Critics’ Picks

Kutlug Ataman, Dome, 2009, still from a color video, 14 minutes 40 seconds.

Kutlug Ataman, Dome, 2009, still from a color video, 14 minutes 40 seconds.


Kutlug Ataman

MAXXI - Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo
Via Guido Reni 4A
May 30–September 12, 2010

As the most comprehensive assembly of Kutlug Ataman’s video work to date, this exhibition at the new Zaha Hadid–designed MAXXI reveals the range of subjects, themes, and affects that mark his oeuvre. Much of that oeuvre addresses the vicissitudes of Turkish identity, particularly in contact with––and often in contrast to––European culture. Two examples installed in the same room––The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and English as a Second Language (both 2009)––touch on the incomprehensibility of English, and its role as the world’s predominant means of communication. The first work scrolls a seemingly endless reel of handwritten text at high speed, reproducing the Bard’s entire output in different penmanships. The two-channel English as a Second Language reveals two men on flanking walls, each reading the nonsense poetry of Edward Lear, which they are evidently at pains to parse out.

Column, 2009, incorporates dozens of stacked television monitors around a central axis, alluding to Trajan’s Column. Featuring video footage of silent individuals shot from the shoulders up, the screens zero in on Turkish men, women, and children who hail from relatively remote parts of the country. Some of the people on-screen blink with an endearing demureness; others stare unflinchingly. The range of ages and physiognomies evokes a nation of stories palpable but tacit, untold. A similarly elliptical lyricism informs Dome, 2009. Visitors are encouraged to lie back and view its large screen, installed on the ceiling, which shows young Turkish men seemingly flying through the sky as they hold rosary beads and cell phones––twin signifiers of Turkey’s often dialectical affinities.