Around the Works by Mutlu Çerkez

July 14 – October 8, 2023

Mutlu Çerkez with Antonia Baehr, Juliet Carpenter, Jesse Darling, Julian Dashper, Egemen Demirci, Pedro Gómez-Egaña, Léuli Eshrāghi, Marco Fusinato, Delia Gonzalez, Özlem Günyol & Mustafa Kunt, On Kawara, Hanne Lippard, Callum Morton, Serkan Özkaya, Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, Jeff Wall Production, and Felix Gonzales Torres

“… I began to title each of my works with a date from the future that would fall during my possible lifetime. I would undertake to repeat each work in some way on its particular date. Every work would reappear at some later point during my life’s work. My work would not evolve, or at least the gradient of its evolution would be flat. It is a system where I can consciously fool myself that all my works are mature works. And working within this system I would, in fact, objectively use my own life’s work as its own subject matter.” Mutlu Çerkez

From July 14 to October 8, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden presents an experimental exhibition format: Auditions for An Unwritten Opera reintroduces for the first time in Germany the multi-layered oeuvre of the artist Mutlu Çerkez(1964-2005)to a larger audience by multiplying the solo presentation into a constellation of installs and exhibits. Selected works by Çerkez are shown in dialogue with contemporary practices including Juliet Carpenter, Jesse Darling, and Hanne Lippard alongside relevant historical positions such as On Kawara, Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, and Felix Gonzales Torres among others. 

We live in times when spaces for grief have been reduced to moments of interaction on social media. The politics of desire and technologies of pleasure are shifting our economy of attention to the screen-navigated zoning and self-centered stimulation. However, this cannot replace the true meaning of shared joy. Connecting the exhibition space to emotional intelligence, collective unconscious and conceptual thinking, this exhibition becomes a mental space between joy and grief.

This is why the works by Mutlu Çerkez are recalled back today to investigate the ways in which,
– the life of an artist is juxtaposed with that of an exhibition history of an institution; 

-the continuous development of a work with its own work in progress with further interactions with new generations; 

-and the last but not the least, currency of conceptual thinking with its soundness, relevancy, and contemporaneity. These forms, research material, and artistic productions are brought together in a meaningful composition to invite the participants and visitors to shape, share and reclaim future scenarios together. 

To this end, it departs from an unexpected protagonist from the antipodean past and aims to remember, reintroduce and rediscover the artist Mutlu Çerkez in the European context. 

Borrowing its title from a key piece by British-born Australian-Turkish Cypriot Mutlu Çerkez, this exhibition is inspired by the uniqueness of his approach to titling. Often giving his works, not a standard title but one based on a future date on which they would be remade, he proposed for them a new form of life, veering conceptually from their narration, production, or materiality. 

Mutlu Çerkez is an excellent protagonist to create a conceptual temple, collective studio, and expanded stage to question our relationships with the future; our connections with the art historical canon, and also our position with those missing chapters of art history. This exhibition is not only about the legacy of an early loss, but an emphasis on rehearsing, work in progress, practicing every day, and exercising without final results, conclusions, final renders, or end stations. 

Like no other genre, opera reflects on the duality of life and death; moreover, an unwritten opera as an artwork is inviting, stimulating, and encouraging for radical poetics of current contemporary practices. This exhibition, therefore, revisits an artistic position that continually inquired about one specific form; an unwritten opera as a conceptual piece. Historically speaking, the artist dedicated almost a decade for conceptual exercises as a series of props and make-up design stud­ies to his Unwrit­ten Opera between 1992 and 2000 and investigated variations of album cov­ers for boot­leg record­ings of Led Zeppelin. Çerkez kept on practicing the Unwritten Opera by extending its forms and materiality to a painting texture, or the Marshall guitar amp favored by Jimmy Page (Untitled: 14 July 2030, presented as ‘stage furniture/props for an unwritten opera’ in 1999), or to its content; a curtain inscribed with those words, and the Auditions for an Unwritten Opera of 2000, an exhibition consisting of video documentation of the exhibition’s opening. 

As a conversation piece, this leading work “A design for the overture curtain of an Unwritten Opera, Untitled: 15 January 2028” (1999) -also shown as part of the 5th Istanbul Biennial (1997), is positioned as a key reference for the dramaturgy, and choreography of the exhibition considering the narrative politics and gestures of movement and artistic direction in the show. 

