Kerimcan Guleryuz says his goal is to “do what is necessary.” For now, that means “an open-door policy,” he says, “which is not how most galleries in Turkey operate.”
A veteran of the Istanbul arts scene, Guleryuz has spent decades running alternative galleries and even comes with a family pedigree as the son of the prominent Turkish painter Mehmet Guleryuz, whose newest works were displayed in December 2018 at Galerie Cyril Guernieri in Paris. (His American mother, he says, “brilliantly rebelled” by moving from Detroit to Turkey in the 1960s as a Peace Corps volunteer.)
Since 2010, Kerimcan Guleryuz has been running an arts initiative called The Empire Project, looking for and promoting “work that was emerging from former Ottoman territory, showing the work of artists from different areas.”
Until two years ago, the project was based in a physical gallery, but now it’s what Guleryuz calls a “nomadic, collaborative process working with people I really respect” and a lot of artists he describes as being “under construction.”
“Not a lot of galleries here operate with artists who are not brand names,” he says. “The gallery world here is not really geared toward discovery.” Sitting in blue jeans, sneakers and a navy blazer on a recent Saturday morning in the office of the artSumer gallery in the Karakoy neighborhood, Guleryuz shared his insights on an ever-changing Istanbul. (The interview has been edited and condensed.)
What do you love about Istanbul?
Everything. For me Istanbul is like that really attractive, slightly older woman in your neighborhood who as a child you had this crush on. She survived many suitors and she will survive me. Not really a big fan of her current boyfriend, though.
What annoys you?
How the city got hijacked. Someone in London or Paris would say the same thing, but I despise this desire for things that are shiny and sparkly, the need to be eye-catching, an inability to see the grit or the beauty of something that is slightly worn. But that’s the thing that makes this city so beautiful: It’s layer upon layer. The place is now full of supposed sweet shops “since 1800-whatever.” Dude, I grew up here. You were never there.
What do you suggest visitors see?
First of all, they should realize that Istanbul is really conducive to walking. Maybe from Besiktas to Karakoy. A gorgeous walk. There are still places in Ortakoy to wander. People should experience that thing of standing on Europe and looking at Asia.
I love Kadikoy now, with its young vibe, exuberant bars, clubs, too many cafes, artsy knickknack places: You'll be surprised at how much cheaper it is on the Asian side. They should go to the Princes Islands regardless of the weather. Take a ferryboat out. They should be unafraid to go into a weird place and meet people. The thing I still adore about the Turks is that they are still open in that way. If someone from the outside is interested in them, they will be so happy, and honored.
Where should people go to see art?
Things in Istanbul tend to cluster. So you'll have the musicians’ market near Tunel and maybe 20 people selling similar objects. You can find Zildjian, the world-famous cymbal makers. The same is true for art. Places tend to cluster, and so I would say Karakoy. Dolapdere is up-and-coming because the Arter museum is expected to open in September or October 2019 and it’s going to raise the bar another level. If I were visiting, I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way out to the Sabanci Museum, but if you were up along the Bosporus, the Sabanci tends to have a very nice show up. But if you are clustering in the Pera-Beyoglu region, you have the Pera Museum. Right next to it, you now have the Istanbul Modern in its temporary location just a few hundred meters away. Across Istiklal you’ve got two galleries inside the Misir Apartments. But then you have to come to Karakoy where you have several galleries clustered in structures like in this building.
Who are the names to watch in Turkey? Many Turkish artists have moved to other countries, fearing for their political and economic situations.
There are great artists, designers, thinkers, collaborators who have now undergone this exodus. The exodus was inevitable. But nobody has left Istanbul or Turkey just because they want to be in Berlin. They’ve left because they feel they have no choice. But I know 99.9 percent of them would rather be back here. These guys are undergoing this new metamorphosis and will need time to digest.
So it’s not necessarily about who the “hot” new artist is, but who will be the people who will strive for the betterment of the Turkish arts infrastructure. I’m really curious what Tansa Mermerci is doing. She set up Spot, an amazing, rare organization really getting people out to see the galleries. And someone like Osman Kavala who was a champion for the arts and has now been held in jail for over a year without even being charged with anything. So rather than finding a hot new commodity, I wonder what’s going to happen with these people who are champions, or will be champions, for the support structure that the arts and culture so desperately need in Turkey.
And where to eat?
One of the greatest things is the Turkish tradition of slow food, so my first recommendation would be to go to a meyhane (tavern) like Yakup or Asmali Cavit. They’re in Asmalimescit and they’re really good, close enough to Istiklal to scratch your interest about the area. And Nevizade still has the meyhanes behind the balik pazari (fish bazaar). That will be authentically Istanbul: not Turkish. We had Armenian Turks, Greek Turks, and Jewish Turks, and that was really reflected in the cuisine. It’s a beautiful melange of things that make Istanbul Istanbul. For modern interpretations, Yeni Lokanta is very good. Neolokal, in Salt Beyoglu on Bankalar Caddesi, has a fantastic younger chef who has really been fighting for local foods, fishes, finding a good brewery or working with this or that, looking at how to redo food from old recipes.
In terms of kebab, the Turkish way of doing it is specific and unique and is a truly national experience. You have your Adana kebab, your Urfa kebab, your lahmacun, all these wonderful components mixed together with a glass of raki on the side. And everyone should try salgam, a Turkish pickle juice.
One thing I love to do in Turkey is to shop in the FIXING TYPO: bazaars, or markets, for produce. Where a tomato is still a tomato. It smells good. You buy things in season, not like in the States where you always have the same stuff all year round. Go behind the Spice Bazaar, and you’ll be surprised that even though it has become very touristy there is still some really authentically good stuff and if you don’t come across as a pigeon to be plucked you will start to develop a dialogue with the merchants.
Favorite book to get a sense of the city?
For me, Umberto Eco’s “Baudolino” had a massive impact in understanding the city originally. Read it so you understand the sack of Constantinople. Personally, I’m not a big fan of Orhan Pamuk in that I think he’s a little too much into the whole Turkish melancholy.
What should people take home from Istanbul? A 3,000-euro framed photograph?
I would not recommend you try to travel with art. But here’s one thing: My grandfather in Detroit was a big fan of kuru baklava, a dry baklava, not so syrupy and made to travel. He would take it home, freeze it and pull it out one piece at a time to microwave. Eat as much as you can here, and you’ll have good memories of food and friendships. And if you develop a taste for it, pick up a bottle of raki. It’s a good thing to bring back to share. I’d also say take a trip to a Pasabahce store to find a really nice, good glassware. And if you have the penchant for it, pick up some good Turkish coffee. That, with lokum (Turkish delight), are goods things to give as gifts.
Otherwise what people come to Istanbul for these days is hair transplants and laser eye surgery. There’s a lot of medical tourism that happens here.