F. Nazlı Suyum1 and Canan Zöngür2  
1Mugla Sitki Kocman University, Social Sciences Institute, Graduate Student, Mugla, Turkey  
2Mugla Sitki Kocman University, Bodrum Fine Arts Faculty, Bodrum, Mugla, Turkey  
ABSTRACT: Conceptual Art emerged in the 1960s and displayed an entirely  
idiosyncratic structure as compared to those years’ prevailing form pursuits. It  
involved the art object in an intellectual process rather than a structural process. This  
very understanding, which keeps its distance from art object and prioritizes the artists’  
ideas, enables the artists to express themselves by exploiting all kinds of materials.  
Similar tendencies became manifest in Turkey during the end of 1970s. Some Turkish  
artists returned back to the country after completing their studies abroad and with the  
occasion of biennials they became effective in the scene of conceptual art. Each of these  
artists produced individually important conceptual artworks, which represent their  
own time. This research is focused on Cengiz Çekil, who is an important representative  
of Conceptual Art in Turkey, the period when Conceptual Art emerged, its leading  
artists back then and their works. Furthermore, this paper includes the examination of  
Cengiz Çekil’s works which carry the social and cultural traces of his time, his  
interviews, art perception and both his position and importance in today’s Conceptual  
Art. Based on the existing examples the literature has been reviewed and the artist’s  
works have been analysed. When it comes to Conceptual Art in Turkey, one of the first  
names that come to mind is Cengiz Çekil. For, by means of the unique mentality he  
demonstrates through his ‘new’ and astonishing style, he has been one of the most  
prominent artists in Turkish art history.  
Review Article  
PII: S238315532000004-9  
Received: 22 Apr. 2020  
Revised: 30 May. 2020  
Published: 15 Jun. 2020  
Corresponding author:  
KEYWORDS: Cengiz Çekil, Conceptual Art, Sculpture, Installation.  
into concrete forms. Art has its own justifications  
and in order to give the human spirit the opportunity  
Conceptual Art emerged in 1960s as a striking art  
style among others, which were concentrated on  
different artistic pursuits and trials. Nevertheless,  
long before, in 1913, Marcel Duchamp had already  
explored the readymade. By challenging his day’s art  
communities through his unconventional and new  
artistic approach, Duchamp brought the art works’  
ideas, images, forms, aesthetical concerns and  
messages forward. In that period, anti-Minimalists  
had embarked and concentrated, in a similar vein,  
on the ‘language’ of the artworks in relation with art  
galleries, which are common venues for the artists  
and their works to manifest their specific ideas. The  
aim was to deliver an information through a visually  
well-conceived and strong ‘installation’. All of these  
attempts, undertaken by artists who focused on the  
conceptual nature of artworks, triggered new and  
investigative declarations.  
to reveal itself, the unique art perceptive is  
necessary. He also argued that Duchamp’s  
Readymades changed the history of art completely  
by shifting significance from ‘appearance’ to  
‘concept’ [1].  
Conceptual Art examples started to emerge  
during the mid-1960s. However, much earlier, in  
1952, John Cage asserted within his ‘integrated  
sound field’ that music includes all kinds of sounds,  
including any kind of sound that does not belong to  
music and even the absent sound. He observed that  
while sound has a pitch, loudness and duration,  
silence has only a duration. During the performance  
of his silent composition called Four Minutes Thirty  
Three Seconds (4′33), he was just present, neither  
doing anything nor producing a sound. Inspired  
from Robert Rauschenberg’s 1951 dated works called  
‘White Paintings’, Cage eliminated everything but  
the random noises of the environment and duration  
(common traits of both sound and silence). Cage’s  
actual intention in this work was the individuality of  
the observer’s experience [2].  
In parallel with this objective, the artists, who in  
terms of Modern Art are Conceptualists, attached  
great importance to printed texts, photographs etc.  
