Imagine a gathering place where new art from emerging artists is exhibited alongside the work of established contemporary artists. An architectural marvel and an iconic structure, Odunpazarı Modern Museum is situated in Eskisehir—an ancient yet modern city in Anatolia—and welcomes visitors from far and wide to experience the work of both Turkish and international artists.
Collector Erol Tabanca’s quest to house his collection in a space just as exciting as the collection itself concluded with Kengo Kuma’s designs and configurations for the museum. Kengo Kuma and partner architect Yuki Ikeguchi found inspiration in the Tabanca family’s commitment to the project, the similarities between Turkish and Japanese cultures, and the city’s youthful dynamism.
KKAA, designer of numerous iconic structures, including the VA Dundee Museum in Scotland and the new Tokyo National Stadium, which hosted the 2021 Summer Olympics, started to work on the OMM project in April 2016, focusing on the historical texture of Odunpazarı from a contemporary perspective.
The OMM building has a striking, egalitarian architecture: there is not a definitive front or back façade, the interior spaces narrow and widen without any given hierarchy, and the height of the ceilings vary throughout the three-story structure. As a whole, the building welcomes visitors into a unique and naive spatial experience.
Kengo Kuma and Yuki Ikeguchi, the partner architect of the OMM project, sought to highlight four main elements in the building’s design.
The transformation of simple geometrical lines into complex images
Filtering high-quality light into the interior
Forms that don’t follow a single pattern, just like the streets and houses of Odunpazarı; architectural aggregation that breaks down uniformity
Design inspired by the traditional timber structure system of Odunpazarı houses, also present in Japan.
The OMM building enlivens its neighborhood day and night and has become a new symbol of Eskisehir and Turkey with its unrivalled architecture.
Collector and businessperson Erol Tabanca long had a dream of exhibiting the artworks in his collection with the public. Describing art as “something that can smooth out all difficult conversations,” E. Tabanca set out to give back what he earned during his long run in business to the city that raised him. An architect himself, when asked about the reason why he chose to work with Kengo Kuma and Associates (KKAA), he explains, “Collaborating with an architect like Kengo Kuma allowed us to create an impact not only in Turkey, but all over the world. A major source of inspiration was the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry which made Bilbao an important destination.”
As for the vision for the future of OMM, the founder trusted Idil Tabanca, his eldest daughter and a creative professional with an international background in media and publishing. Idil Tabanca has been at the helm of the museum since November 2018, making mindful creative decisions with a global focus. “I think one of the most exciting things about this project is its contribution to decentralization. The fact that the museum is not located in the nation’s cultural and financial capital but in Anatolia instead, I find to be a great advantage,” Tabanca points out. “My dream is for Eskisehir to become a meeting point for artists from around the world. In addition to the upcoming projects, I am very excited about the education programs and putting sustainability in the center of all our future endeavours.”
One of OMM’s main objectives is to share its collection of nearly one thousand works of art, modern and contemporary, Turkish and International, including paintings, sculptures, installations, films, photography and new media with the public.
OMM has hosted five exhibitions since its fall 2019 opening. Curated by Haldun Dostoglu, a selection of ninety works from the Erol Tabanca Collection were presented at OMM’s inaugural exhibition, “The Union”, including works from essential figures in Turkish art history, such as Nejad Melih Devrim, Nuri Iyem and Gulsun Karamustafa, alongside the work of younger contemporary artists, uniting several generations.
“Treehugger” and “In the Eyes of the Animal” by London-based experiential art collective Marshmallow Laser Feast invited the participants to navigate a sensory perception beyond their daily experience.
In January 2020, the museum’s first residency exhibit titled “Third Place” opened. Bringing together the works of Tyler Thacker and Erin Wolf Mommsen, OMM’s first resident artists, the exhibition proposed dialectic between space and non-space, assignment and experimentation, and the dichotomy between the artists sharing a common theme and the same previously unfamiliar environment.
The museum’s last pre-pandemic exhibition was “ADA”, an interactive kinetic sculpture by Polish artist Karina Smigla-Bobinski. Described as an "art-making" machine by the artist, “ADA” is set in motion by visitors yet produces autonomous marks.
Fall 2020 saw the unveiling of “At the End of the Day,” the museum’s fifth exhibition. The selection counts Ursula K. Le Guin's 1972 novella “The Word for World is Forest” among its points of reference. The exhibition is ongoing with online tours offered in Turkish. The tours can be offered in English upon request.
With the opening of the museum in September 2019, a site-specific installation by Japanese bamboo artist Tanabe Chikuunsai IV has also been included in the permanent collection. For close to two decades, the artist has been one of bamboo art’s most radical practitioners. For his OMM installation Chikuunsai IV worked with tiger bamboo native to Japan’s Kochi region and explored the theme of four elements in nature, as well as a fifth element, space.
From the early months of the museum onwards, education programs geared towards visitors from different age groups have been at the forefront for OMM. Running in tandem with the exhibition schedule, there are offerings for adults, children and the elderly.
Starting October 2020, the programs have moved online and now take place over Zoom to continued interest. Online exhibition tours, “OMM in my Classroom” (age-specific, guided tours with a teacher-led reservation process, available in Turkish), and contemporary art seminars for graduate and undergraduate art students are among the current programs.
As of November 2020, OMM has been visited by 180.816 people.
8.326 of these are elementary, middle and high school students who discovered OMM with guided tours.
To design-enthusiasts’ delight, The OMM Shop launches an online component in 2021. The shop features not only products based on the permanent collection at the museum, but also carefully selected design objects and unique collaboration pieces.
Starting December 2020, the museum has also released a podcast series complementary to “At the End of the Day” (currently only available in Turkish) on Spotify. New podcast series will be offered in 2021.
Just like everyone else in the museum industry (and elsewhere), OMM takes things one day at a time, and looks forward to having visitors under its timber roof again!
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