Museums Turkey

Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence named the 2014 European Museum of the Year

Turkey's Nobel Prize-winning author dedicates award to the miners of Soma

Prize winning author and museum founder, Orhan Pamuk

The writer Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence has been named the European Museum of the Year in a ceremony held in Tallinn at the weekend. Pamuk has dedicated the prize to the miners who were killed last week in an explosion in Soma, Turkish media reports.

When the museum opened in April 2012, Andrew Finkel, The Art Newspaper's Istanbul-based correspondent, visited and met its founder.

The museum advertised as the first to be inspired by a novel opened its doors in the back streets of Istanbul... It looks like a museum, feels like a museum and is open late on Fridays and closed on Mondays. Yet the first question posed by the Museum of Innocence, created by the Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk, is whether it really is a museum at all, and not an infinitely elaborate installation—an extended conceit of art imitating art, albeit one with a gift shop that sells posters and fridge magnets.

The answer Pamuk would give is that it is not a national museum designed to project the wealth of nations, but a small museum that peeks into the jumbled complexity of the human psyche. It is a museum like Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris is a planet, converting personality into glass display cabinets. It is also an act of remembering—in this case, the discreet charm of Istanbul’s bourgeoisie in the last quarter of the 20th century.

“I planned the museum almost as a place that will have very few visitors—I am not complaining that the opposite is true, but I am not worried too much about the future,” Pamuk says. With this, he echoes the words of his protagonist, Kemal. “When the true collector, on whose efforts these museums depend, gathers together his first objects, he almost never asks himself what will be the ultimate fate of his hoard.”

The opening of the museum was originally due to coincide with the publication of the book, but the mid-2000s were troubled years for Pamuk, who had become the object of an obsessional hatred by the ultra-nationalist Turkish Right. The project lingered, unfinished. The author famously refused to accept public money offered when Istanbul was declared the European Capital of Culture for 2010, opting to organise the financing himself through a private trust. He described the price tag as equal to his Nobel Prize money ($1.5m).

Pamuk says that he is optimistic that the museum will pay its way. He says that running costs were not high in relation to the anticipated number of visitors. Beral Madra, one of Istanbul’s most experienced curators, estimates the original costs at TL10,000 to TL15,000 a month (around $5,400 to $8,200) and that the museum could tick over on admission fees. Staff report that there can be as many as 200 visitors a day, with entrance charges varying between $8.50 and $13.50. However, not every visitor is a paying customer. Those who own a copy of the novel can gain free entry by having the ticket printed in the final chapter stamped at the entrance.

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