due to these materials potential to convey the  
artworks’ messages directly and clearly to the  
As an art phenomenon of the 1960s, Conceptual  
Art is similar to Minimalism, however, it by-passes  
the content and represses the aesthetical elements of  
the art. This conscious contradiction, which arises  
American artist Joseph Kosuth stated that it is  
necessary to liberalise art, rather than imprisoning it  
Citation: Suyum FN and Zöngür C (2020). Conceptual  
art in Turkey: Cengiz Çekil. J. Art Arch. Stud., 9 (1): 23-  
Journal of Art and Architecture Studies  
ISSN 2383-1553  
J. Art Arch. Stud. 9(1): 23-29, June 15, 2020  
Suyum and Zöngür, 2020  
from Dadaist approach, paves the way for some traditional art forms and the assumptions that  
stimulating paradoxes. When Conceptual Artworks accompany these forms, he uses his ideas and  
come together with the audience, (especially in language as a material [5]. Arthur C. Danto calls  
deliberate places like galleries), it soon starts to Joseph Kosuth in his book ‘After the End of Art’ as  
evoke traditional forms of art, since aesthetic one of the few people who during the 60s and 70s  
expectation and imagination associate each other. produced artworks that analyse the philosophy of  
On the other hand, brushing the aesthetics aside by art. In Kosuth’s ‘Art After Philosophy’ published in  
following in Minimalism’s footsteps does not mean 1969, he stated that art invites us to an intellectual  
that the artists need less time to generate their thinking and its aim by doing so is not to recreate an  
artworks compared to Renaissance artists’ efforts. artwork but instead to understand philosophically  
And then again, all creative processes require a what art is [6].  
certain and conscious performance [3].  
Joseph Kosuth’s “One and Three Chairs” is one  
The expression ‘Conceptual Art’ was invented in of the most important examples of Conceptual Art.  
1967 by Sol LeWitt to summarize these kind of In this work, a chair stands alongside a photograph  
works’ intention: Rather than engaging the eye or of a chair. And next to the actual chair there is a  
feelings of the audience, Conceptual Artwork’s photograph of a verbal dictionary explanation of the  
raison d'être is to urge the viewers to think. Since word ‘chair’ hung on the wall. Eventually all of these  
“the idea becomes the machine that makes the art,” three objects represent the chair, yet with different  
planning and decisions should come before all else, codes. Thus exhibiting these verbal, visual and  
which then relegates execution to the condition of “a representative codes of a single object together has  
perfunctory affair.” LeWitt added that “ideas may been the smartest way to bring the connection and  
(even) be stated with numbers, photographs, or irrelevant connection between the ‘referent’ and the  
words or any way the artist chooses, the form being ‘signifier’ into question [1].  
unimportant” [1].  
Critics accepted that LeWitt has always  
embraced an irrational, spiritual and mystical  
verbiage, and that his main intention by inventing  
‘Conceptual Art’ is to subvert Minimalism. In his  
1966 dated manifesto ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art’  
he lended credence to critics by mooting that  
“conceptual artists are mystics rather than  
rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic  
cannot reach” [4].  
Conceptual Art focuses mostly on the artistic  
experience itself and this experience’s theoretical  
elements, in such a way that referring to the object  
becomes unnecessary. In 1969, Vito Acconci for  
instance tracked individuals through the streets  
Figure 1. Joseph Kosuth, ‘One and Three Chairs’  
1965, folding chair, photograph of a folding chair,  
photograph of the lexical meaning of chair. Chair:  
82×37.8×53 cm, folding chair’s photograph: 91.5×61.1 cm,  
photograph of the chair’s lexical meaning: 61×61.3 [7].  
within his work called ‘Following Piece’, aiming to  
link the viewer to an anonymous experience  
(individual, viewer, photographer, Acconci) through  
the candid shots his photographer provided [2].  
Acconci stated that he had been an inactive receiver  
of an individual’s space and time. One of his chases  
ended after nine hours when the person he followed  
entered a theater showcasing the movie ‘Paranoia’  
[2]. By eliminating the aesthetical object in  
Conceptual Art in the interest of manifesting his own  
idea, the artist has been able to experience a number  
of production methods.  
The Conceptual Art understanding of the 1960s  
and 1970s aimed to overcome the conventional  
expectation from art, which eventually is not obliged  
to produce aesthetically pleasurable forms. Some of  
the early Conceptual Artists adopted an  
understanding in which the artwork is useless, if it is  
not able to preoccupy the viewer. Conceptual Art is  
usually considered as ‘mind’s art’. Its representatives  
emphasized its cognitive value rather than its  
aesthetical value [8].  
