On Thursdays the Palace is Closed But the Museum Is Free

What started as a trip to Dolmabahce Palace became a trip to the Istanbul Modern. It was Thursday, and we didn’t know that the palace is closed on Thursdays. So after going through security and walking up to the ticket booth we saw and read the sign that said the palace is closed on Thursdays.

Disappointed, I suggested to Stephanie that we head over to the Istanbul Modern. It was a short ride on the tram from Kabatash, and it’s one of the places we hadn’t yet seen.

She told me I took the palace being closed well. She said she had been worried I was going to have an episode. I said, see, I’m getting better.

The Istanbul Modern is another place I should have viisted sooner. This art museum, which specializes in contemporary art, is in a beautifully renovated former warehouse set on the Bosphorus near the Tophane tram stop.

From the tram stop there are signs pointing you where to go. But the last stretch confused us a little. You have to walk down a narrow street next to a construction site before you get to the parking lot of the museum and can then access the entrance.


One thing we didn’t know before going to the Istanbul Modern is that every Thursday entrance is free to residents of Turkey. Which means we, as legal residents, got in for free. Woo-hoo!

Since it’s located on the Bosphorus, the view from the museum is fantastic. You can see where the Bosphorus meets the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. You can also see Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia.


This view, as fantastic as it is, does not overshadow what’s inside.

The current exhibitions include several audio-visual pieces. One piece called Women Who Wear Wigs by Kutluğ Ataman consists of interviews with four women who wear wigs, each playing simultaneously. One woman wore wigs because in the early 70’s she needed to escape the government due to her activism, another because she lost her hair thanks to chemotherapy treatments for cancer, another who wears a wig over her head covering so she can attend university (head scarves at universities is a no-no because it’s seen as a political statement), and a transgender woman whose hair was cut off by the police. The woman whose hair was cut off by the police was the least of it; the police regularly arrested, harassed, beat, and raped transgender sex workers. It was one of the most provocative and poignant pieces of art I’ve seen in awhile.

Here’s a sample of some of the pieces currently on view.

Pae White’s Northern Smoke

IM_noprthern smoke

Ghada Imer’s Sunset in Isfahan




Sabire Susuz’s Shopping


If you look closely you can see that it’s made entirely of clothing tags/labels.



:mentalKLINIK’s Double Cherry.


Mihri Musfik’s Portrait or, as I like to call it, Portrait with Rich’s Silhouetted Reflection in the Glass Covering the Painting.


I should note that the Istanbul Modern is not just an art museum. There is also a movie theater in the building where they host many film screenings. A few months back they screened several films by Krystof Kieslowski. Currently, their screening 10 films from Hong Kong under the program title “Hong Kong Panorama.”

I might try to visit Dolmabahce Palace one day next week. But our last full week in Istanbul is already filling up with obligations, from a school outing to a class party, to saying goodbye to friends, not to mention packing before we head to Bodrum…


Warhol at the Pera Museum

Warhol. In my mind, the name brings up images of Campbells soup cans, famous people with bright colors painted on them, the cover of the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album, and a bespectacled man with white hair. Warhol’s images are instantly recognizable as was the man himself.

There’s an exhibition of some of Warhol’s work currently on display at the Pera Museum here in Istanbul. I don’t know what took me so long to visit the Pera Museum. It’s a place I should have visited much earlier. It’s near Istiklal Street and easy to find, across from a surface parking lot (one of the few I’ve seen in the middle of the city), near the Italian Cultural center. It’s not a very large museum. It lacks size, but not in quality.

There are several exhibitions at the museum, all worth seeing. For purposes of brevity in this post, I’m only including photos from the Warhol exhibition. In the coming days I’ll post some photos from the others.

The Warhol exhibit is the largest currently at the museum. It takes up the top two floors of the six-story museum. Even the elevator doors were covered in Warhol prints. This one was covered by Annie Oakley.


The beginning of the exhibit is marked in a very understated way.


This is the first time I’ve seen an exhibit of Warhol’s work. I’ve seen pieces here and there in various museums I’ve visted over the years. Grouped together, you can see a remarkable amount of playfulness in his work.

There was Martha Graham, Satyric Festival Song.


There was a Mother and Child from the series Cowboys and Indians.


There were Endangered Species.


There were Grapes.


And fermented grapes, La Grande Passion.


In addition to a pair of Lenins, there were these four pieces known as Hammer and Sickle.


Torso was the only piece that could be considered risqué in any way.


On one wall was a row of these small paper prints that you were free to take. So I took one of each.


I’m not sure what I’ll do with them, just yet. But they’re nice keepsakes from the exhibition.

Istanbul Mosaic Museum

Two weeks ago, on one of our children’s days off from school, we headed to Topkapi Palace. The plan was to see the royal jewels armory. When Stephanie and Henry had come in 2010, that room was closed for renovations.

Unfortunately, after dragging the kids all the way from our apartment to the entrance of the palace, we realized that the palace was closed, like it is on every Tuesday of every week. We had forgotten.

