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.

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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.

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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

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Ghada Imer’s Sunset in Isfahan

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Sabire Susuz’s Shopping

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

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:mentalKLINIK’s Double Cherry.

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

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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…

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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.

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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.

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The floor mosaics are enormous.

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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.

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Trabzon Day 3: The City Itself

Our very nice hotel, Novotel, was equipped with a pool, spa, direct access to the public beach, and next to a large outlet mall, among its many attributes. It’s also located eight or nine kilometers outside the city of Trabzon. This means it’s a 40 lira ride via taxi to the city. Trabzon may be a small city of 250,000 people but taxis are expensive. Far more expensive than in Istanbul. Especially when you consider that for the trip to and from Sumela Monastery we were charged 35 lira each for my wife, our son, and me. And it’s an hour drive up the mountain.

For our final day in the area we took a taxi into town to explore at a leisurely pace.

The Church of St. Sophia is often touted as one of the Trabzon’s main attractions. It’s on the west side of the city. We didn’t bother to go. It used to be a museum. It’s no longer a museum. The current AKP-led government converted it to a mosque a few years ago.

(Something you ought to know about Turkey: the government controls all the mosques. They build the mosques and they determine who serves in the mosques. They approve the Friday sermon read out in every mosque across the country. You can’t just build your own mosque or church or synagogue. A new church hasn’t been approved for construction in several decades. It’s not a theocracy so much as a state with a large religious branch of government.)

If you want to see the Church of St. Sophia in Trabzon, there’s no way to find out it’s opening hours or if the many mosaics and frescoes are on view. They’ve allegedly been covered with curtains.

So rather than drag ourselves and the kids to one end of the town and back without a guarantee of being able to get a look inside, we decided to save ourselves the hassle.

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Instead, we went to Ataturk square, ate lunch, and visited the Trabzon Museum. It’s just off of the main pedestrian street Uzun Sokak. The museum, in an old mansion built for a wealthy Greek businessman in the late 19th century, contains many artifacts found in the region, including a bronze statue of Hermes that was flattened.

When we had finished exploring the museum, we stopped at a pharmacy to buy some contact lens solution. Stephanie had forgotten to pack her case. We were low on solution anyway, and all of the solution packages come with cases. Unsolicited, the pharmacist gave our children some balloons.

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Then we walked down to the seaside.

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The kids played on a playground in one of the parks while Stephanie and I sat and drank tea. When it was getting close to dinner time, we walked back up to the square and hailed a taxi to take us back to the hotel (for roughly 40 lira).

We’re glad we came to see that area of the Black Sea coast. It’s quite beautiful. But I think our next trips will be much more laid back. My wife and I are thinking Bodrum and Antalya, and being lazy on a beach.

Where Is the Islamic Art Museum?

Our trip to Edirne this past weekend also included our attempts on Sunday to visit the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum. It’s supposed to be close to the Selimiye Mosque. We thought it would be very nice to see considering that the Islamic Art Museum in Istanbul is closed for renovations and there’s no sign that it’s going to re-open anytime soon.

After a late breakfast and a morning spent being lazy in our very nice hotel, we checked out, left our bags at the reception desk and headed into town. According to our map the museum was right behind the Selimiye Mosque. My wife and I asked Henry if he wanted to go inside, since he hadn’t wanted to take a look yesterday. He still said no.

We went to the other side of the mosque and saw no sign of the museum. I asked a man selling candy and he pointed in the direction of the mosque. So we walked in that direction. We did see a museum; the Edirne Museum. Stephanie went inside and asked the staff where the Turkish and Islamic Art museum was located. They said on the other side of Selimiye Mosque. We walked back to the other side and still couldn’t find it.

It’s possible we passed right by it. Or maybe it’s closed, or was moved. Who knows?

After our unsuccessful attempts at finding the museum we gave up and focused on seeing one of the other highlights of the town: the Health Museum. We hailed a taxi and the driver took us just outside the town to the front entrance to the museum. Then he offered to wait for us and take us back into town. I paid him the fair up to that point and told him we’d need about 40 minutes.

The museum is in the Complex of Sultan Beyazid II. There is a mosque next to the former hospital and medical school. It was notable as a place where those suffering not just from physical ailments but mental illness as well were treated using music and the medicines of the day for several hundred years, up until the early 20th Century.

As you can see the sky was overcast, giving everything a gray pallor.

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There was a model of the buildings in one of the rooms formerly used for out-patient services.

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The hospital building was shaped like a hexagon with a fountain in the center.

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On each side of the hexagon were the rooms. In one side was the place for the musicians to play.

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One room was for occupational therapy.

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Next to this room was the pharmacy.

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When we were done, we crossed the street to the snack stand and bought the kids some ice cream. After several minutes the taxi pulled up. I thanked the driver, and he drive us to our hotel, where we got our bags and headed to the bus station to return to Istanbul.

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.

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

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Sidamara Sarcophagus

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Detail of a Roman floor mosaic

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Detail of a sarcophagus

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Alexander the Great

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Hermaphroditus

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Caryatid

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Sappho

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Marcus Aurelius

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Cornelia Antonia

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Bell from Galata Tower

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Gülhane Park

The Museum of Innocence

The Museum of Innocence is both a novel and an actual museum created by Nobel prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk. It’s in a small three-story building in the Cihangır neighborhood on a street (Çukurcuma) known for its antique shops. I visited the museum one afternoon last week with my wife and a friend of ours.

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That’s the museum from the outside; the red building. I’d show you pictures of the museum from the inside but you are forbidden from taking pictures inside. There is a handsome-looking book containing photos of all of the museums artifacts for sale in the museum bookshop…Here’s a picture of the street next to the museum.

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The museum is an interesting concept. It contains thousands of items that Pamuk collected for the book. Items he had the characters use, or items that the characters would have come into contact with in some form, thereby creating a real-world still life of the novel. There are keys, soda bottles, commercials on old TVs, a dress, tea (there is always tea in Turkey), pieces of an automobile dashboard, photographs, and so on. It’s extensive. So extensive that one wall contains 4000 cigarette butts with notations under each of them, depicting what the character was thinking/feeling while smoking that particular cigarette.

I have not yet read The Museum of Innocence. (I have an ebook version on my Sony Reader right now.) The only books by Pamuk I have read are My Name Is Red and The Black Book. The former is excellent and I highly recommend it. Among the books in our apartment is a copy of My Name Is Red in English. I finished reading it a month or so ago.It’s a murder mystery set during the Ottoman Era involving a group of miniaturists. The miniaturists are grappling with their centuries-old techniques for painting giving way to the realistic depictions of the “Franks” in Italy and the West threatening to invade and change their art form.

The Black Book I read nearly a decade ago and I had to trudge through it. The stories seemed to just go on and on and I never quite connected with the characters.

Our friend Jim (a Fulbright Fellow who works in architecture and urban planning) pointed out that since Pamuk was trained as an architect that’s probably why he’s so wordy at times.

Also in the museum, on the top floor, are pages taken from Pamuk’s notebooks. They contain his early drafts and drawings for the novel, all on graph paper.

It’s such an unique museum. I haven’t encountered anything quite like it. I’d like to read the book and then come back.

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.