread, which is now on show at the museum. It brings together 25 international contemporary artists who use textile to create aesthetic and cultural narratives through objects, paintings, installations and video works.
Organized in collaboration with the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), one of the oldest art institutions in Germany, we worked with curators Susanne Weiss and Inka Gressel. Starting with works by 15 artists in Germany, the exhibition took on a different form with the inclusion of works by 10 artists from Turkey.
The Event of a Thread features a variety of stories ranging from the tradition of quipu used by ancient Andean cultures in South America to the textile techniques from the indigenous people of Wichí in Argentine and from Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu’s revival and adoption of the long-forgotten tradition of yazma (originally used for hand-painted kerchief) to Burhan Doğançay’s tapestries created at the Aubusson workshops. The exhibition focuses on the historical, social and cultural meanings of fabrics, investigates the various uses of textile as a tool of expression, and presents different artistic positions that interact with one another within the exhibition space.