The kids, already cranky from being made to go somewhere they did not want to go, were then bribed with some ice cream. And their mood improved. That’s when I remembered that we had yet to visit the Mosaic Museum. It was something Stephanie and I have been wanting to see.

The Mosaic Museum is tucked away not far from the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. It’s located southwest of the Blue Mosque in a small market area with many shops selling scarves, jewelry, carpets, backgammon sets; all of the things you can buy in the Grand Bazaar but the prices are cheaper.


We followed the signs to the museum, entered for free thanks to our Muzekart, and were allowed to marvel at some very old mosaics that were unearthed during excavations in that area of the city. They date from 450-550 AD.




The floor mosaics are enormous.


The kids, made happy by ice cream, found the mosaics to be exciting. Therefore, though I am not a licensed physician or nutritionist, I recommend ice cream to enhance the mood of children.

As a bonus, here are some photos of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. It was such a sunny day it would have been a shame not to take pictures.



Istanbul Archeological Museums

This past Saturday we took the tram to Gülhane Park to see the Archaeology Museum. Technically there are three museums in the complex: the Archaeology Museum, the Ancient Orient Museum, and the Tiled Kiosk Museum. One ticket gets you into all three.

We only had time to enter the Archeology Museum. The kids were interested for a little while and then they became hungry. But we did get to see many interesting sarcophagi and statues.

Afterwards we ate lunch at a nearby restaurant. Since the kids were disappointed the restaurant was out of dondurma (ice cream) for dessert, we walked across the street to a small shop. Lo and behold they had ice cream. And there was much rejoicing.

We strolled through Gülhane Park with the rest of the Turks and tourists, while the kids enjoyed their ice cream. It was a mostly sunny day. We wandered and found a different entrance from the one we entered and emerged near the Sirkeci train station. The station has a stop on the newly-fabled Marmaray, the subway line that goes under the Bosphorus. We have yet to take a ride on it. We need to do that before we leave just to say we did it. The funny things is, we have to go out of our way to do it because the four stations currently open on that line are far from where we live.

My wife and I will return some time soon on a weekday, without the kids, so we can wander some more. Also, it won’t cost us anything. Because one other thing I did was get my Müzekart. I got my Müzekart because I’m a legal resident of Turkey. For 50 lira I can now enter many museums throughout Turkey as often as I like for the next year. Not a bad deal, eh?

Here are some of things we saw.


Alexander Sarcophagus (no, Alexander the Great was not put in that sarcophagus)


Sidamara Sarcophagus


Detail of a Roman floor mosaic


Detail of a sarcophagus


Alexander the Great








Marcus Aurelius


Cornelia Antonia


Bell from Galata Tower


Gülhane Park

Anish Kapoor Exhibit at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum

No time like the last day of an exhibit to finally seeing it. One event I had been wanting to see since hearing about it shortly after our arrival in Istanbul many months ago was the Anish Kapoor exhibit at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum.

Chicagoans know Kapoor for his instantly iconic contribution to Millenium Park: Cloud Gate. Which every Chicagoan calls “The Bean.” Here are some photos I took of the Bean two-and-a-half years ago.



My wife Stephanie and I kept saying we should go and the months went by and finally I looked at the museum website and saw the exhibit was ending. So we went yesterday, Sunday.

The Sakıp Sabancı Museum is far from where we live. It’s up the Bosphorus, past the second bridge. We took the bus recommended on the museum’s website…over two hours later we arrived at the stop for the museum. It was stop-and-go traffic the whole way. The bus driver was nice enough to tell me when the stop was coming up. When we’d boarded the bus at Taksim, I had asked the driver if the bus stopped at the museum and he’d said yes. This is the amazing thing about Turkish bus drivers: they will personally tell you when it’s your stop. I’ve seen them do this not just for tourists but for plenty of native Turks.

We didn’t go into the museum right away because after that long bus ride we (especially the kids) needed to eat. So we ate lunch at a busy restaurant next door.

After lunch, we walked to the museum. The line at the ticket booth wasn’t long, moving quickly. When I asked for two adult and two children’s tickets the woman handed me the tickets and said I didn’t have to pay. I was confused. I thought, okay, maybe I have to pay when we enter the museum itself. No, not there either. We simply showed our tickets to the security guard. So, even though we endured a 2+hour trip both ways (a feature of life here in Istanbul), we were able to enter the museum for free.


Sky Mirror

The museum is on the beautiful grounds of a former mansion. That building now contains antique furniture and many ornate Ottoman era calligraphic manuscripts. The modern addition contains several galleries, a restaurant, and a gift shop.

As much as I appreciate and love art, sometimes abstract art like this brings out the smart-ass in me. The targets are so obvious…and so tempting…like this one.


It’s called Untitled and it’s made of onyx. I like it. But I couldn’t help thinking it looked like the Eye of Sauron. Or a vagina.

Museum rules forbid flash photography so some of these photos did not come out as well as I’d hoped.




Eight Eight


Untitled (made of sandstone)


My Body Your Body


Tongue (aka “water slide”)




Archeology and Biology  (This intriguing piece I called “Lava Vagina.”)