American artist Joseph Kosuth is also one of the  
most important conceptual artists. He is a supporter  
of the movement, which tries to reidentify the  
constituents of an artwork. By questioning the  
J Art Arch Stud. 9(1): 23-29, 2020  
Although in this art circle technology seems not physical perishment of humans in the course of time  
to be essential, the attribution to technology paved [11]. The chair is consonant with human body and  
the way for the faith in artistic process. The main living style. Fat on the other hand, experiences  
characteristic of contemporary art was not the radical transformation with  
a tint change in  
design of the venue anymore, it was instead, the temperature and thus indicates the chaos. For  
interactivity between viewer, artist, main topic and Joseph Beuys everything is changing and the chaos  
content. Since then, the description of an art object triggered by this reality may have a remedial effect.  
has been connected to its efficiency in using the Beuys has seen in the transformation of fat and  
venue. Both the limits of structural and artistic continuous formal changes that almost remind the  
forms have become unclear; the artist preferred to spiritual alteration potential of humans, an analog of  
exhibit her/himself (the image of self-consciousness) spirituality [2].  
[9]. The artist’s inner-position had never converted  
into such a direct material.  
Based on this artistical environment, period and  
approaches, this research paper investigates the  
Yet another outstanding Conceptual Artist is moral of the period when Conceptual Art emerged  
Joseph Boyes. Apart from his interesting life story, and its leading artists and in this context, it  
participating in Fluxus and producing conceptual examines Cengiz Çekil’s, one of the most significant  
artworks by using ordinary matters like fat, felt, etc., representatives of Conceptual Art in Turkey, works  
transformed him into the most conspicuous artist of and art perception. And it is also aimed to lay  
this movement. Beuys said: “I tried to separate the emphasis on his conceptual works’ place and  
concept of plastic into three simple objects. But this  
significance in Turkey’s contemporary art and  
is not solely limited with objects that are physically herewith to contribute the related literature.  
perceivable. The same thing applies to plastic  
materials which are invisible.  
unspecified materials like fat and soil, and through a CONCEPTUAL ART  
certain action, I reconstruct a new form from these” Conceptual Art appeared in Turkey as from the end  
of 70s and became prevalent within the art  
environment of 80s. As one of the leading artists of  
Turkish Conceptual Art, Cengiz Çekil created  
remarkable artworks in this field and has been an  
important representative of conceptual art, both in  
Turkey and abroad. He was born in Niğde-Bor in  
1945. He graduated from Ankara Gazi Education  
Institute’s Art Teaching department in 1968.  
Between 1970 and 1975 he completed his  
Sculpture/Modelling study in Paris, founded by the  
ministry. In 1978 he started working in Ege  
University’s Faculty of Fine Arts department as  
research assistant. Çekil regarded the sculptures he  
produced in Paris as his first works [12]. He  
launched his first solo exhibition ‘Réorganisation  
pour une Exposition’ (Reconfiguration for an  
Exhibition) in Paris.  
During one of his interviews with Necmi  
Sönmez, the artist stated that he was amazed by  
Beuys’ and Duchamp’s works, and that he had  
conceptualized his works under their influence. He  
asserted that they are the benchmarks of  
contemporary art and on all occasions he uttered his  
admiration for both of them [12].  
‘Direnç: Ölü Bir Somyanın Anısına’ (Resistance:  
in Memory of a Dead Mattress), one of the artist’s  
most known works (Figure 3) consists of a used,  
dumped, rusted bed, carrying on the middle an  
Figure 2. Fat Chair, 1964, Wooden Chair, Animal Fat [11]  
Joseph Beuys’ Fat Chair transformed two  
ordinary materials into an open-ended metaphor. In  
1964 he exhibited this work in a glass case and let it  
undergo a natural process of decay until 1985.  
During this process the fat decomposed in such an  
extent that it evaporated and nearly disappeared.  
The main organic compounds he used in his artwork  
let the audience identify themselves with these  
materials and experience the temporarity of life and  
Suyum and Zöngür, 2020  
amiant band and above this a resistance lying. He  
spread a piece of white fabric, a material that will  
Another well-known work of the artist is “The  
Yellow Rubber” (Figure 4). The work consists of a  
canvas, lace and a hook. The lace and colour on the  
background of a 144 pieces of flipped canvases fall  
within the system of colours and shapes Çekil  
rebuilt, and display formal diversities. The wooden  
panel represents the Ottomans’ civil architectural  
oriel windows, which protrude from the main walls  
of the buildings without letting the people in the  
house step outside. According to the artist, framing  
the work refers to a kind of introvertedness,  
motivated by the necessity of upholding the ‘honour’  
of people living in the house. Both the rubber which  
is commonly used in house cleaning and laces  
installed as a second background highlight the  
correlation between femininity and middle-class  
family. On the flipped surfaces of the canvases there  
are colour tones aking to human skin and tones like  
yellow, purple, grey and beige which look like  
bruises caused by physical abuse. These  
components together are representing the domestic  
violence which happen in a domestic setting and are  
usually concealed [1]. Through these works the  
artist emphasizes the cultural conservatism in  
Turkey, questions the traditions and at at the same  
time conveys his messages by exploiting conceptual  
art’s freedom. And the immensity of materials he  
selected to create these artworks is utterly striking.  
