Diner and Kuş: Painting Duo at ArtOn Istanbul


What can be said about the fine art paint sale at the end of winter 2022 will be about as interesting and important as the words that will be used to describe them. The series of unframed canvases by artists Mert Diner and Olcay Kuş at ArtOn Istanbul seem to clash with late modernism and its postmodern relative, as the two movements grapple with the meaning and role of public appreciation in culture, visual literacy and advancement. of craftsmanship, concept and aesthetics.

From Rothko to Warhol, from Basquiat to Banksy, the envelope of the institutionalization of the art world has been pushed to the extreme and this deployment pleases contemporary artists in Turkey, who benefit from a historical and geographical remoteness. particularly comfortable ostensible centers of progress culture, as they moved and shook from New York to London, from Paris to Berlin. Yet with a naïveté, young painters like Diner and Kuş still sing the gospel of what was once hot, now cool, with refreshing sincerity.

Olcay Kuş, “Untitled”, 2017. (Photo by Matt Hanson)

If there’s anything art could suffer from, it’s its passion for authenticity, a constant, almost obsessive fixation on how to define itself in terms of reality, perhaps comparable to the erratic changes of millennial identity politics as verified by those who cannot forget the 20th century and its vertiginous stampedes of multiple popular dissonances. And in the heart of Istanbul, Diner and Kuş remember some unaltered traces of creative innovation, of the way of seeing the world, of re-imagining, of reconsidering perception as a perspective bias.

The difference would then be, for example, whether someone is inside or outside a physical establishment or, in reference to the Cold War and its uncontrollable persistence, on which side of the wall. It would therefore seem that, within the larger contexts in which “Eye Level”, the exhibition at ArtOn Istanbul, is situated in time and space, Diner and Kuş continue to pioneer the wrecking ball fantasy of some street artists and die-hard modernists. and work at the heart of marketability, marketing their underlying ideas of youth communalism.

As we have seen before

With bursts of improvisational black graffiti lines, traced like a man on the run, Diner’s piece of acrylic and spray paint on canvas titled “Half way” (2018) is, as the name suggests, split in half in the glaring space of common ground, like a concrete slab standing on a sidewalk. This brings to mind the inveterate modernists of painting and its opposites, such as Robert Rauschenberg, in particular his work “Untitled (glossy black painting)” from 1951, which strangely resembles a whole wave of monochrome artists. Diner’s oil and spray paint, “There Could Be Something In It” (2018) has a classic abstract expressionist look.


Mert Diner,
Mert Diner, “Unexpected”, 2018. (Photo by Matt Hanson)

The desire to bring the street into the gallery or the museum was recently highlighted in Istanbul by Arter, during the collective exhibition “Precaution”. Like the attitude of street culture, from muralists to sculptors, mosaicists and painters, ArtOn Istanbul incites a collaborative tone with “Eye Level”. Its title is a metaphor for equality versus the elitism that stereotypes artists and their industries. By mixing and matching their artists in a striking way, instead of reinforcing brutal competition between creative colleagues, showing two painters whose works have a number of similarities and resonances in their techniques and their biographies is a welcome gesture.

around and about

At a time when professional artists look forward to a post-pandemic life where capitalist work is seen as increasingly old-fashioned in favor of independent workplaces and personalized schedules, the amalgamation of modern and contemporary is a a propitious occasion to bring together the works of two artists whose works are in dialogue. That being said, Kuş’s paintings maintain a totally distinct style from Diner, closer to pop art with their bright colors and use of lettering, approaching caricatural representationalism.

As in Diner’s works, Kuş encompasses conflicting aesthetic techniques within the framework of his canvases. In one piece, an acrylic collage with spray paint and ink on paper, “Untitled” (2021), there is a rectangle of a painting within the painting, its colors and shapes quite unique from those of the abstraction behind it. In one of his signature show pieces, “Boom” (2018), he again used acrylic, spray paint, collage and ink on paper to affect a graffiti sensibility, as if he had tagged his own materials.


Mert Diner,
Mert Diner, “Untitled”, 2018. (Photo by Matt Hanson)

In her catalog essay for the show, Deniz Kırkalı needed material, because she started with a nonchalant vision of her walking, thinking, on the way to meeting Diner and Kuş. Instead of discussing artists after meeting them and their work, as most writer-curators would right away, she reflects on the path that led her to them, how, in the turmoil of ‘Istanbul, she tries, consciously or not, to reduce the influx of sights that seem to impose themselves on her, and all who pass.

The point Kırkalı made is trying to focus perceptual awareness on what meets the eye, without any extra effort, the natural course of sight while simply moving, on foot, through the urban jungle. It is oddly fascinating to imagine her journey as she maintains the habits she has developed of going from one place to another. In his mind, the city becomes an architecture of memory, something of Calvino, or in his reference, the French philosopher Luce Irigaray, whose writings on intersubjectivity overlap with Kırkalı’s personal words, art painting from Diner, Kuş, and potentially anyone who really watches what they see.

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