Avant-garde or comic? A “Taste Question” at the Pera Museum

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Avant-garde art generally includes experimental, radical, or unconventional works. It emerged as an abstract style that could only be understood and explained with educated and specialized eyes. It clarifies the subconscious without caring about market satisfaction for the conscious viewers.

When the avant-garde appeared in the 1860s, a different interpretation strategy was necessary for viewers to read the new works. However, for someone with an accomplished and trained visionary, it was not difficult to get to know this complex art. Therefore, it can be said that the avant-garde is very bourgeois.

What is totally in contrast to the avant-garde is another concept of art called kitsch. Kitsch means proletariat. It emerged after an increased need for consumer art.

Unlike the avant-garde, kitsch works clearly reflect what they have to say. Although there is not much room for personal interpretations in kitsch, this concept consciously exposes viewers to interconnected scenes rather than presenting the ones that need someone to imagine them. This is why it can be used to control the masses in areas where people do not want to be socially critical.


Bruno Miguel, These Dining Room People, 2012-2014, spray paint, cold porcelain, polyurethane foam, wire, acrylic resin, and papier-mâché on porcelain, in various dimensions.  (Courtesy of the Pera Museum)
Bruno Miguel, These Dining Room People, 2012-2014, spray paint, cold porcelain, polyurethane foam, wire, acrylic resin, and papier-mâché on porcelain, in various dimensions. (Courtesy of the Pera Museum)

In short, while the avant-garde introduces beauty to the control of the uncontrollable, kitsch is about episodic beauty. In his 1993 essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch, American essayist Clement Greenberg argues that kitsch is a product of the industrial revolution and capitalist society. According to him, kitsch is lazy while the writer praises the avant-garde.

But what about analyzing the avant-garde and kitsch side by side rather than analyzing it in opposition? What if we looked closely at the relations of contemporary art with the collective aspects of mass culture, instead of viewing mass culture as non-essential, vulgar and inferior, and tried to explore the links between them? Could this provoke the existing structure of class society? Is it possible to define taste as something other than an index of class?

Sponsored by Yulia Sully Pera Museum’s latest exhibition “A Question of Taste” It deals with kitsch and the intimate relationship this concept established with current visual culture as well as its critical role in shaping taste with the works of 13 artists and groups.


Mazar File, 2021, Installation, Carving, Tiles, Fake Flowers.  (Courtesy of the Pera Museum)
Mazar File, 2021, Installation, Carving, Tiles, Fake Flowers. (Courtesy of the Pera Museum)

Raising the question of whether notions of beauty and taste can be discussed in a more inclusive way towards a future in which there are no hierarchies such as lower class upper class and high mass culture culture, the exhibition explores the rich uses of kitsch art. The works on display address the blurred boundaries between “fine art” and “mass culture”, sometimes through a gorgeous singer portrayed in a stage costume among the flowers and sometimes through fake perfumes that turn into dream soup in colorful bottles.

Curator Sully asserts that most of the adjectives used to describe kitsch are negative and says: “Some argue that kitsch reaches the level of beauty through the perception of ugliness and vulgarity, while some claim that it opens the way for itself by challenging the definition of beauty and regardless of its methods, kitsch continues Impress the viewers by infiltrating the system through its cracks. ” Noting that contemporary art leaves its masculine and elitist history behind and is equipped with comprehensive responses today, she continues: “Inspired by the structure of universal and diverse kitsch art, contemporary art practices evolve that borrow, replicate, change and reintroduce them as they become intertwined with social movements. High and low culture through signs without fully describing them, and kitsch extends these boundaries and expands the gray area between the two sides. “

Overall pictures

“A Question of Taste” featuring artists Alex Da Corte, Jayson Musson, Bruno Miguel, Cameron Askin, FAILE, Farah Al-Qasimi, Gülsün Karamustafa, Hayırlı Evlat, Miao Ying, Nick Cave, Olia Lialina, Mike Tyka, Pierre et Gilles , Slavs, Tatars and Vulcan Aslan. Let’s examine the aura of the exhibition by looking at some of these artists’ works.