“Where are the dragons?” asked my son. “I don’t get it.” The photo doesn’t show the contours of the pieces, which are difficult to see even in the light provided. The purple is the deepest, most light-absorbing purple I’ve seen. You have to stare for a bit to see the bumps, edges, and waves in the stones.


“I don’t see the art in this,” said my son. Stephanie explained to Henry how that’s how art is sometimes; some pieces move you, others don’t. There were a few others that did nothing for me, mostly the ones I called “Half-Holes in Stone.”

The Kapoor exhibit was excellent, worth the trip, and definitely worth the entrance fee. There is great beauty in many of the forms created out of such large pieces of stone. They are compelling to look at and the workmanship is easy to admire. Despite being made from such hard materials and the chattering crowds of people nearby, I found the works  to be peaceful and comforting.

Big Art Comes to East Lansing

Last Friday evening we made our first visit to the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in East Lansing. The opening of this museum has been much anticipated by many people, including my wife and I. Our kids, too, had taken a keen interest in the building, noting the progress of this striking building anytime we would pass by the site on Grand River Avenue.

As you can see, the museum, designed by architect Zaha Hadid, does not look like anything else in the area.

It was dusk so I apologize for the less than spectacular photos. Besides, I’m no photographer.

Henry really liked the sculpture (Containment I by Roxy Paine) in front of the museum’s entrance.

Entry to the museum is free, though a small donation is suggested. There is far more space and light inside the building than you might think just from looking at it from the outside.

The film and multimedia pieces were the highlights for me. I can’t offer more than a few impressions because kids don’t exactly afford much time to examine and contemplate. We all liked Damien Hirst’s The Kingdom of the Father, even if I think it’s a bit morbid. It’s a beautiful triptych constructed of dead butterflies. I’m wondering how Hirst explained it to his workers, “OK. Here’s the deal. I’m going to need a couple thousand dead butterflies. Blue ones, orange ones, yellow one, you name it. Then I’m going to arrange them…What do you mean you don’t know where to get a couple thousand dead butterflies? That’s not my problem! Just get them for me, already! I have a vision to execute for how beautiful death can be!”

The kids thought the museum looked cool. We even rode the giant elevator a few times because Meredith wanted to.

Meredith also liked the odd corners of the place.

In one corner on the first floor was a small canvas, about one square foot, that was red with a slight orange tint to it. It was shiny. My wife asked our son what he thought of it. He said, “That’s boring!” A middle-aged woman nearby laughed and said something about admiring the honesty of small children. I actually agree with my son on that one particular piece.

Thanks to Orson Welles and his phenomenal movie F for Fake, I often think of this Rudyard Kipling poem, “The Conundrum of the Workshops” when I come across art of dubious integrity, because in a sense all art has to fight for its own integrity. Here are the first two stanzas.

When the flush of a new-born sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mould;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves, “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”

Wherefore he called to his wife, and fled to fashion his work anew –
The first of his race who cared a fig for the first, most dread review;
And he left his lore to the use of his sons — and that was a glorious gain
When the Devil chuckled “Is it Art?” in the ear of the branded Cain.

Regardless, an art piece like a square foot canvas of shiny red paint is quite easy to fake. By that I mean, you could reproduce it or several similar to it, and pass them off as having been done by the original artist with far less difficulty than say Rembrandt or Van Gogh. But then we have passed out of the age of the artist as craftsperson and into the age of the artist as conceptualist.

I’m looking forward to going back to the museum, without the kids, so I can linger a bit longer around the art, and then cross the street and chow down on a burger and fries at Five Guys. Yes, there is a Five Guys across the street. Some find this disturbing. I find this comforting. Why? Because what better way to show off the mixing of high and low in much of art from the last four decades than by having a burger joint across the street from a forward-looking art museum?

What a community builds tells you what a community values. Spurred by a large gift from a wealthy art patron, our community has gotten itself a first class art museum.

Manic Monday

Good morning. Welcome to another edition of Manic Monday.

First, the Bad News: Venice was flooded with water as high as five feet above the normal level. According to the Guardian,

Venice’s high water, or “acqua alta”, said to be the sixth highest since 1872, flooded 70% of the city and was high enough to make raised wooden platforms for pedestrians float away. The record high water in Venice – 1.94 metres in 1966 – prompted many residents to abandon the city for new lives on the mainland.

I’ve been to Venice, not when it was flooded. What I remember most were the canals, the gelato, and the quiet. Without cars, trucks, and scooters it’s a very quiet city. I’d love to go back.

Be sure to check out the Guardian’s photo gallery of the flood.

[Photograph: Luigi Costantini/AP]

Now, the Good News: Something very cool and unique comes to my little corner of the world: the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum. It officially opened this weekend.

Perhaps, it wasn’t a day for thinking small. In remarks earlier that morning, Eli Broad, the billionaire philanthropist and Michigan State University alumnus whose donations, ultimately totaling more than $28 million, had given the project life, said the museum “has the potential to do for Michigan State University and East Lansing what Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim did for Bilbao, Spain.”

I’m hoping to get over there soon, sometime this week. We’ve been watching the construction the past year or so. Our kids are actually very curious about the building. It does not look like anything else in the entire state of Michigan.