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Burhan Dogancay Dies at 83; Artist Inspired by City Wall 22 janvier 2013

Posted by Acturca in Art-Culture.
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The New York Times (USA) Tuesday, January 22, 2013, p. A 18

By Paul Vitello

Burhan Dogancay, a Turkish-born artist considered one of his country’s first internationally recognized abstract painters, died on Wednesday in Istanbul. He was 83.

The cause was cancer, his wife, Angela, said.

Mr. Dogancay, who divided his time between homes in Istanbul and New York, was the first contemporary Turkish artist to have his work included in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In a country commonly defined as the cultural international date line between the Middle East and the West, Mr. Dogancay was best known for his artwork on the subject of walls. Old urban walls covered in graffiti and posters interested him most. The more cluttered, weathered and layered by generations of human announcements, the better.

He traveled for years collecting wall images from more than 500 cities to make the paintings and collages he presented at the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris in 1982 in a one-man exhibition titled « Walls That Whisper, Shout and Sing. »

« The walls I am drawn to have been worked on by nature and by human beings, so that they provide a mirror of their respective neighborhoods, » he once said in an interview. « They are speaking walls. » He added: « Wall messages are constantly changing, new ones replacing old ones, old ones covered up or distorted by the elements. The whole human experience has been reflected on walls, beginning with cave drawings. »

Mr. Dogancay produced some 4,000 paintings, many of them abstract collages in three dimensions like « Ribbon Mania, » a 1982 piece acquired by the Met in 2011.

His work has been exhibited in more than 70 museums, including the British Museum, the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Levent Calikoglu, the chief curator of the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, said in an e-mail on Thursday that Mr. Dogancay’s art drew from the many cultural traditions — European, Middle Eastern, American, ancient and modern — that intersect in contemporary Turkey. In Mr. Dogancay’s work, he said, New York subway walls and the walls of the most remote Turkish village speak to a common humanity.

Born on Sept. 11, 1929, in Istanbul, Burhan Cahit Dogancay was the first of three children of Adil and Hediye Dogancay, both members of Western-educated middle-class families. His father, an army officer and noted watercolorist, was his first art instructor.

Despite Westernizing influences in Turkey and the establishment of a democratic, secular government in 1923 after centuries of Ottoman rule, the country’s art remained fairly untouched by modernism during Mr. Dogancay’s childhood. Museums, which were state run, displayed mainly traditional or representational art. Mr. Dogancay told interviewers that he did not see his first Impressionist or Expressionist painting, or a Picasso, until 1950, when he graduated from the University of Ankara and left for Paris.

He went there to study economics at the University of Paris; but from 1950 to 1955, when he received his doctorate, he took art courses and began painting in his spare time. He was director of the Turkish republic’s tourism office in New York in 1962 when he decided to become an artist full time. Within two years he had his first show in Manhattan.

His wall motif was inspired by the streets of New York, he said. « At first I was primarily interested in the decayed, deteriorated surface of walls, » he wrote in a 2009 book of his work. But in the kaleidoscope of posters and graffiti competing to be seen on the walls of the city, above and below ground, he began to recognize a kind of archaeological depth, he said. It revealed « the testimonials of human beings expressing and communicating » their history.

In the 1980s, his interest in walls led Mr. Dogancay to photograph skyscrapers under construction in Midtown Manhattan. Friendships he developed with ironworkers made it possible for him to photograph their restoration work on the Brooklyn Bridge. His pictures, many of which required climbing the bridge’s cables to dizzying heights, were published in his 1999 book, « Bridge of Dreams: The Rebirth of the Brooklyn Bridge. »

In addition to his wife, Mr. Dogancay is survived by two sisters, Ayten and Tulin.

In an interview last year with the online journal Artlifemagazine, Mr. Dogancay was asked how urban walls had changed since the 1960s and ’70s, when many of the posters and leaflets festooning them carried messages of political protest. « Walls are clean now, because there is social media and computers, » he said, adding, « The youth are not as angry as they were. »

This is a more complete version of the story than the one that appeared in print.


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