The Pera Museum in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district hosts a remarkable new exhibition about the concept of kitsch that “aims to open the subject of taste up for discussion”.
Pera Museum’s newest exhibition that opened on February 23, 2021 and can be viewed until June 6, 2021 deals with the concept of ‘kitsch’. The word “has been used to describe cheap and popular paintings or sketches in post-industrial Germany, gradually transformed into a complex concept that found its place in various languages, untranslated,” writes curator Ulya Soley, in her text prefacing the book for the exhibition.
A Question of Taste deals with how the concept of kitsch has changed over time, and, according to the foreword by Inan and Ipek Kirac, seeks answers to questions such as “Rather than considering mass culture as unsubstantial, banal and inferior, could looking closely at contemporary art’s relation with the collective aspects of mass culture, and trying to explore the ties between them agitate the existing structure of class society? Is it possible to define taste as something other than an indicator of class?”
The exhibition occupies the fourth and fifth floor of the Beyoglu building in which the Pera Museum is housed. The fourth floor has smaller scale works while the fifth floor is set aside for larger scale works.
Ozalp Birol, General Manager, Suna and Inan Kirac Foundation, Culture and Art Enterprises, says in his welcome speech that “As a result [of all stakeholders’ hard work] a very comprehensive exhibition that tries to reframe the concept of kitsch via contemporary art through personal, societal and political means while drawing attention to its high potential came about.”
The group exhibition is impressive in the array of works collected, be they beadwork tchotchkes made by prisoners spread out throughout the exhibition, to porcelain works, to neon lit projects and video installations with dancing creatures or producers of fake perfumes, to works nostalgically referencing or featuring newly created pop songs. It is remarkably accessible and not stand-offish as most contemporary art can be, and perhaps that’s what makes it charmingly kitsch.
Curator Soley refers to Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, quoting him as writing “No matter how we scorn it, kitsch is an integral part of the human condition.” The Pera Museum exhibition makes peace with this reality, embracing artists whose output challenges the status quo of ‘good taste’ –– hence the title A Question of Taste.
Soley points out that the word kitsch usually has negative connotations, and yet “some argue that kitsch reaches the level of beauty by conceptualizing ugliness and vulgarity, while some claim that it opens up space for itself by challenging the definition of beauty. Regardless of its methods, kitsch continues to impress its viewer by infiltrating the system through its cracks.”
Soley goes on to say that “Inspired by kitsch's inclusive and diverse structure, contemporary art practices that borrow, repeat, change and re-present are evolving as they become intertwined with social movements. Taste determines the boundaries of high and low culture through signs without fully describing them, and kitsch stretches these boundaries and expands the gray zone between the two sides.” She then adds “A Question of Taste aims to open the subject of taste up for discussion, toward a more inclusive future.”
Museum hours are Tuesdays to Fridays 11 AM to 6 PM. Free entrance for all on Fridays between 4 PM and 6 PM and free entrance for students on “Young Wednesdays”.
Thumbnail image: Gulsun Karamustafa, Watermelon, 1986. Textile, found object, 100 x 143 cm. Photo: Baris Ozcetin. Courtesy of the artist, BuroSarigedik.
Headline image: Hayirli Evlat (Ipek Hamzaoglu, Serra Tansel and Gizem Karakas) ft. Musdef, Let Yourself Go, 2019. Composition: İbrahim Hekim. Video, 6’08’’ Courtesy of the artist.