In Turkey as in much of the Middle East, local art criticism is spread thin, dispersed across blogs and independent publications like the short-lived (and intentionally untranslatable) Resmi Görüş, which often don't survive long enough to become established sites for debate. The critical online art and culture magazine Boltart was founded some eight months ago, and is currently edited by Karoly Aliotti, a collection consultant in Istanbul, and Özge Ersoy and Merve Ünsal, both grad students based in New York.
Editors of Boltart
Comprising over a dozen international volunteer writers, Boltart.net is powered by a new generation of Turkish twenty-somethings, educated abroad but who identify with Turkey. A page devoted to goings-on in Istanbul is paired with one on New York, reflecting not only the geographic position of its contributers and readers, but the establishment of a critical community uninterested in the single-minded promotion of Turkish art and its history. "It's art in Turkish, not 'Turkish art,'" says Aliotti.
A page for longer musings on historical or conceptual questions is heavy on grad student contributions ("On Mona Hatoum," "On Lolita," "Pina Bausch's Passing"), a section for interviews is a grab bag with real treasures in the mix, and a photography forum which highlights the work of young international photographers seems out of the blue until one recalls the existence of a very active Turkish photography scene. With some 5,000 hits a month (and no advertising, although that isn't the business model), Boltart has tapped into an emerging Turkish audience, a generation which has come of age in the past couple years just as the Turkish art world itself expands.
Aliotti suggests that the site's "Interviews" section is among its most important, because it gives voice to those members of an expanding Istanbul art world rarely heard in other press outlets. Gallerists like Sylvia Kouvali, director of the locally prominent RODEO, and Sinem Yörük, founder of the photography gallery Ellipsis, provide frank evaluations of what it takes to open and run institutions in a nascent art scene. Artists' interviews reflect how local artists deal with issues like national identity, which are often made artificially significant as demand for Turkish contemporary art rises. "I can't deny that being Turkish isn't something that makes you very selectable," says Istanbul artist Aslı Cavusoğlu in conversation with a young art historian. "If you apply somewhere, as a Turkish nationality and if you really do interesting work, then your chances go up because of where you're from. It's a chance, of course. I'm not saying that to be born as Turkish is a bad thing, but I feel tired of having this identity."
2012, aluminum, wood, sublimation print on polyester and concrete, 71 3/4 by 122 1/2 by 135 inches overall. Courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New Yor