Critics’ Picks

Yüksel Arslan, Arture 416, Man 57: General paralysis, 1990, mixed media on paper,
15 x 14”.

Yüksel Arslan, Arture 416, Man 57: General paralysis, 1990, mixed media on paper,
15 x 14”.


Yüksel Arslan

Kunsthalle Zurich
Limmatstrasse 270
January 28–April 4, 2012

Given the exponentially burgeoning mass of data that we face every day, could one dare to read the world like an encyclopedia? A convincing affirmative answer can be found in the newly discovered work of Yüksel Arslan. Born in Istanbul in 1933, Arslan moved to Paris in 1962, where to this day he draws, paints, writes, and creates collages in reclusion, building his titanic opus.

“Artures,” his current exhibition, offers the most important survey of his work on paper outside Turkey since 1959, and reveals a life’s work that is as marked by contemporary trends as it is by his tremendous personal erudition in Western and Eastern sources. These are not just “paintings”; indeed, he refers to his work as “arture”––with subcategories contrearture, cinémature, autoarture––a coinage that combines the social and cultural realms. Based on countless specific microstudies over the decades––on topics from schizoanalysis to economic power relations to literature, music, and art––he has constructed a corpus that opens across the many small rooms here like the leaves of a giant World Book.

Body parts of human beings and animals––brains, eyes, genitals, hands, and other physiognomies––are at the heart of the show. Dispersed throughout these works are yellow and brown hues, which derive from experiments with plant and terrestrial pigments. This archaeology of knowledge is not without a subtle humor and quiet self-irony. In his unbridled will to read the world anew with drawings and notations that follow traces in the natural sciences and the arts, Yüksel Arslan reminds me of Raymond Pettibon. The two late-modern encyclopedists could have met in a fictional historical encounter in Zürich, perhaps with another like-minded fellow: James Joyce.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.