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Sabancı Müzesi: Doin' it like a MF

August 2, 2010

One of my muses, in writing as well as in life, is the rowdy bunch at Every Day Should Be Saturday. Sure, they write about college football, not architecture and energy in Central Asia. And sure, they are generally the pantsless-folk-at-a-party of the internet, which is truly saying something. But every so often, they have brilliant, if coarse, writing.

The guy at the end is doing exploding sledgehammers, and he is indeed doing it like a motherfucker.

As sure as I am that Sakip Bey himself would love to hear it, the Sabanci Museum (sorry, I’m too rushed in writing this to switch in-and-out of Turkish keyboard settings) indeed does museums in the same vein.

Sitting in Emirgan, just a bit north of Rumeli Hisari and the Faith Sultan Mehmet / FSM / Flying Spaghetti Monster Bridge, the house itself is fantastic, whether you find the horse statue a bit oddly positioned (showing its rear to the Sabanci Estate) or no, the grounds and the architecture are crisp and pristine. The restaurant, as well, is supposedly renowned. Tours of the house are given by graduate students at Sabanci University, and as the sharp folks that they (or at least my contact there, Nilsu Hanim) are, they give great tours. And the pictures of Sabanci smiling and hugging everyone, from Castro to Chirac, are worth the walk alone. OK, maybe not them, but the sheer cheekiness and ostentatiousness to say “Güneydoğu Barış Ol(SA)” brought a smile to my face.

The real event, however, is their hall for traveling exhibitions. Built for the express purpose of giving international expos such as Dali, Renoir, or othersuch famous painter bros a place in Istanbul to be displayed, it is a notch or two above the Sultanahmet Museums. Those places are great because they’re historic, in situ, and decaying marvelously. But they don’t have the climate-control, the sun-blocking, or the electronic capabilities to host the needy types of exhibits. So enter the Sabanci.

The current exhibition, for the Istanbul Capital of Culture 2010, is “8000 years of Capital: Istanbul” which traces Istanbul from a Stone Age settlement to the present. It ain’t perfect. They had some cool pre-Greek stuff and some CGI, but I wish it was a bit more Mannahatta then the usual “Hey look pots!” Some models of the entire Bogaz as just hills and forests would’ve been stunning.

That said, the Byzantine and Ottoman exhibits were very well done. Instead of the usual exhibits throwing some religious stuff against the walls to see what’ll stick, this one gave a true sense of the city, displaying clothing, housewares, and the like in a somewhat coherent manner. Even more impressive was the fact that there was no obvious, vicious, prerogative. Sure there was some ideology and some whitewashing, but nothing too propogandic. The Ottoman exhibit even displayed Armenian and Hebrew Bibles alongside Korans. I can’t imagine seeing that in any other exhibit most anywhere in the world. So again, good on you, Sabancis.

Since it is about “Istanbul as Capital” the Republican period gets short shrift. They had a slideshow which was nice, but still a bit teleological. But it was shocking to see a slideshow of any sort on the Republic with only two pictures of Ataturk. Another regret was the whitewashing of the slideshow. I’m sure pictures of the 1960s-1980s exist. Why aren’t we allowed see any of them? Those would be the ones that would be unique, not more Ye Olde Rue Pera stuff.

That said, it was a 3TL fee for students and 10TL for anyone else. Not bad at all. Sütiş is right next door if you want something milky and sweet for dessert after checking it out. If you’re a bit more of a perambulator, take the walk up through Istiniye Park next door. Its one of the better parks in the city for picnics, running, or just making out with your girlfriend like everyone else does in parks in this city. All the same, the Beyaz Kosku is a decent enough stroll and a nice place to collect your thoughts, eat some Mado, or be like me (and every other 70-year-old man on a breezy day) and just take a catnap.

The Sabancis take their museums seriously, and hats off to them for it. But take the trip up to Emirgan to check out their handiwork and you too will be able to see the best museumspace in Istanbul.

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