“Painter and Painting: Mehmet Güleryüz”

A new exhibition at Istanbul Modern, “Painter and Painting: A Mehmet Güleryüz Retrospective,” is presenting an inventory of the artist’s oeuvre from the 1960s to the 2010s.

With his critical and expressionist style, Mehmet Güleryüz has earned himself a special and privileged place in the artistic scene in Turkey over half a century. The artist uses a critical and ironic language to express, through his figurative works, the effects of Turkey’s sociocultural and political transformation on people. 

The exhibition sheds light on the development and transformation of Güleryüz’s generous quest for expression, which ranges from painting, drawing, sculpture and engraving to theater and performance. Through June 28, the retrospective will feature close to 150 works and approximately 300 drawings projected in multimedia presentations.

Curated by Istanbul Modern Director Levent Çalıkoğlu, the retrospective follows a chronological course featuring the specific image typology developed by Güleryüz. In addition to drawings and paintings, the retrospective features significant research and examples of Güleryüz’s sculptures from the 1970s to the present.

Enriched by texts penned by Güleryüz, the exhibition brings together the works the artist has produced since the 1960s in fields such as drawing, painting, sculpture, engraving, painted porcelain and performances. Furthermore, a rich biographical wall-display features all of Güleryüz’s periods and brings together his life story, the environments he has experienced, and texts about him, thus rendering visible a personal story of the art scene in Turkey from the 1960s to the present.

Another area at the entrance of the exhibition features visual materials and texts about Gariplikler Müzesi (The Museum of Oddities), a performance-like sculptural installation that Güleryüz exhibited in Fındıklı Park for the Akademi Art Festival in 1979.

Connection between theater and the visual arts

The exhibition “conveys the extraordinary development of the art and unique style of Güleryüz, who studied at the State Academy of Fine Arts in the 1960s, worked as a professional actor at politically oriented theaters, made a name for himself in Paris in the 1970s with his happenings, and played an influential role in the transformation of the art scene in Turkey since the 1980s. 

The exhibition “Painter and Painting” also features a collection which came into being with the scanning of 40 drawing pads and countless independent drawings by Güleryüz. Shedding light on the nearly 60-year adventure of his drawing, the exhibition reflects the artist’s inner world, enthusiasm, sorrow and rebellion.

Güleryüz said the title of his retrospective, “Painter and Painting,” pointed to both of these integral concepts in relation to his art and investigated the relationship between them. 

“The issue is not making a painting but rather thinking about painting. A painter is a person who thinks about painting. The idea of painting embodies many other crucial values and endeavors, such as history, sociology and philosophy. I have wandered according to my own painterly needs; I went where my love of painting took me. I did so in accordance with my intellectual and technical needs, and in accordance with the problems I believed I should encounter, solve or re-solve. The reality of my painting is that it emerges from real reasons and needs. The relationship that my painting establishes with its viewer is also explicit; it doesn’t pave way for doubt,” he says. 

The artist emphasizes that the exhibition encompasses all periods of his art. “The aim of this exhibition is, in a way, ‘to account’ for the totality of my work to the art viewer as well as to the art scene. Laden with ‘accountability,’ a retrospective is a blatant way of coming forward; it is a form of bookkeeping over a long period of time,” he said.

Çalıkoğlu said Güleryüz’s personality and identity are concealed in the personality of all of the typologies and characters he created as a reflection of the painter’s anti-representation on the surface of the painting.

“Mehmet Güleryüz is perhaps the first contemporary painter in Turkey to have declared his own personality so overtly through the characters he created. Therefore, we must see Güleryüz not just as a painter and artist who depicts social transformation through the eyes of individuals, but also as a sharp-eyed human being who expresses what is lacking or abundant in his life and which aspects of himself intersect with other people. These typologies are protagonists that represent his multi-faceted personality and his experiences,” he said.