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Perspective From Turkey

Block Museum and Keyman Turkish Studies Program building International bridges

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Vasif Kortun, curator and director of research and programs at SALT -- a multivenue nonprofit cultural organization in Turkey -- will address questions of art and urban change as he considers Istanbul’s public spaces and architecture. He will focus particularly on Gezi Park in the history of Taksim Square.

Free and open to the public, Kortun‘s talk will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 15, at Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston campus.

The event is co-sponsored by the Block Museum and Northwestern’s Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies and its Keyman Modern Turkish Studies Program.

In addition to its extensive library, SALT houses some of Turkey’s most important archives on modern art, architecture, design urbanism and social and economic histories for research and public use.

Art Review called Kortun “Turkey’s de facto arts spokesperson to the rest of the world.” Kortun’s work has been transformative for the contemporary Turkish art scene. The Istanbul-based writer, curator and teacher of contemporary visual art is the driving force behind SALT. In addition to his innovative curatorial work in Turkey and abroad, Kortun has founded and directed other contemporary art spaces in Istanbul. They include Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center, Istanbul (2001–2010) and Proje4L/Istanbul Museum of Contemporary Art (2001–2004).

As director of research and programs, Kortun spearheads SALT’s overall strategy and growth. “SALT is not a museum, art institution, an architectural institution, research facility or gallery,” says Kortun. “It is everything that stands for innovation and alteration.”

The activities of SALT take place between two landmark buildings. They include an edible rooftop garden with a public library, walk-in cinema, e-publishing empire, gourmet restaurant and thousands of square feet of exhibition space. Established as a site of learning and debate, “SALT has changed the art ecosystem of Turkey,” as Art Review noted in 2012.

Through new initiatives such as this partnership between the Block Museum and Buffett Center bringing Kortun to campus, Northwestern aims to foster a holistic approach to the ways students, faculty and the University-at-large engage with the world. The Keyman Modern Turkish Studies Program, works to promote knowledge and understanding of modern Turkey and its place in the world.

“Vasif’s presentation will connect contemporary art to current events unfolding in Turkey,” said Lisa Corrin, the Block Museum’s Ellen Philips Katz Director. “It will contribute to our understanding of how artists are responding and participating in the changes reshaping its political and cultural landscape.”

“The Keyman Program strives to be a comprehensive resource for all interested in the academic study of modern Turkey,” says Rita Koryan, assistant director of the Buffett Center.

“It strengthens the vision of a global Northwestern and creates important educational and research collaborations across the University that are deeply integrative and engaging.”

The Block recently hired a senior leadership team experienced with international programming and collaborations. It will kick off the first of its global initiatives with two upcoming exhibitions:

“Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey” (Fall 2014), is the first comprehensive survey of the work of this Kenyan-born artist in the U.S.

“Collecting Kashmir: Buddhist Art and Its Legacies” (Winter 2015), a partnership with the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, explores the transmission of artistic practices and religious ideas in the Western Himalayas and Tibet from the 7th through 16th centuries.

The Block’s current exhibition, “The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade’ 1929-1940,” runs through June 22. It looks at artists who shined a light on urgent social and political issues of their time. The Block sought to bring this theme into the present and also connect it to cultural practices internationally.

Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies

The Buffett Center facilitates collaborative interdisciplinary scholarship on crucial problems facing the world. Its activities promote dialogue on international affairs that enrich the educational program at Northwestern University and beyond. Working with other organizations and communities, the Buffett Center prepares global citizens. 

Keyman Modern Turkish Studies Program

Northwestern’s Keyman program supports current and future scholars in creating new knowledge in the field of Turkish studies. The program offers opportunities to foster development of an ambitious, innovative, balanced, nonpartisan, and interdisciplinary platform for connecting with, investing in and studying modern Turkey. For more, visit the Keyman Modern Turkish Studies Program.  


The Block is the fine arts museum of Northwestern University and Chicago’s North Shore. It serves the academic and cultural needs of the University and community through thought-provoking exhibitions, original scholarship, dynamic programs and film screenings at Block Cinema. Drawing from its collections and works from other institutions and private collectors, the Museum curates its own exhibitions and hosts traveling exhibitions from peer institutions. 


A long-term construction project on Northwestern’s south campus has limited access to the Block Museum and Arts Circle Drive. Free parking is available in the lot directly south of the museum. For directions and parking information, visit Block Museum.