Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin (Izmir, 1957–Istanbul, 2007) was fascinated by the difference between the promise of something and its banal reality. This promise could lie in the name of a cheap hotel offering the experience of a distant place, or in the branding of a mass-produced product unconvincingly simulating luxuriousness or exoticism. Alptekin was an artist that saw the profound effects of global capitalism on the everyday, observing the movement of people and products across geographies, particularly in the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He himself was also a traveller, studious of forms of feral capitalism surging from places considered the fringes of western modernity. It is the signifiers and remnants of all this – traces of the burgeoning effects of mobility, trade and image circulation – that Alptekin used as the materials for his art-making, as a means for contemplating what it all represented.
Part of the first generation of Turkish artists considered to be globally active and nationally influential, Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin is considered one of the most significant figures in the established contemporary art scene of Istanbul. The exhibition Democratic luxury is a major retrospective of his practice, bringing together works produced during the two decades either side of the new millennium. Since the early 1990s, Alptekin focused on an artistic production broad in scope, which included photographs, sculptures, installation, neon text, videos and collages. It is ‘plastic art’ reflecting the prosaic material qualities of ‘global junk’ that came with the flow of trans-national free-market capitalism. This dislocation with geography recurs as a thematic strand in much of his practice, analysing how a society’s representations of ‘other’ places conform to our desires and stereotypes.
‘Democratic luxury’ aims to take us deeper into the thought-processes of the exhibited works through the inclusion of a selection of studies, drawings and notes from the Alptekin archive. The exhibition will also consider his collaborative initiatives with other artists such as the Bunker Research Group, the Barn Research Group or the Sea Elephant Travel Agency which aspired to organise a ‘floating laboratory’ for artists and thinkers to circumnavigate the Black Sea, developing critical discussions and artistic exchange, all-the-while tracing the route taken by the protagonist in Jules Verne’s novel ‘Kéraban the Inflexible’ (1883).