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Museums Good and Bad: Islamic Technology and Sanatlimani/Istanbul Modern

August 30, 2010

Something that any expat living here should never get tired of is museum-hopping. There’s always new exhibits, new art, new stuff to learn. About the city, about the people, and about whatever goofy stuff they have going on. I say this fully realizing that some of the stuff is terrible.

The Museum of Islamic Technology is terrible. Starting from its little-brother premise of “Hey! We invented cool stuff too!” to which I can only respond with “Movable Type. Check and mate.” and moving to its corrupted place in an old han in Gulhane park, it just isn’t quite the museum it was conceived to be. I present the Hall of Orientalists as exhibit A:

Impossible lighting, signs way too high, and the entire concept is just a way to look as cool as big brother with the internet and the barbed wire. I mean, we all know that Muslims do and did some cool things. Algebra, calculus, and a vast majority of astronomy. So if you’re going to make a museum to prove it, at least make a nice museum.

None of the models worked (though the mock-ups of Cordoba, Damascus, Jaipur, and a couple others were pretty cool) and as I said, the descriptions were impossible to read. Which is a problem because, well, I don’t know what an astrolabe is. I need the descriptions. So if one is going to bring out the chest-beating “1001 Iventions!” exhibit, well, they could use a little work on the main thing.

Oh yeah, and I’m not sure including Jews, Christians, and Hindus under Muslim rule is completely kosher, or Halal, if you will. And don’t forget, this is coming from an awfully big Islamophile. There are centuries of cool stuff back in the history. So please, have some self-confidence about it.

A place that needs no shot of self-confidence, a place that is really just a bunch of warehouses stuffed with awesome, is the Sanatlimani and Istanbul Modern. The “Art Harbor” is just next-door to the cruise-ship harbor, but is skipped by our beloved blue-haired package tourists. in all honesty, it would be a bit too hip for them. Sanatlimani is housed in an old warehouse and contains a rotating tray of exhibitions. When I was there I got to see some photography of Japan by foreigners, a poetic take on the plight of immigrants called “Sea of Fate” and my personal favorite, a glance at the modernist movement in Greece in the early 20th Century.

Oh yes. The people who brought you “but we’ve been here for millenia” discovered the cool things you can do with cubes and concrete. And, to be fair, they did it a lot more successfully then it was ever executed in Turkey.

Istanbul Modern is always cool. Chalayan fashion exhibits from my nightmares. A whole history of Republican Turkish painting that is fascinating. Video footage of the coup(s) year(s). An excuse to just stare at the Bogaz for a few hours. It’s free on Thursdays, and totally worth adding to your itinerary.

If for nothing else, for the Edward Gorey clock tower.

So as I’ve mentioned, there’s all sorts of cool art and bad museums going on in this city when it comes time for you to come on by. And as we’ve been trying to impress upon you, the city is a whole lot more interesting than the package tours try and make it seem. So if you’re going to check the place out, for goodness’ sake, check the place out.

If for nothing else, for the Edward Gorey clock tower.

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