Nick Cave, Car, 2011, Video, 10 Minutes 5 Seconds.  (Courtesy of the Pera Museum)
Nick Cave, Car, 2011, Video, 10 Minutes 5 Seconds. (Courtesy of the Pera Museum)

Karam Mustafa is one of the most famous female artists in Turkey. Using historical and personal narratives to create her art, the artist’s productions are a response to Turkey’s modernization period. It revolves around social and political topics including gender, exile and immigration.

at Recent Akbank Sanat Exhibition “6 Artists in Search of a Precedent” Showcasing the works of six artists and the works of those who chose their predecessor, artist Gunesh Turkul Karam Mustafa chose to be her predecessor. Terkol mostly focuses on gender and class issues through the fabrics and embroidery in its works. Visit their singles show “A Duo” at KRANK Art Gallery Last year, I was struck by how she reflected the dualities using the binary elements that she observed in her daily life in this show. Also in the Akbank Sanat Gallery, the iconic tapestries of Karamustafa and Terkol have taken their places to create a bridge between the past and the present and show the link between the traditional and the contemporary.

Karam Mustafa attended the last shows of the Pera Museum with “Tigerella” (1983), “Watermelon Carpet” (1986), and “Ascension” (1981) and “Spiral” (1981). In The Watermelon Rug, the artist, who has been producing kitsch work for a long time, created collage using the fabrics she collected from homes during the 1980s. While the collage work reuses the imprint of the fruit, it infiltrates the stratigraphic structure of the city.


Gülsün Karamustafa, Watermelon Rug, 1986, Tapestry, Found object, 100 x 143 cm.  (Courtesy of the Pera Museum)
Gülsün Karamustafa, Watermelon Rug, 1986, Tapestry, Found object, 100 x 143 cm. (Courtesy of the Pera Museum)

The artist duo Pierre et Gilles fuses photography and drawing to create multi-layered works like Karamustafa. However, their works are based on studio photos of their friends or famous personalities. On the show, they portray showgirl and singer Lolly Wish in a charming and creative setting. In Flowers and Tears, the singer is shown in stage costume amongst pink and purple flowers.

The other duo to happen to be on the show is FAILE. Recreating the installations that they initially realized for the shrine project in 2016, the duo draws on various elements of worship such as roadside shrines, prayer wheels, and temples. They reinterpret these structures in a contemporary visual language. By combining the divine and the mundane, the “shrine” is described as a place of imaginary memory where shared memories and an unpredictable future can bring everyone together on common ground, regardless of class differences.

Producing the most iconic example of post-internet art, Olia Lialina’s “* Treasure Trove *” video is a collection of GIFs on Blingee’s platform. Blingee is a platform that provides users with tools that allow them to add flowers, hearts, gems or animated text to their photos and turn them into fun GIFs. Bringing together the 440 gem animations available on the platform, Lialina’s video also investigates the transition from early animated GIFs to post-2000 gem GIFs with these images that sparkle, dance and spin around themselves.


Farah Al Qasimi, Not Easy to See, 7, 2016, Archival inkjet print, 120 x 96 cm.  (Courtesy of the Pera Museum)
Farah Al Qasimi, Not Easy to See, 7, 2016, Archival inkjet print, 120 x 96 cm. (Courtesy of the Pera Museum)

Another video of Farah Al Qasimi. Titled “Dream Soup,” the work is in a store that produces fake perfumes in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In this very troubled store where women’s fragrances are produced with names like Feminism, Pink Chill, Only She, Flawless, Nice Lady, Extreme Happiness, Loving, and men’s fragrances called Macho, colored liquids are transferred to colored perfume bottles decorated with gold. The posters of famous perfumes remind us that the process of creating these perfumes is not much different.

Since 1992, artist and dancer Nick Howe has been designing the costumes he calls, Soundsuit (voice clothes) that make a sound when worn. The artist, who has designed more than 500 costumes to date, uses everyday materials such as feathers, beads, hair, and plastic buttons and makes identity marks such as race, gender, and class invisible. Cave’s “Drive-By” Pera Museum, where costumes are transformed into performances, features characters dancing freely in the middle of nowhere, accompanied by music.

Another work worthy of appreciation by the Brazilian artist Bruno Miguel. His installation “These People in the Dining Room” combines the porcelain of the hard-to-reach layer and the neon-colored palm trees that mass culture has embraced at the dinner table.

The exhibition, which started on February 23, can be visited by the public at the Pera Museum in Istanbul until June 6.

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