As long as the artist’s practice serves the concept,  
she/he is far more free in using different images and  
objects as compared to minimalists [16].  
frequently used material in his  
subsequent works, under this installation. This  
white fabric reminds a deathbed, a shroud, on which  
a dead body lyes. This glowing hot resistance,  
dividing the bed in to two symmetrical pieces,  
symbolizes the ablaze resistance against death. The  
artist has never been unconcerned about the goings-  
on around him. This work, which he produced  
during the time he lived in Paris, refers at the same  
time to ‘La résistance’, the name of an anti-fascist  
resistance which emerged against the Nazi  
occupation in France during World War II. Çekil’s  
efforts to exhibit more than one work together  
started with his exhibition at Beaux-art in Paris. In  
one of its small galleries designated for small-scale  
exhibitions he exhibited four of his works together:  
Iron Earth Copper Sky, Resistant Areas, The  
Heating Coil and Resistance in a Capillary Long  
Tube, Resistance: in Memory of a Dead Mattress  
Figure 3. Private Exhibition of a Group of Works at  
École des Beaux-Arts: Resistance: in Memory of a  
Dead Mattress (1974), Iron Earth Copper Sky (1975),  
Resistant Areas (1975), The Heating Coil and  
Resistance in a Capillary Long Tube (1975). From  
SALT Research’s Cengiz Çekil Archive [14]  
The conceptual artist may intend to fix the  
emphasis for materiality or may want to use it  
paradoxically. Whatever the intention is, an art  
approach of this nature requires the highest  
economy of materials. If an idea is better presented  
in two dimensions, a three dimensional application  
should be out of question. The ideas may be  
expressed through numbers, photographs, words or  
any other medium the artist prefers, the  
object/material stands beside the point [15]. In this  
context Cengiz Çekil generated his concepts without  
focusing on a particular material or dimension.  
Figure 4. Yellow Rubber, 2013 [17]  
In his exhibition “What Time Is It?” (Figure 5),  
he brought a series of his works together, which all  
concentrate on the same causal questions. This  
installation reminds of his work-series called  
‘Unlettered’ (1975-1977) in which he used  
newspaper for the first time as a material. What  
Time Is It? displays for one week, newspaper sheets  
chosen from Hürriyet (a Turkish local paper), which  
J Art Arch Stud. 9(1): 23-29, 2020  
consistently produces life-dominant dynamics and  
indicators identified by mainstream media. On  
these sheets behind a glass frame stands a semi-  
transparent bold face ‘What Time Is It?’ question.  
Although it is hard to read the news behind this  
glass and letters, it is still visible. The abundance of  
images and words on the sheets points out the life’s  
preciousness and fragility by countless repetition of  
the same question which interrogates the meaning  
of daily routine [13].  
The Japanese artist On Kawara’s postcards and  
telegrams he daily sent to his friends and colleagues  
bearing messages like “I GOT UP”, “I AM STILL  
ALIVE”, “I Went I Met” and Çekil’s Diary use  
similar languages to declare that they are still alive.  
While Kawara sent his messages to his friends, Çekil  
kept an abstract diary of the days he survived just  
Figure 6. Cengiz Çekil “Diary”, 2011 [20]  
In Çekil’s works, spatial concerns stay in the  
background. For the installations of the artist, the  
environment serves merely as a platform to convey  
his opinions.  
Figure 5. Cengiz Çekil, What Time Is It?, 2008  
Harald Szeemann’s famous exhibition “When  
Attitudes Become Form” (1969) has been a ground  
breaking curatorial application, manifesting the  
transformative nature of art language. Since the  
common trait of movements like Concept Art, Arte  
Povera, Fluxus etc. is that the artwork is merely a  
medium which conveys the energy, ideas and  
notions to the audience. Thereby, the artwork  
eludes materiality and experiences a transit journey.  
