West Meets East in Stunning Art from Turkey

AN hour's coastal drive north from Copenhagen - blue sea on the right, affluent suburbia on the left - can bring you to the Louisiana, a museum of modern art that's worth visiting even if you didn't like modern art: The parkland setting - with a view of a lake, the ocean, and sculpture magnificently sited on banks and among splendid trees - is exceptionally beautiful. In its first 30 years this museum has not only displayed its fine collection of 20th-century art to a keen Danish clientele, but it has held about 250 temporary exhibitions. Of those, some 15 have been of what the curator Hans Erik Wallin calls ``older art.''

These shows are ``some of the most popular,'' he told me at the museum. Their aim is to demonstrate that ``there isn't an iron curtain ... between modern art and older art. ... We are standing on the shoulders of the generations before.''

The current exhibition (through Dec. 3), displayed with immaculate attention to lighting and spacing of objects, is ``Turkish Treasures.'' ``Older'' it certainly is, spanning some 8,000 years from the Palaeolithic Period to the last years of the Ottoman Empire.

Over 300 artifacts - ceramics, jewelry, bronzes, marble sculptures, costumes, carpets, manuscripts, coins, and much more - spanning the period from 6000 B.C. to A.D. 1900 are on loan from Turkey's museums.

Mr. Wallin explains that there is really no such thing as typical Turkish art. Anatolia (which roughly corresponds to Turkey today) saw many changes of culture, and its art and artifacts reflect this. These changes were not like the changes in Denmark, he points out. Here ``it's one culture that has changed. In Turkey, it's many cultures.''

So to walk through this exhibition is not only to trace different periods; it is also to move from one distinct world to another: the Stone Age, Hittite civilization, early Greece, Hellenistic Greece, Rome, Byzantium, and the Islamic world of the Seljuk rule and the Ottoman Empire.

Each has not merely some subtle change of atmosphere but, in some cases, differences as great as those between as today's ``modern'' and ``traditional'' art. And yet the links are subtly present, the influences discoverable.

Anatolia was a corridor between Europe and Asia; so one moment the visitor is admiring the realism and individualism of the splendid bronze figure of a running male athlete from the period 330 to 30 B.C., the next an eight-pointed tile distinctly Asian in its decorative inspiration.

From bulbous and opulent Neolithic mother goddesses and obsidian axe-heads, one turns to cult figures like the charming Phrygian vase in the shape of a goose to a dramatically carved, monumentally massive marble head of the Hellenistic period, and then to a symbolic and rather unreal icon in inlayed marble of a female saint the Byzantine era.

The intricate patterns of Ottoman carpets and lamps belong, again, to a totally different world - yet all belong to Turkey.

WALLIN and his associates have put this show together on the basis of an exhibition held in the Netherlands earlier in the '80s. They have made it there own, however, emphasizing the ``art'' aspects of the objects rather than their archaeological significance.

Before returning to Turkey, this exhibition - somewhat changed and enlarged - will be seen in Canada. Renamed ``Turkey: Splendors of the Anatolian Civilizations,'' it is to be the first ``venture into ancient civilizations'' for the one-year-old Mus'ee de la Civilisation in Quebec, where it will be seen from Feb. 15 to May 6, 1990.

Fran,cois Tremblay, project director for the Quebec show, says the emphasis will be on ``the evolution of a society through the ages.''

The plan is also to give visitors as clear an understanding as possible of the ``archaeological line'' relating remote periods to events that would be familiar to North Americans, like Moses' presentation of the Ten Commandments. Mr. Tremblay believes that it will help to know ``what the rest of the world was doing'' when the Hittites were invading Anatolia or Neolithic necklaces and weapons were being made.

There will be catalogs in both English and French. Quebec is the only venue for the exhibition in North America.

In Denmark the success of the exhibition has been partly due to the popularity of Turkey as a tourist spot - a phenomenon that has developed, Wallin told me, in the last five years. He also is pleased that substantial numbers of Denmark's 25,000-strong Turkish immigrant population, who are not accorded very high social status here, have been coming to the show and bringing their children.

The general director at the Quebec museum, Roland Alpin, also voices cross-cultural sentiments in his foreword for the show's catalog there: ``May this ... contact with these great, ancient civilizations help promote renewed, mutual understanding between Earth's inhabitants,'' he writes.

Who could argue with that?

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