Altan Gürman

A Pioneer of Contemporary Art in Turkey

"Altan Gürman", exhibition view, 2019. (2019)Arter

Altan Gürman’s place in the history of contemporary art in Turkey was not appreciated until long after his demise; it was only in the 2000s that he gained recognition as one of its pioneering and founding figures. The artist’s retrospective solo exhibition at Arter brings together his artistic production spanning 11 years, along with selected pieces from his archive.

Altan Gürman (Date unknown | Tarihi bilinmiyor)Arter

Before his death in 1976 at the age of 41, Altan Gürman questioned the accepted forms of expression by virtue of his contrarian position and his prolific artistic production during his short life.

Employing alternative techniques and materials, Gürman asserted that art ought to be less sacred and much closer to life itself.

Scheme (1974) by Altan GürmanArter

Born in in 1935 in Istanbul, Gürman studied at the Department of Painting, Istanbul State Academy of Fine Arts (IDGSA). Following his graduation, Gürman studied painting and screen-printing at the School of Fine Arts in Paris during the years 1963–1966. In 1967, he started working as an assistant at IDGSA and then became associate professor in 1971. He served as a member of the founding committee of the Basic Design Education Division, which was established in 1969 as a body that put forward a joint curriculum for first-year students of all departments and became its Chair in 1974.

Bilge and Altan Gürman (1974)Arter

Most of Altan Gürman’s works produced from 1965 until his untimely passing and his archive were meticulously preserved and kept together by his wife Bilge Gürman. Both these works and archival materials have been added to Arter’s collection in 2013. 

Potato (1965) by Altan GürmanArter

After his graduation from the Academy, Altan Gürman studied painting and printmaking at the School of Fine Arts in Paris between the years 1963–1966. The social and political climate the artist experiences in Paris in this period reshaped Gürman’s views on art. He entitled his works under series in order to point out both the production techniques he employed and the subjects his works reflect. "Statistics" dated 1965 and produced in Paris is one of Gürman’s earliest series.

Tap (1965) by Altan GürmanArter

Statistics (1965) by Altan GürmanArter

In this series, taking his cue from the data and illustrations in statistics publications on botany and agriculture which he bought from second-hand booksellers, Gürman used rubber letter stamps in addition to the paintbrush.

His subject matter was staple sources of nutrition such as potatoes, maize, sugar beet and eggs, and everyday objects such as a tap, along with statistical data on the production of potatoes and coal.

The graphic language adopted by the artist ignores the mastery of hand in art.

A young artist bearing witness to his time, Gürman brought forth the social context in his paintings and addressed questions, inviting the viewers to take part in his query.

Maize (1965) by Altan GürmanArter

Altan Gürman (2019)Arter

The "Statistics" series, along with the "Montage" and "Composition" series, were exhibited at the Istanbul Turkish-German Cultural Centre as part of Gürman’s first and last solo exhibition in 1967. 

Appearance (1965) by Altan GürmanArter

Gürman’s works and exhibition did not receive much recognition, most probably due to their differences from the prevalent forms and the dominant tendencies in the production styles of the time.

Rumour has it that Gürman’s practice was deemed by some as “not belonging to the area of plastic arts”.

It is claimed that Gürman covered his acrylic-on-canvas work titled "Appearance", also from the series "Statistics", with a green plastic material as an ironic response to this comment.

Altan Gürman and Can Alkor (Date unknown | Tarihi bilinmiyor)Arter

Scheme (1965) by Altan GürmanArter

Composition No:7 (1967) by Altan GürmanArter

The "Composition" series, which Gürman started in 1967, consists of works created by the artist using collage and decoupage with cellulose paint on cardboard. In this series, Gürman reinterpreted the landscape through the lens of social and psychological conditions of his period.

Composition No: 1, Altan Gürman, 1967, From the collection of: Arter
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In the works from this series, the elements of nature seem to have been invaded and replaced by militaristic images such as camouflage patterns, red and white hazard stripes and soldier figures.