The materials Çekil has used in Paris reveal that  
they experienced the same transit journey with  
Szeemann’s, and at the same time that he files with  
Joseph Beuys [13]. What makes Çekil successful in  
this field is his approach to material. Converting the  
right material into an art object can only be a good  
artist’s achievement. The risk of appreciating the  
physicalism of a material on such a scale, lyes  
behind its potential to become the notion of the  
artwork [16].  
Cengiz Çekil’s first retrospective took place at  
Rampa in May-July 2010 and it has been the artist’s  
largest exhibition. Curated by Vasıf Kortun, this  
exhibition gathered all of the works the artist  
produced between 1974 and 2010 [14]. While  
participating a wide range of exhibitions at home  
and abroad, the artist served at the same as an  
academic and trained hundreds of students. The  
artist, who passed away on the 11th of November  
2015, gained an important place in the history of  
Turkish Contemporary Art.  
112 pieces, each piece 56×75.7cm [18]  
The artist stamped every night before sleeping  
on a diary he bought in 1976 these statement: “I Am  
Still Alive” (Figure 6) and wrote the date.  
world/cosmology, this work entered the permanent  
collection of MoMa in 2011. The diaries that  
chronologically historicise a person’s subjective  
adventure might be regarded as maps of the inner  
world. Through “I Am Still Alive”, Cengiz Çekil  
mythicise his inner world which has to squirm  
before the external world. The Left vs. Right  
movements in Turkey in 1980s, current political  
conflicts and the tension generated by domestic  
policy led up to 12 September 1980 upheavals. As  
standing in the middle of such an insecure  
environment he actually, instead of meaning that he  
is still alive, wants to say that he coincidentally did  
not die that day. He summarized a pure world which  
sprouts in the middle of an internal conflict in  
which living is possible simply by accident [19].  
Concepts and language are tightly knit,  
therefore, conceptual art is a practice that uses  
material to verbalize the concepts. While music  
consists primarily of tone, conceptual art’s  
substance is language [16]. Thus Çekil’s ‘Diary’ is a  
significant example in the context of language’s  
potential to convey the notion.  
Suyum and Zöngür, 2020  
Competing interests  
The authors declare that they have no  
competing interests.  
This research quotes briefly the period when  
Conceptual Art emerged and the artistic  
environment in that period. Conceptual Art arose in  
1960s and has been an effective art approach until  
the end of 1980s. Within this subject, leading artists  
of this movement and their works have been  
mentioned. As one of the most effective names of  
Conceptual Art in Turkey, Cengiz Çekil’s art  
perception and works have been examined. Through  
his 45 years art career he never gravitated to the  
vanity and dynamics of the art community. His  
main objective has always been to witness the recent  
past and hand it down to the future through images.  
He has quite a few works which he has not been able  
to exhibit due to various reasons. Granted that his  
art is an intellectual process, he never regarded art  
as a materialistic medium. In order to truly realize  
the art practice he narrated his life experience from  
a boy by exploiting unconventional materials. Prof.  
Dr. Fevziye Eyigör, member of Atatürk University,  
mentioned within her article published in the  
journal ‘Sanat Dünyamız’ (Our World of Art) that  
Çekil has been regarded as the representative of the  
hidden history of 1970s current art and the ‘Father  
of Contemporary Art’ [21]. Cengiz Çekil soon  
comprehended the idea of Conceptual Art. During  
an interview with Necmi Sönmez he said that  
fleamarkets are like design museums and he  
provides the materials he needs from these markets.  
His work ‘Diary’, in which he included a big part of  
his life and ongoing since 1967, was selected for the  
permanent collection of MoMa, the most famous  
Modern Art Museum New York, shortly before his  
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Authors’ Contributions  
[18] Cultural  
F.N. Suyum is the lead author of the  
manuscript. She provided the background and the  
body of the work. C. Zöngür performed general  
overwide, analytical interpretation of the work,  
developed the abstract and conclusion sections.  
Both the authors directly participated in analysis of  
this study, and have read and approved the final  
version submitted.  
[19] Mercan IA (2015). Sanatta Kişisel Mitoloji ve  
Minörlük Olgusu. Sanat ve Tasarım Dergisi, p.143.  
[20] Kültür  
J Art Arch Stud. 9(1): 23-29, 2020  
[21] Eyigör F (2016). Yanlış Zamanda Doğru Şeyler  
Söyleyen Sanatçı Figürü Olarak Cengiz Çekil.  
Sanat Dünyamız Kültür ve Sanat Dergisi, Sayı:  
151, Mart-Nisan-2016, İstanbul, sf: 94-105 (ISSN