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A Retrospective on Doğançay’s Fifty Years of Urban Wall Paintings at the Istanbul Modern


A Retrospective on Doğançay’s Fifty Years of Urban Wall Paintings at the Istanbul Modern - ArtLife Magazine


Istanbul - Sensuous compositions filled with layers of collaged images- popular icons from the past, graffiti by disgruntled teenagers, and political symbols- all of these reflect the passages of time and encapsulate Burhan Doğançay’s artistic oeuvre. Born in Istanbul in 1929, and educated in art at Paris’s Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, by the early 1960’s Doğançay devoted himself entirely to art. His art grew out of his fascination with urban walls, which he encountered while traveling to over 100 countries. On his global journeys, under the guise of an anthropologist, he studied and documented the urban walls of various cities. During this documentation of the urban walls in each developed and under-developed city, the theme of social, political and economic transformation was recurrent. Influenced by the different open surfaces, bearing the elements and markings left by people reflecting collective urban memory, Doğançay started to create a series of urban wall-inspired artwork. Doğançay photographs of the various urban walls were translated into paintings, sculptures, doors and films. His visually distinct style of bold colors combined with a unique collage process of layering posters, photographs and objects, Doğançay reinterpretation of the urban walls from his global travels are hauntingly beautiful and eerily disturbing simultaneously. As an artist Burhan Doğançay’s career spans over five decades, and presently, on view in Turkey at the Istanbul Modern is the most comprehensive anthology of his wall paintings ever to be displayed!

The retrospective, “Fifty Years of Urban Walls,” features 120 works that range from small to large canvases and installations that stretch beyond the walls to reflect Doğançay’s unique process. The curator and artistic director Levent Çalıkoğlu has arranged an unparalleled perspective of the artist’s five decades of urban wall inspired work by combining fourteen distinct series from international collections from around the world. This exhibition is not only the most extensive exhibition of the artist’s work to date; it also represents a turning point for the museum’s relationships with other international institutions. It is the first time the museum has asked to borrow a Turkish painter’s work from foreign institutions- over thirty-five works were borrowed from thirteen foreign museums- including the Guggenheim. At the press conference held for the opening of the retrospective on May 23rd, Doğançay said that he was very excited for the show because he was seeing some of his paintings for the first time since the late 1960’s. The artist, when asked about the changes to the urban walls over his five decade-long career, said, “ A lot has changed since I started. Walls are clean now, because there is social media and computers. And the youth are not as angry as they were in the early 70s.” With the advent of the digital age, Doğançay may be right that there are fewer urban walls to document but, undoubtedly his urban wall paintings from the past half-century will serve as an archive and testament of the human experience, past and present.

Burhan Doğançay lives in New York City, and his artwork is featured in a number of public collections in prominent international museums. These museums include MoMA (New York, US), the National Gallery of Art (Washington, US), Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, US), Museu de Arte Moderna (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Istanbul Modern (Istanbul, Turkey), Fotomuseum Winterthur (Winterthur, Switzerland), The Museum of Modern Art (Ibaraki, Japan), and many more. Public collections include New York Historical Society (New York, US), Middle East Technical University (Ankara, Turkey), Le Frac-Collection Aquitaine (Bordeaux, France), European Parliament (Brussel, Belgium), Cultural Foundation (Abu Dhabi, UAE), and more.

“Nothing is created, nothing is lost, all is transformed.”
-Burhan Doğançay

Fifty Years Of Urban Walls: A Burhan Doğançay Retrospective. İstanbul Museum of Modern Art. From May 23rd to September 23rd, 2012

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by Laura Stewart | Thursday, 05 July 2012

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