Museum of Innocence

Onur Karaoglu


Museum of Innocence

Çukurcuma Caddesi, Dalgiç Çikmazi 2 34425, Beyoglu Istanbul Türkiye

Istanbul, Turkey

European Museum Forum / European Museum of the Year Award 2014

Creating An Atmosphere To Suit The Narrative Of The Novel

The Museum of Innocence is both a novel by Orhan Pamuk and a museum he has set up. From the very beginnings of the project, since the 1990s, Pamuk has conceived of novel and museum together. The novel, which is about love, is set between 1974 and the early ’00s, and describes life in Istanbul between 1950 and 2000 through memories and flashbacks centered around two families – one wealthy, the other lower middle class. The museum presents what the novel’s characters used, wore, heard, saw, collected and dreamed of, all meticulously arranged in boxes and display cabinets. It is not essential to have read the book in order to enjoy the museum, just as it is not necessary to have visited the museum in order to fully enjoy the book. But those who have read the novel will better grasp the many connotations of the museum, and those who have visited the museum will discover many nuances they had missed when reading the book.

20inno2xThe building became the first object of the collection, however in the museum thousands of objects would have been exhibited. In the novel The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk describes how Kemal collects his lover Füsun’s belongings and the logic behind how he sets them out in the museum. Visitors to the museum are greeted by a striking display composed of the stubs of 4213 cigarettes smoked by the novel’s protagonist Füsun. With every floor climbed, guests are drawn further and further into the novel and into the feel of life during the period when it is set. Just as in the novel, the attic contains the room where Kemal spent the last years of his life, and also features the manuscript of the novel, and the Pamuk’s preliminary drawings and designs for the museum.

Pamuk wrote the novel over the years by collecting and looking at these objects one sees inside the museum. If he was to open the museum with all the objects that the characters of the novel once touched, used or dreamed they would tell a different story, create a different mood and it would be smart to find the objects first which are ranging from cinema tickets to matchsticks, liquor bottles to doorknobs, and small ornaments to photographs. Pamuk wrote about the objects in relation to the characters of the novel. By doing that, while he was making the museum he wouldn't have wasted his time to look for the objects. Story also tells us some of the characters lived in the building before it was converted into a museum. Pamuk had the idea of setting a story in a real, existing building in Istanbul, and then manipulating the story in such a way that the building in the end turns out to be a museum and making it and opening was the whole project.

20inno3xUpon completion of the novel and over the course of four years in which the museum was developed, the thousands of objects previously stored in Pamuk’s office and home were joined by many other items and artworks, videos, photographs and sound installations that evoke Istanbul’s past. What took the time most was placing in the boxes the objects that he collected in the years of writing the novel. Objects were coming from so many different sources. How to put them in the boxes that would look nice and suggest a relationship? Having only the collection was not enough at this point. For example, Pamuk collected the matches that people in Istanbul used for years. Though, he couldn't use them since he couldn't find a way to place them looking nice in the museum. Exhibiting them like in a government museum was not something that he intended. Pamuk describes this in the manifesto that he wrote for the museum "...Demonstrating the wealth of Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Iranian, or Turkish history and culture is not an issue—it must be done, of course, but it is not difficult to do. The real challenge is to use museums to tell, with the same brilliance, depth, and power, the stories of the individual human beings living in these countries."

The novel has eighty-three chapters. The museum, also have eighty-three boxes, or vitrins. Each chapter has a chapter heading such as Merhamet Apartment. The 7th chapter of the novel is Merhamet Apartment. When you come to the museum you will see the 7th box is called with the same title. All the prominent objects that are described in the novel are placed in these cabinets over the four floors of the museum. The boxes follow not realistically but sentimentally the logic of the novel, story.

Orhan Pamuk conceived the Museum of Innocence over a long period of time, planning it word by word, object by object, image by image, before it first opened its doors on 27 April 2012, following the publication of the novel The Museum of Innocence in 2008. Around a hundred thousand people have visited the Museum of Innocence over the past two and half years. Half of these visitors have come from abroad. 15% of visitors have entered the museum for free, using the ticket included in the last chapter of the novel The Museum of Innocence, and 25% of visitors toured the museum with an audio guide prepared and narrated by Orhan Pamuk. While The Museum Of Innocence is a museum of a fiction, it is also a little museum of ‘Istanbul Life in the second half of the 20th century’. The Museum Of Innocence won European Museum Of The Year Award in 2014.


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