Didem Doğan

De Chirico in Pera Museum, ‘The Mystery of the World’

I met De Chirico at an exhibition at the Pera Museum. I found it surprising to find out that his roots are here in Istanbul; they go back to the Ottoman era. His father, born in Greece and originally from Italy, moved to Constantinopolis to work in train construction, and lived in Buyukdere (close to Sarıyer in Bosphorus); his mother is from Izmir, a coastal city in the Southwest. He spent his childhood in Greece, and for the most of his life lived in Italy, a Mediterranean mosaic. One of the concepts that is used to describe his art is ‘Mediterranean Mythology’: the art critic Artun explains it in his article in the following way: “…according to De Chirico, the first images of the childhood turn into profound thoughts by time… and these deep thoughts make a kind of personal mythology…” I remember the yellow car in Van Gogh’s childhood… The whole exposition is like witnessing the journey of the painter’s life: classical paintings, then the metaphysical art, him going back to the classical art, returning to the metaphysical pieces… Around 1910, he experienced a kind of ‘enlightenment’ or to be more precise, ‘epiphany.’ … He was in Florence, Plaza Santa Croce, in front of the Dante sculpture when he felt a curious impressions like it was the first time he saw everything clear and stark, which culminated in the work title ‘the Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon.’ The metaphysical works followed: the unsettling empty Italian city squares, uneasy models, claustrophobic interiors, geometrical tools, weird objects… He spent around 10 years in Ferrara, Rome and Paris where he created the works that are found the most ‘original’ today. There’s a time when he flirted with the surrealists, André Breton, the pioneer of the movement, praised him, and then when their short-lived friendship ended, criticized him rigorously… In De Chirico’s paintings we see the gods of the Ancient Greece inside the rooms; the floors turn into pools; the Greek sculptures swim inside, and the men in suits watch them… Then we see his series of caligrammes: two moons, two suns, connected to each other… He also took to the pen in some period of his life. This art which is so ‘abstract’ and ‘metaphysical’ must be based on a philosophy; in the same article Artun says “The perspectivism in De Chirico’s work is influenced by the perspectivism in Nietzsche’s thought, where he suggests that an absolute, scientific truth is not possible, and the truth is always constructed through the perspective from which one perceives…In fact the whole work of De Chirico is based on certain mis-en-scenes, and this is not coincidence, but it’s something that complements the aesthetics of the artist. The origin of aesthetics originated from the Renaissance era which is central to his art brings together architecture, perspective and theatre intertwined… That must be the reason why metaphysical art prioritises spaces so much. Talking about geometry and perspectivism, one cannot but remember Escher; he painted his works with perfect mathematics, whereas De Chirico with the figures that repeat themselves as in a dream. That may be the reason why he used the word ‘enigma’ so much, to describe the mystification…

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