Critics’ Picks

View of “Human, how strange, so vulgar, such a masterpiece and yet so primitive.”

View of “Human, how strange, so vulgar, such a masterpiece and yet so primitive.”


Berkay Tuncay

Kemankeş Mah. Mumhane Caddesi Laroz Han No: 67/A Beyoğlu
March 13–June 27, 2020

Istanbul-based artist Berkay Tuncay studied archeological conservation as an undergraduate and wrote a dissertation on Net art during graduate school. Fitting, then, that he would go on to deploy a variety of mediums to critique and historicize the future relics of today’s internet culture—ASMR videos, Facebook memes, meditation apps. Adam Curtis and Martin Parr inspired the anthropological aesthetics of his works, which include iPad-sized clay tablets depicting Kanye West’s tweets in Sumerian cuneiform font, visual poems rendered as captchas, and a sheet of Plexiglas that lists the record views on the YouTube video of Psy’s “Gangnam Style.”

Tuncay’s new body of work is a lo-fi ode to existentialism. A photograph titled Nausea, 2020—a self-portrait of the artist as a young man with puke-emoji shaved into his head—seems to get at the empty, likes-minded mentality of Instagram’s challenge culture. Smiley Column, 2017, an iPhone photo taken during a visit to the ancient Greek city of Perge, captures a smiley face carved into a three-millennia-old marble column. Buttons with smileys, scattered on an adjacent pedestal in their hundreds, conclude a tongue-in-cheek triptych that tries to bridge antiquity and the post-internet. 

For To-Do List: Nothing, 2020, the artist used egg tempera and charcoal while applying a spit and blow painting technique to recreate a SpongeBob meme of beloved starfish Patrick crossing out the word “NOTHING” on an otherwise blank to-do list. Nobody Cares, 2020, another blow painting, illustrates a moment in the cartoon’s “Idiot Box” episode, in which SpongeBob explains his distaste for television culture, offering “imagination” as its substitute as a rainbow materializes between his arced hands. There is a one-liner quality to these works: Like cave painting, or online memes, they take pride in their one-dimensionality, fossilizing our current era for future students of history to mull over.