From the Archives
Today we look back to exactly where we were a year ago: contemplating the work of Turkish painter Taner Ceylan. Although author Alex Bigman likens many of the works to high-gloss fashion spreads, he notes: “A touch of vulgarity remains, and it’s hard to imagine these works having much political charge without it.” This article was originally published on October 16, 2013.
Taner Ceylan’s Lost Paintings series, marking the Turkish artist’s first New York solo exhibition since joining the roster of Paul Kasmin Gallery
, makes for a suitably impressive debut. Begun in 2010, it consists of ten stunningly detailed hyperrealist paintings, each of which alludes to a particular figure from Turkish history or the canonical Western depictions thereof. Ceylan here aims to upset the attendant nationalist/Orientalist narratives and revivify their subjects with frank, often non-heterosexual eroticism. In 1640, the title of which refers to the year of Sultan Murad IV Ghazi’s death, a slender, young slave washes the thigh of his burly, bearded master—a reference to the acceptance of such asymmetrical homosexual relationships throughout Turkish history, and the brutal Ghazi’s documented predilection for them in particular. 1881, a reference to the birth year of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, captures the lusty and defiant stare of a fez-clad man who suggests the Republic of Turkey’s revolutionary patriarch, as cigar smoke curls around his lips.
Prior to the Lost Paintings, Ceylan was largely producing work with decidedly more explicit sexual content. Many of these depictions are straightforwardly tender. Others, like Taner Taner, a self-portrait of the artist entering his double from behind, are more provocative; they seem to betray a naughty glee in monumentalizing images that many viewers, especially in Turkey, would find taboo (curator Dan Cameron notes how the sexual dimension of Ceylan’s work has, unsurprisingly, “brought him outright abuse in the press”). Abstraction of Nothing, Ceylan’s 2009 exhibition at I-20 Gallery—his first U.S. solo show—
found the artist flirting with outright vulgarity. One work depicts a group of men pouring champagne on a kneeling woman as she fellates one and manually stimulates another; in another, a cropped penis rests on a semen-splattered close-up photograph of fashion designer Marc Jacobs.