Çerkez’s oeuvre has been guiding the research and the exhibition process, appearing alongside works from a new wave of queer, critical, and radical practices that pose questions about the acts of rehearsal, the state of work in progress , and artist life as a biography of transition. The exhibition subtitle proposes ‘around’ instead of an expression such as ‘about.’ ‘Around’ refers to circling, gathering, and staying together. Scoring, rehearsals, cognitive exercises, musical notes, and other forms of conceptual thinking especially with works by Antonia Baehr, Delia Gonzales, Julian Dashper, and Marco Fusinato operate as a leitmotif -based on different chapters of understanding the life of an artist as well as the span of artwork. The collaborative works of Mutlu Çerkez with Marco Fusinato and Callum Morton will also be shown in the exhibition. 

A new film work presented within a site-specific display by Juliet Carpenter, shortlisted for the Walters Prize 2024, and the recent work by Turner Prize 2023 nominee Jesse Darling will be shown within this project including a room dedicated to a conceptual dialogue between two Berlin-based artists, Hanne Lippard, winner of the Preis der Nationalgalerie 2023, and Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, winner of Hannah Höch Prize in 2022. Together with these positions, the exhibition framework proposes to rethink forms of reincarnation, reproduction, regeneration, and remembering within the limits of human memory, steps of memorizing, and escapes of forgetting. 

Selected recent works, adapted to the Kunsthalle exhibition space with site-specific parameters and new museological concerns, by Pedro Gómez-Egaña, and Serkan Özkaya create spatial links to the exhibition narration considering our gaze, human anatomy, and dynamic relationships between the body and the institution. Two different works by Özlem Günyol & Mustafa Kunt, both almost a decade old, are revisited on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Gezi Park Protests. Their associations with the transformation of the public space are inspiring for understanding the 2000s in relation to the 1990s zeitgeist, and also the mutation of the street language -before the Internet, which comes together with the works by Mutlu Çerkez as extended poesie. The ongoing changes in the political meanings of the future are hidden tracks within these artistic conversations. 

Egemen Demirci, who worked with the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden for two years as “Hauskünstler” (the artist at work), a temporary position to engage artists with paid hours into the institutional framework, revisits his work from 2012, Spectator on White. In the video work, the spectators are going through imaginary artworks recalled from their memory, invisible to the viewer of the video. The remake of the existing work in 2023 within the neo-classical architecture of the Kunsthalle as a state-run art institution, in a heritage building and in the city of Festspiele, Kurhaus, Friedrichsbad, and others establishes a potent relationship with Mutlu Çerkez ‘s unwritten opera, even maybe as the missing libretto. 

A co-commission by Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden Baden, Museum of Contemporary Art, Warrane/Sydney, and the Plimsoll Gallery, University of Tasmania, Nipaluna/Hobart Léuli Eshrāghi presents his double channel video new work, which expressly connects with the paintings of Mutlu Çerkez on DNA structures through their poetic and performative acts. 

The assembly of these unique works is possible through generous loans of Monash University Museum of Art | MUMA, Felix Gonzalez Torres Foundation, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Griffith University Art Museum, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne (Australia), PALAS (Australia), Michael Lett Gallery in Auckland (NZ), Sultana Gallery of Paris, Zilberman Gallery and Cherdlüdde in Berlin, and Hot Wheels Athens. 

With long hours of professional exchange and patience of Charlotte Day, Marco Fusinato, Callum Morton, and other colleagues of Çerkez; moreover Pierre Bal Blanc, Florian Lüdde, and Andrew Kachel, further substantial art historical connections with the legacy of Mutlu Çerkez are knitted through the presentation of works by On Kawara, Jeff Wall Production, Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, Felix Gonzales Torres among others. 

Printed Matter  and other exhibition material are designed by Kunsthalle’s long-term collaborator, Stuttgart-based collective Matter Of as a tribute to the typographical work by Mutlu Çerkez. Utilizing the research and the making of this exhibition as an editorial process, there will be a publication published by Hatje Cantz to be launched next year in Australia.

Auditions for An Unwritten Opera, Around the Works by Mutlu Çerkez is manifested by the generous support of Land Baden Wüttermberg.  

We acknowledge the financial support for the new production, and travels of Serkan Özkaya by the Canada Council for the Art.

Curated by Misal Adnan Yıldız

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