Oct 22 2013

“Turkish Kunsthalle” in Berlin to Close

by HG Masters

Exterior of Tanas, the “Turkish Kunsthalle,” on Heidestrasse in Berlin. Courtesy Tanas, Berlin.  

On November 3, Tanas, the Turkish art-focused space in Berlin, will close its doors after more than five years of programming. Over the course of its run, Tanas—whose name is the Turkish word for art, sanat, spelled backwards—organized 22 group and solo exhibitions, traveling shows and previews for the last three editions of the Istanbul Biennial. Fondly referred to as the “Turkish Kunsthalle,” Tanas will be remembered for introducing many Turkish artists to European audiences. Additionally, the space showcased many artists of Turkish origin born or residing in Europe and helped them to reconnect with the Istanbul art scene.

Tanas was first conceived of in 2006 by one of the largest private charitable and cultural organizations in Turkey, the Istanbul-based Vehbi Koç Foundation (VKV). With a mandate to engage more actively with contemporary art, beginning in 2007, the VKV’s advisor on arts and culture, Melih Fereli, worked closely with the German gallerist-turned-curator René Block, a longtime supporter and champion of Turkish artists, to realize its vision. Fereli wrote to AAP in a recent email that Tanas was established with the aim of “furthering international visibility by contemporary artists from Turkey,” and in a 2008 interview, Block described his vision of Tanas as a “cultural workshop.”

Tanas opened its Berlin space in April, 2008, on Heidestrasse, a once-desolate stretch in the area of the former Berlin Wall, behind the Hamburger Bahnhof contemporary art museum. It was inaugurated by Kutluğ Ataman’s seminal video installation Küba (2005), comprising 40 individual video portraits screened on old television monitors, of residents of a gecekondu (squatter) Istanbul neighborhood known as “Küba,” home to migrants, dissidents, transsexuals and other socially marginalized groups.

Tanas went on to mount solo exhibitions for many Europe-based artists of Turkish-origin, including Esra Ersen, Nasan Tur, Sarkis, Nevin Aladağ, Ebru Özseçen and Şakir Gökçebağ, as well as for Istanbul-based figures like Halil Altındere, Ali Kazma, and Aydan Murtezaoğlu & Bülent Şangar. Among its well-regarded group exhibitions were “Tactics of Invisibility,” a collaboration with the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary in Vienna and Arter in Istanbul, curated by Daniela Zyman and Emre Baykal. It also coordinated preview exhibitions for the 2009, 2011 and 2013 Istanbul Biennials.

Throughout its five years, Tanas was a meeting point—between Turkish artists and the European art scene and for locals of Turkish-origin living in Berlin. New York-based Vahap Avşar, who held a solo exhibition at Tanas in 2012, recounted to AAP how, while postering Berlin walls with images from his exhibition, he met an elderly Turkish-Alevi man who told him that he had not seen such an image of Ali (Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, considered the first Imam) in decades and subsequently brought many friends and family from the Alevi community to Avşar’s opening at Tanas. During the exhibition, more than 5,000 posters of Avşar’s painting of Ali were distributed.

Several factors contributed to the closing of Tanas. Although its lifespan was not predetermined at the outset, all of those involved recognized that it was a temporary project. One major factor was that changes to Berlin’s Heidestrasse district, which has undergone massive redevelopment and construction, make the space increasingly difficult to reach. According to AAP’s sources at Tanas and artists close to the organization, VKV had originally hoped to continue pursuing projects in Berlin, but Block was not interested in overseeing the gallery’s relocation, believing it a good moment for the organization to conclude mounting exhibitions.  

Commenting on Tanas’ closing, advisor on arts and culture to the VKV, Melih Fereli, wrote to AAP: “Having provided a platform for the steady discussion and interaction of Turkish artists and curators with the German and international audience for five years, Tanas accomplished its mission successfully as planned within the timescale foreseen. The local and international success Arter has been enjoying since its opening in 2010 now forms the basis of a more structured and institutionalised dialogue with the contemporary art world sought by the Vehbi Koç Foundation, extending to the creation of its contemporary art museum, planned to be opened in late 2016.”

While there is a collective agreement that Tanas has run its course and served its purpose well, its reach has yet to extend to the generation of artists born in the 1980s onward, with a few exceptions, such as Ahmet Öğüt, Aslı Çavuşoğlu and Güneş Terkol, who were included in group exhibitions, including 2012’s “Turkish Art New And Superb" (an imagined acronym for “Tanas”). That nurturing role has largely returned to organizations and galleries in Istanbul, particularly Arter, which is now the primary supporter of emerging artists in the city. Exploring the generations of the 1980s and 1990s will be the project of future curators in both in Turkey and in Europe.

René Block, one of several instrumental figures who introduced the work of Turkish artists to European audiences and curators throughout the 1990s and 2000s, remains well respected for his longtime committment to the Istanbul art scene. His involvement with the Turkish art community dates back to a visit in 1991, which resulted in “İskele: Turkish Art Today,” held at the IFA-Galeries in Stuttgart, Bonn and Berlin in 1994. He was the first international curator of the Istanbul Biennial, for its fourth edition, held in 1995, titled “Orient/ation: The Image оf Art іn а Paradoxical World.”

In the late 2000s, Block curated a 15-exhibition series called “Adventure İstiklal,” at the Yapı Kredi Kâzım Taşkent Art Gallery (now closed for renovation) in Istanbul. From this project, which ran through 2010, came a series of 12 monographs published by Yapı Kredi, featuring contemporary Turkish artists, including Sarkis, Halil Altındere, Hale Tenger, Esra Ersen, Kutluğ Ataman, Ayşe Erkmen and Gülsün Karamustafa. Block also served as an advisor to the VKV, which opened Arter – Space for Art, in April, 2010, curating its first exhibition of works from the Koç collection. Among the 48 artists in Tanas’ final exhibition, “The Unanswered Question. İskele 2,” which ends on November 3, are Hale Tenger, Ayşe Erkmen and Gülsün Karamustafa—who participated in the first edition of “İskele” in 1994.

In a farewell letter, Block wrote, “unanswered questions always remain. I will be pleased if you simply have fond memories of us. Hoşçakalın [“goodbye”], René Block.” Tanas will survive at least a little longer, as Block organizes its archives, along with materials relating to his many projects involving artists from Turkey—which will likely be displayed in an exhibition in 2014.

KUTLUĞ ATAMANKÜBA (2004), installation view at Sorting Office, London, 2004. Courtesy Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York.