Untitled, from the series Composition, Altan Gürman, 1967, From the collection of: Arter
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Composition No:4, Altan Gürman, 1967, From the collection of: Arter
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Montage 1 (1967) by Altan GürmanArter

Having returned to Istanbul from Paris in 1967, Gürman started to work on his "Montage" series, sketches of which he drew in his small, graph-ruled notebook while still in France. In this series, red and white stripes indicating hazardous and prohibited areas, industrial surface patterns that seem to have been borrowed from a tank turret, barbed wire and clear blue skies find their place in Gürman’s works.

Montage 5 (1967) by Altan GürmanArter

In the "Montage" series, materials such as acrylic, canvas and gouache are replaced by wood, barbed wire, thick cardboard and cellulose paint used for industrial purposes.

Altan Gürman works by cutting and carving out, nailing, and spraying paint with a pesticide pump.

In this regard, the title of the series also indicates the method the artist used.

Montage 6, Altan Gürman, 1967, From the collection of: Arter
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Montage 2 (1967) by Altan GürmanArter

Montage 4 (1967) by Altan GürmanArter

In 1960s, at a time when new approaches and practices were explored in art, Gürman bridged the gap between global debates and local issues through a social understanding of his period. Reflecting concepts such as militarism, subject and power relationship, his works retain their contemporary relevance. 

Altan Gürman (2019)Arter

Altan Gürman (Date unknown | Tarihi bilinmiyor)Arter

Altan Gürman served as a member of the founding committee of the Basic Design Education Division in the Academy, which was established in 1969 as a body that put forward a joint curriculum for first-year students of all departments and became its Chair in 1974.

Prepared by Gürman himself for his Basic Design Education courses, the teaching materials reveal his artistic potency as well as experimental academic approach.

Gürman started his courses with an introduction on the historical transformation of art education in the institution, which was named as the Istanbul State Academy of Fine Arts in 1969, and known as Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University today.

Altan Gürman (1975-1976)Arter

Associating this transformation with the economic and social issues of his time, Gürman devised his educational method and model by considering the immediate social conditions. The fourteen-week syllabus in the archive of Gürman consists of three sections: courses, applications and seminars. In his applied arts courses, he underlined an educational approach which values students’ individual tendencies and creativity over talent. His seminars were organised in a way to leave enough room for discussion and dialogue with students.

Padded Panel (1976) by Altan GürmanArter

In 1976, Altan Gürman produces "Padded Panel", the final work he completed before his death. In this work, Gürman assembled an anonymous human figure and a telephone silhouette, both carved out of plywood and painted in the colour of the steel filing-cabinets found in government offices, schools and the military, on a padded panel made of artificial red leather, similar to the ones behind the desks of government officials.

These figures are submerged in the materials from which they are made,

allowing us to perceive only their contours and leaving the facial features as well as the details of the telephone unidentifiable.

Below the plywood board, “KAPİTONE.........ALTAN.1976” is written with the help of metal letter stencils.

The inclusion of the artist’s own name in "Padded Panel" with large-scale lettering was not usual, although Gürman often included letters, words and numbers in his works.

He did not write his own name or sign any of these works aside from a few exceptions. This inclusion can be interpreted as Gürman’s effort to make his identity as an artist and academic an integral part of his work.

Altan Gürman (2019)Arter

The retrospective exhibition at Arter brings together Altan Gürman’s artistic production spanning 11 years, along with selected pieces from his archive. The archive materials presented at the exhibition include notes Gürman prepared for the Basic Design Education courses, assignment sheet templates, student projects, syllabi, book lists, figures and graphics he self-produced, and more than 600 slides including photographs of numerous historic artworks and nature as well as exemplary architectural structures and fragments of daily life shot at different parts of the world.

Polygon (unfinished) (1976) by Altan GürmanArter

As part of a collaboration between Arter and SALT, a major part of the Altan Gürman Archive, which has been digitised in order to provide resource for future academic studies, research and exhibitions, is accessible online from the SALT Research website.

Credits: Story

Başak Doğa Temür (Curator)
Berat Meryem Örnek (Assistant Coordinator, Learning Programme)

Copyright Arter 2020

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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