Cologne 07.–10.11.2024 #artcologne2024

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A Place for All Beneath the Heavenly Canopy

Füsun Onur has exerted a profound influence on the Turkish art scene since the 1970s. Museum Ludwig in Cologne is currently hosting the first retrospective of her work outside her home country.

The artwork “Counterpoint with Flowers” von Füsun Onur.

“Counterpoint with Flowers”: Blue transports us to another world. © Füsun Onur/Photo: Aljaz Fuis

Blue, while categorically considered among the cold colors, at the same time embodies a dreamlike, enchanting quality. Figures like Novalis, Bachmann, Las-ker-Schüler, Monet, Chagall, Yves Klein, and many others have been captivated by the allure of blue. Istanbul-born Füsn Onur is part of this illustrious group. “I have a deep affection for blue,” she declares. “Blue has the power to transport us to another world.”

In the 85-year-old artist’s chronological body of work showcased in the Cologne retrospective, the recurring theme is the immersive presence of blue. For in-stance, in her 1982 installation “Counterpoint with Flowers,” a room is filled with a blue foil that simulates both the sky and the sea. Or is it a paradisiacal garden with real small trees and flowers made of paper that one enters here?

The question arises: What does “counterpoint” have to do with this "diversity of species"? In music, “counterpoint” signifies two melodies harmonizing into a melodious whole. In Onur’s case, it's the silent harmony between the natural and artificial realms in her installations.

The idiosyncratically poetic quality of these landscapes, crafted from everyday objects, immediately captivates. It soon becomes apparent why Onur continues to shape the Turkish art scene to this day. A distinguishing feature of her artistry is her deliberate avoidance of a signature style and her refusal to conform to market expectations. Her spectrum of materials and the themes she tackles con-tinually expand with each piece, as witnessed in the Turkish Pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale.

During the pandemic, Onur crated a fairytale narrative, titled "Once upon a time," featuring miniature mice and cats sculpted from wire, adorned with tulle and ping-pong ball heads. These characters embarked on a journey representing humanity's struggle against viruses and climate change—a narrative that con-tinues in the museum's largest hall.

The cleverly organized tour traces Onur’s journey from early abstract geometric drawings to the concept of sculpture as a linear drawing in space, progressing from three-dimensional spatial objects to installations made from clothing, box-es, or toys.

The Turkish artist Füsun Onur.

The Turkish artist Füsun Onur. Photo: Muammer Yanmaz

Conceptual art out of curiosity

When contemplating how Onur developed her unique approach, it becomes ap-parent that curiosity was a driving force. After studying sculpture in Istanbul, she embarked on a Fulbright scholarship to the United States in 1962, which ex-posed her to conceptual art while she forged her distinctive path. She delved into embroidery and canvas work, even incorporating inflatable canvas tubes that could be used by the audience. Upon her return, she lived with her sister in her parents' house on the Bosphorus, where she still makes her home.

In 1981, “The Third Dimension in Painting – Step Inside” invited visitors to im-merse themselves in a room of blue woolen threads with a beaded sky ceiling, providing a sensory encounter akin to stepping into a painting. In her 1985 in-stallation "Dream of Old Furniture," Onur transported furniture, fabrics, and decorative objects into a surreal dream realm, transforming them into imagi-nary entities reminiscent of Alice's adventures in Wonderland.

The artwork “The Third Dimension in Painting – Step in” by Füsun Onur.

“The Third Dimension in Painting – Step in” invites you to take a seat and join in. © Füsun Onur/Photo: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Cologne/Vincent Quack

Magic world of images

These objects metamorphose into fantastical beings, reflecting the escapist tendencies of her works. This is not coincidental, considering they emerged dur-ing a period of burgeoning art markets and a neoliberal economic shift, juxta-posed with a military regime ruling Turkey until the late 1980s, which prompted both an exodus and a retreat from the art scene.

Onur's work is unmistakably characterized by its miniature quality, simultane-ously possessing a monumental essence. What might initially seem like a pref-erence for childlike worlds is, upon closer inspection, a powerful political state-ment. “In my view, true art inherently carries humanistic, social, and political content," Onur affirms. Consequently, one may interpret the chair, bound by a heavy chain with a sign bearing Onur's name on its empty seat, as a self-portrait of an artist who, through her unique art, sometimes chose invisibility within the society she inhabited.

One might wonder whether this is still true in contemporary Turkey. However, in the final “Room with Muse” of 2023, featuring a blue bubble with stools and vio-lin music, Onur's absence is both palpable and yet perceptible in the manifold associations her acoustic lagoon provokes within us.

“Füsun Onur: Retrospective” is on view at Cologne’s Museum Ludwig until Janu-ary 28, 2024.