chapter  9
16 Pages

The Istanbul art scene – a social system?


Visual art has always been an action of a minority for another, mostly educated minority. Nevertheless, the state of an art scene shows the state of democratization and modernization. It can function as an important parameter for illustrating the situation of a civic society. If the scene is not socially engaged and integrated it can only play a minor role in the democratization and modernization process. It is obvious that except for film, art has never been popular, and has never been a media for the masses. Though, since the 1990s, contemporary artists, curators, theorists and art managers increasingly deal with the question of how to integrate art into social life. Current biennials, museum shows and large scale exhibitions, often present artists who deal with political and social issues and imagine alternative models for a liveable civic society.1 Nevertheless, the audience they reach is limited and the general social impact is of minor importance compared to other actors of our visual culture like film or pop stars. This chapter discusses the socio-political dimension and role of visual art

in the history of Turkey from the first westernization of the Ottoman Empire in the middle of the nineteenth century through the various phases of Turkey’s modernization in the twentieth century until its current status quo, that is to say, under the impact of internationalization and globalization. While reflecting shortly on art’s various functions for the saray, the state and the public, this chapter also concentrates on the interconnection between artistic and social developments in Turkey by reviewing the history of public exhibitions. As the exhibition space is the meeting point of the artist and the public it is per se a communication platform, in which artistic and social processes intermingle and is regarded as a Social Space by Nina Möntmann (Möntmann 2002: 109) in the Operating System Art by Thomas Wulffen (Möntmann 2002: 12), where it becomes, following Hans Dieter Huber a Social Construction (Huber 2007: 10), which deals with art as a Social Medium as Niklas Luhmann states (Rebentisch 2003). The text concentrates on the situation of visual art in Istanbul by making

a short and exemplary analysis of certain parameters in its art scene such as

art education, the art market or exhibition institutions. Here, it must be underlined that the art community in Istanbul is better financed and more strongly developed than in other cities of Turkey and therefore cannot easily be compared with the situation in Anatolia. After analyzing some aspects of governmental art and cultural policies,

the focus will move to the Istanbul Biennial, as an example of an important civil art initiative dating from the late 1980s. Finally, insight will be given into the current state of the art system, its audience, artistic education, governmental support for the arts, as well as the danger of its unbalanced sponsorship system and cultural festivalization.