Based on the priceless collections of Suna and Inan Kirac, the Pera Museum tells a wide-ranging tale of East and West... The Pera Museum, created from the priceless art works collected over the years by Suna and Inan Kirac, opened its doors to art lovers. Thronged with Istanbulites by the hundreds since the first day, the museum is soon to become one of the city's favorite venues for art with galleries spread over 3700 square meters and permanent exhibitions as well as an auditorium, a cafe and a gift shop.
"THESE WORKS BELONG TO TURKEY" The museum, which is housed in what was until recently the Bristol Hotel, directly adjacent to the Odakule office tower at Tepebasi, was built by architect Achille Manoussos in 1893. Last year, however, when an inspection determined it to be non-resistant to earthquakes, the entire building with the exception of the facade was razed and rebuilt to international standards by architect Sinan Genim as a museum, the Pera Museum.
Inan Kirac tells the story of how the collections he and his wife Suna acquired over the years were turned into a museum:"If you have the time and the means, you slowly begin to fill your house, your study, with beautiful things-more than just beautiful, with things that have a meaning, a depth, a history. Even if your job is the world's most tiring and difficult and you don't have enough time for such things, when you come home at night, or when you leave your work on your desk and lean back in your chair, those works of art gradually draw you into their own world; they make you think, they console you, they give you rest and make you happy. This instinct to share, which is perhaps one of the best aspects of human nature but which unfortunately doesn't always come out, this desire to share your valuable things with other art lovers, scholars, young people and children grows from day to day, and compels you to make certain decisions. The idea of founding the Pera Museum and opening up our family collection to the general public in a special museum arose in just this way. These works of art have now become the property of Turkey. When we have a hankering to see them, we will come here and see them just like you, and that will give us satisfaction."
TWO SIGNIFICANT EXHIBITIONS We turn now to the staircase of the museum, whose official opening is scheduled for October. Two permanent collections are housed on the first floor. The first is the exhibition of 'Anatolian Weights and Measures', which Inan Kirac claims is unmatched in the world. With close to a thousand objects, it contains the chief instruments of weight and measure used in Anatolia from pre-historic times right up to our day in various areas such as trade, land surveying, architecture, jewelry and pharmacy. The collection, which is focused more on the Islamic period in Anatolia, also includes examples from earlier periods so as to present the entire spectrum. Organized chronologically to reveal relations between the different periods and regions as well as change and continuity, it is a museum in and of itself. The second exhibition is made up of selections from Suna Kiraç's 400-piece collection of Kutahya Tiles and Ceramics.
'THE TORTOISE TRAINER' HERE TOO When Suna Kirac's sister Sevgi Gonul and her husband Erdogan Gonul passed away recently, the major portion of the works they had acquired were also transferred to the Suna and Inan Kirac collection. The museum's second floor has been named accordingly the 'Sevgi and Erdogan Gonul Gallery'. A collection of over 300 works painted by European 'Orientalist' painters from the 18th to the 20th century will be exhibited here, arranged by theme. The first exhibition based on the collection is called 'Portraits from the Empire' and consists of close to 60 paintings depicting men and women of various periods and classes together with paintings of sultans, princes and ambassadors. Hanging at the gallery entrance is Osman Hamdi Bey's 'The Tortoise Trainer', a work that was added to the collection for an astronomical sum as the museum was being developed. A large number of the portraits of sultans and other members of the Ottoman dynasty are anonymous. But when we look at the artists whose works are included in the exhibition the names of a few prominent orientalist painters do catch our eye. Antoine de Favray, for example, a Knight of Malta and one of the foreign painters who worked in Istanbul in the 18th century, observed the members of the Ottoman dynasty so well that he conveyed each one of the Western types that he used as models in many of his paintings with masterful realism as if they were actually members of the dynasty. Jean Baptiste Vanmour, another diplomat who is also regarded as one of the founders of orientalist painting, rather than individual portraits preferred to paint crowded compositions such as audience ceremonies and scenes from everyday life. Meanwhile the portraits by Osman Hamdi Bey, considered to be the only 'native' orientalist, and Fausto Zonaro, Sultan Abdulhamid II's 'Palace painter' who has recently become better known, are not only painted in close-up but also dazzle the eye with their vibrant colors and magical atmosphere.
"AN ART CAPITAL BY THE YEAR 2010" Finally, on the top three floors of the museum, which is open to artistic activity of every stripe, is the 'Youth Initiative' exhibition, consisting of works by young Turkish artists and organized in cooperation with the International Plastic Arts Association (UPSD) under the direction of Turkish painter Mehmet Guleryuz. A stylish cafe, to be opened soon, is located at the entrance level. "It's my dream", says Inan Kiraç, "to turn this into a venue where artists and art lovers can also stop by in the evening to chat." In the middle of the cafe stands an old piano with a small framed photograph of Suna and Inan Kirac on top. Its original owner was Maria Callas, which makes it the same piano that is featured in Yigit Okur's work, 'Piyano'. Inspired by a lofty sense of 'sharing', Inan Kirac set out on this path together with his wife Suna and made the Pera Museum a gift to all art lovers. Soon he is going to open the Istanbul Research Institute as well. The institute, which will be located only 100 meters form the museum,
will house artifacts and documents from the Byzantine, Ottoman and Republican periods. Let us leave our final words to Inan Kirac: "We inhabit a part of the world that has played host to a wide variety of cultures, and we are their heirs. Istanbul is truly among the most beautiful cities in the world. And she possesses monuments from many cultures since several different civilizations were founded here. Istanbul is engaged in efforts to become a capital of art and culture by the year 2010. If we can bring cultural services in Istanbul up to a certain level, our beautiful city is certainly going to be a more interesting center for the rest of the world. And if we, as the Suna and Inan Kirac Foundation, can contribute towards that end, we shall be very happy indeed."