Contemporary Art in Izmir, Nursaç Sargon (Monitor, Dahili Bellek)*

Izmir witnessed important developments in the field of contemporary arts in the 1980s. Two prominent figures, Erdağ Aksel and Cengiz Çekil, joined the body of the Faculty of Fine Arts when it was incorporated to Dokuz Eylül University in 1982, originally founded in 1974 as a part of Ege University. With “In Memory of Joseph Beuys: An Other Art”[1] exhibition, could be considered as the cornerstone of such developments, in which a model emerged that brought together the classical expression and display practices of visual arts with experimental and conceptual tendencies. The exhibition consisted of non-Izmirian artists as well and most of the names were leading figures in contemporary art in Turkey, that makes it clear how difficult it would be to assemble such a group even today.

In Izmir, where the problem of a lack of space that the artists can meet with their audience was critical, there was a significant revival in the art scene when Şantiye, the first contemporary art space in Izmir, was opened. Şantiye temporarily transformed a construction site into a gallery and organized nine exhibitions that took place during the course of 1994 – 1995 seasons[2]. Although it attracted the attention of the art audience in Izmir for both its central location in the city and its arrangements that made the audience a part of the exhibition, the only contemporary art space of the city had to come to an end when the construction was completed.

Along with the 2000s, independent, small and lively arts initiatives were started to be seen in various parts of the city. The fact that almost all of the founders of these initiatives have been artists points to the fact that the artists, who are in short of art space in Izmir, have been seeking for solutions through their individual efforts. The artists who continue to live and to produce in Izmir have started their own initiatives in order to increase their visibility and to provide a space for artists coming to the city to share their knowledge. However, in Izmir, where there is little to none practice of funding the arts and the awareness of sponsorship is yet to be established, such initiatives are at risk of not being able to survive. With the support of local administration and the private sector, it is possible to ensure these initiatives to proceed, contemporary art to thrive, artists to receive necessary support for their productions and presentations as well as to create a contemporary art audience. Thus, it is safe to say that the revival in the field of contemporary art would contribute to preventing intellectual migration from Izmir.

In spite of all the insightful recent developments, the reasons of Izmir’s still not being in the central position for contemporary art like Istanbul can be listed as follows: that the investment made in contemporary art in Istanbul is not done in Izmir, a lack of activities could provide visibility to the artists in the international context; the inadequacy of the exhibition venues both in quality and quantity; lastly the migration of artists due to these reasons.

Many researchers explain the occurrence of brain drain as a natural process in the global economy[3]. It is possible to state that people living in developing countries migrate to developed countries because they cannot find social and economic opportunities offered in developed countries in their own countries. It is known that reversal of brain drain could possibly be achieved if certain conditions are met.

Many artists and cultural actors migrated to Istanbul or abroad from a variety of cities in Turkey but primarily from Izmir because they cannot find enough space for sharing and distributing intellectual activities in the field of arts and culture. Istanbul has become a centre of contemporary art, received artist migrants from Izmir and other cities. Although these migrants have achieved their goals of increasing their national and international visibility, they have faced different challenges later.

Urban-scale cultural policies play a critical role in the development of contemporary art just as it does in economic development and social inclusion. When we look at the cornerstones of contemporary art history in Izmir, it is seen that the desired acceleration in the field of contemporary art has not yet been captured due to the problems arising from the discontinuity of the galleries, initiatives and activities. Nevertheless, with the İzmir Culture Workshop in 2009[4], including the people in the field of culture and arts in İzmir, and with the projects it brought along, important steps have been taken in order to create a structure to reverse the wave of immigration that started in the late 1990s. For the past few years, a liveliness in the field has been achieved with the projects organized with the support of cultural institutions as well.

[1] The names of the participating artists to the event that took place March 10-12 1986, German Cultural Center: Necati Abacı, Halil Akdeniz, Ann B. Aksel, Erdağ Aksel, Turgut Aldemir, Hüseyin Alptekin, Vahap Avşar, Zafer Aytekin, Canan Beykal, Michael Bishop, Lynn Criswell, Cengiz Çekil, Osman Dinç, Ahmet Elhan, Ayşe Erkmen, Adem Genç, Serhat Kiraz, Ahmet Koman, Füsun Onur, Ahmet Öktem, Mümtaz Sağlam, Fevzi Saydam, Sarkis and Yusuf Taktak.

[2] Şantiye Galeri held nine exhibition between February 1994 – January 1995: Solo exhibitions of Güven İncirlioğlu, Ekrem Kahraman, Ahmet Müderrisoğlu, Cengiz Çekil, Aylin Çöleri Saraçlı and Canan Beykal; duo exhibitions of Selim Birsel & Agnés Perroux, Vahap Avşar & Claude Leon, Hüseyin Alptekin & Michael Morris.

[3] Julia Kolesnikova, Ricaud Camille, Anastasia Kamasheva, Zhao Yue, Current Trends of Realization of the Intellectual Capitaland Problems of Intellectual Migration, Elsevier, Rusya, 2014, s. 327.

[4]Izmir Culture Workshop was organized by the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality on 24 October 2009 in order to turn Izmir into a ’culture and art and design metropolis’. In this workshop, it was aimed to determine the outline of the cultural strategy for İzmir.

*This articled published in Unlimited magazine on August 2019.