Faruk Bildirici, Hurriyet, September, 2010

Turkish curator growing Istanbul’s art scene

Friday, September 10, 2010



A socialist female curator, who was responsible for bringing the term ‘curator’ to Turkey, believes the job’s importance is increasing with the rise of modern art and European funds given to artwork. However, she says the real power lies in the hands of artists. ‘In reality the power belongs to the artist. What kind of a power can a curator have if the artist does not create?’ she asks

Already a prominent name in Turkish modern art, Beral Madra’s greater significance might be that she was the one to familiarize the country with the concept of an art “curator.”

“Being a curator is not a known profession in our country,” said Madra, who is also the visual art director for Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture. “It does not have a specific education track. You can be a curator after studying sociology, economics, anthropology, philosophy or art history. A curator enables the re-evaluation of art production in society, or tries for the best presentation of art production to society.”

Some call it an “art manager,” said Madra, adding that once museums and collectors started to use them as advisors their importance in the art world increased.

“A curator can introduce an artist to the museums. In reality the power belongs to the artist. What kind of a power can a curator have if the artist does not create?” she asked.

Madra believes it is important to give opportunities to young artists. “I am a socialist, in favor of society. I try not to rule over anyone,” she said.

Madra said she and her colleagues formed the Association of International Art Critics in the 2000s. Curators and newspaper culture editors can join, and they currently have 40 members. “Ten or 12 work as curators. Because there is no job availability many of our young colleague went abroad. This is an area limited to Istanbul,” she said.

In the mid-1980s, with Turkey turning to a more liberal economy, big companies started to showcase art and culture and collectors emerged at that time. As funds from Europe started to come to Turkey, it become useful for art and culture, according to Madra, who also believes that an increase of collectors will positively contribute to art.

“Now the third generation has come. It is very positive that young collectors are buying their generation’s art work,” said Madra, referring to Burhan Doğançay’s painting, “Blue Symphony,” which sold for 2.2 million Turkish Liras recently.

“For instance, Fahrünnisa Zeyd is a very important female artist and many of our artists like her are going to have paintings sell for a million dollars,” she said.

Madra says the artwork of today’s Turkish artists will be sold at high prices after they die. She said creative people should be encouraged to earn economic value from contemporary art, adding, “The cake is too small.”

Noting that the art market still did not have international criteria in Turkey, Madra said art cannot reach the consumer group here but added that she saw solidarity among female artists in Turkey. “In Istanbul, women create the dynamism in the art world.”

‘I have no project, I get a salary’

Madra said she does not have any project at the moment and that she is currently receiving a salary from the Istanbul 2010 agency. After accepting a role as curator for the Central Asia pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Madra said she realized the Turkey pavilion there had no connection to the Istanbul 2010 Culture Capital.

She said she managed to convince the Istanbul 2010 agency to endow the showroom where she had displayed her exhibition and the agency paid 4,000 euros for a cocktail reception for her exhibition.

“I wanted to make this big event in my country known at the Venice Biennale,” she said. “Why was Istanbul 2010 not present in the Turkey pavilion at the Venice Biennale? This is not my job. But I intervened a little biti.”

Istanbul 2010 adventure

Working as the visual arts director for the Istanbul 2010 agency, Madra said she had a chance to observe how many residents of Istanbul could follow the art and culture scene and added that there was an elitist atmosphere.

Although there have been many complaints and allegations against the Istanbul 2010 agency, Madra said it had achieved its goal of planting the seeds of a big change in the culture industry in Turkey.

Calling it an “Istanbul 2010 adventure,” Madra said state and local authorities, the private sector and individuals had come together and benefited from the public money, which is an adventure on its own.

When renowned writer Orhan Pamuk decided to make a museum for his recent book “The Museum of Innocence,” the Istanbul 2010 agency wanted to support him financially, but this was exposed to criticism and the agency later removed its offer.

“I reject these criticisms because Orhan Pamuk is giving this museum to this city. He has already prepared the basis of the project and already spent so much money on it and he wanted support for the rest of the project,” said Madra, adding that Pamuk was now going to finish the project by himself, which would take longer.

Childhood in Istanbul

Born in 1942, Madra spent her childhood in Istanbul. “We used to live in Nişantaşı during the winter. We used to spend summers in Bostancı. It was like a village,” she said. “The Princes’ Islands were like a dream country. I swam in the Marmara Sea. I am happy I was able to live in all this beauty. Those days are like a dream in my mind. I saw how Bağdat Avenue was demolished and rebuilt. I saw how the tram disappeared. I started to get upset by these changes in the early 1980s. This anger can be tied to the fact that we went through traumatic years, with military interventions every 10 years. We were supposed to enter politics to show our reaction or express ourselves through art.

“I have a modernist past. I am a person that grew up believing in utopias. My breaking point was the German High School. I entered the high school in 1954. Our teachers had come out of the war and came to us. Our English teacher was a tank colonel in the Nazi army. We learned what fascism is, Nazism is, what are the positives and negatives of modernism. The German High School was a good school. I had a good education,” she said.

She entered the archaeology department at Istanbul University. “I wanted to have an academic career, after graduation, but the contingents were limited so it did not happen,” she said.

Madra spent 13 years in Ayvalık, where she settled after marrying Teoman Madra, who lived in the Aegean town to take care of the family olive groves.

She raised her kids and translated books during that time, including “Ancient Anatolian Architecture,” an important book on Turkish archaeology by Rudolf Naumann, as well as G. Richter’s “Greek Art.”

By the end of 1979, at a time when Turkey was experiencing troubled times internally, the developments in Turkey had started to make the couple really concerned.

“We were thinking of leaving Turkey. Ayvalık was like a laboratory. We witnessed the deep state and fascism in its most concrete forms. There used to be anticommunist signs at the bus stations. ‘A communist bride came to Ayvalık,’ some said about me. In 1980 the military coup took place. Our children had grown, their education was at stake. My husband’s business was not going well. We decided to move to Istanbul,” she said.