Monday, 10 December 2012

Creature feelings

I recognised the figure on the poster even before I saw the artist's name. When I was in Warsaw in 2006 with Sabina researching her book, she'd taken me to meet an old friend, Magdalena Abakanowicz. I hadn't thought of Magdalena for some time. Sabina died last year, and those many months when we worked together in her study, which had an early Abakanowicz textile work on the wall, are a closed chapter. So it was a strange and wonderful thing to unexpectedly encounter this great Polish sculptor's work at Akbank Sanat gallery on Iskiklal St and to introduce her creatures to Alex.

In 2006, Magdalena had just returned from Chicago where she'd been setting up a permanent installation of her monumental sculpture Agora (a word which means much more to me now than it did then) in Grant Park. She lived on the outskirts of Warsaw (I hope she still does) where she could afford the space she needs, something much more obvious to me since my daughter has become a sculptor. In her studio she showed us a mould of one of her signature humanoids. It looked enormous. Sabina was a dynamo at 79, but in a physical sense she couldn't hold a candle to Magdalena who at 76 was still creating battalions of 9-foot tall bronzes. She'd installed 106 in Grant Park. 

While she and Sabina were catching up, I wandered around the garden getting to know more of Magdalena's creatures. They definitely share a family resemblance. The squashed faces (below) are earlier pieces, but they're related to the pointed animal faces. You don't doubt that.

One night Magdalena and her friends met Sabina and her husband Kjeld, and me, for dinner at Ale Gloria, a fabulously theatrical restaurant which is below ground level in the posh part of Warsaw and famous for its strawberry set design. We ate so many mushrooms (it was autumn). Magdalena was queen of the night and I, in the wings, felt as though I were on a much bigger stage than the one I usually played on. I hope she's enjoying her run in Istanbul (her show closes in Jan 30).

We didn't deliberately set out to canvas the art "scene" in Istanbul. Far from it. We wouldn't have known where to start - though the Istanbul Modern seemed like an obvious place. It wasn't in fact. At best, its collection is an interesting survey of Turkey playing catch-up for the past 150 years with Western art movements. There's nothing there to set the pulse racing. Even when you send your best and brightest painters off to Paris to study (as the sultans and even Ataturk's mob did), you can't order up a cultural bypass. To our untrained eyes, there was more to like about the lusciously Oriental paintings in the Pera Museum - like this one below, by the Swedish painter Georg Engelhardt Schroder, of the Ottoman envoy Kozbekci Mustafa Aga who was sent to Sweden in 1727 to recover money owed (he was unsuccessful). The most interesting thing in a frame at the Istanbul Modern is the view of the Bosphorus.

We decided against going to the big-ticket Monet exhibition at the Sakip Sabanci Museum. I never thought I could have enough Monet, but...

At the Pera Museum, we wandered in a daze around Flash-back, a show of individual early works and joint works by Yannick Vu and Ben Jakober, a married couple so cosmopolitan and accomplished that you scarcely felt of the same species. 

Yannick Vu and Ben Jakober created a gigantic Leonardo's Horse (model above) for the 1993 Venice Biennial. Their moment of glory. Perhaps you had to be there. It's hard not to compare it with the old stuff though. Look at the horses on this Lycian tomb from the 5th century BC, one of many beautiful sarcophagi hauled back to Istanbul by the archeological museum's founding impresario Osman Hamdi Bey.

And if it's not horses, its faces. Alex's camera is always drawn back to faces and to eyes, ancient and modern.

Alexander the Great
Signing off from Istanbul, with love


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