Past Exhibitions

Kutlug Ataman: Paradise

Exhibition Through June 3, 2007

On March 11 the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) premiered Paradise, a large-scale video installation by Turkish artist Kutlug Ataman. Filmed primarily in Orange County, the work focuses on the notion of ‘paradise’ often associated with this region and presents interviews with 24 people who live in and contribute to the area’s contradictory personalities. The project, the first presentation of Ataman’s work on the West Coast, is co-commissioned by OCMA and presented at the Newport Beach galleries March 11 through June 3, 2007.

“The commission and presentation of Paradise, Kutlug Ataman’s exploration of myth and reality in Southern California, is the result of a unique and ambitious international partnership, and reflects the increasing interest in our region as a global cultural center. Southern California, and Orange County increasingly, exert a particularly strong influence on the American consciousness, and the ideas born here often come to represent both the vitality and the banality of American culture,” stated OCMA Director Dennis Szakacs. “Kutlug Ataman’s Paradise embraces this duality and seeks to understand paradise less as a concept and more as an expression of unfettered individual freedom and creativity.” 

Kutlug Ataman originally arrived in Southern California in 1981, after serving 38 days in prison in his native Turkey for alleged left wing activities. He stayed until 1994, receiving a BA and MFA in film from the University of California, Los Angeles (less than five miles from the fictional settings for 90201 and Melrose Place, which offered viewers from around the world an idealized view of Southern California lifestyles). After leaving he made a name for himself as a film director, and, since 1997, as an award-winning artist, first with the eight-hour portrait, kutlug ataman’s seimha b. unplugged, of Semiha Berksoy, the aging and eccentric “first lady of Turkish opera” who tells her life story, and then with Women Who Wear Wigs (1999), Never My Soul (2001), and The 4 Seasons of Veronica Read (2002), among others. In his films Ataman allows individuals to tell their own stories, uninterrupted.

His work often explores the worlds of people with unusual obsessions or life stories, from a Turkish transvestite to an English horticulturalist who is the world’s foremost expert on the amaryllis, to six people who believe that they have been reincarnated. Each of these subjects is approached with a great deal of humanity and empathy, indeed Ataman has said: “all my subjects feel like natural extensions of myself. I don’t make a film with people just because they are interesting, but because they have the same problems or obsessions I have.”

Returning to Southern California represents a homecoming of sorts, a reckoning with his youthful self. Kutlug Ataman’s new video installation, Paradise, explores the construction of both the myth and the reality of Southern California. With the international fascination of TV shows such as The O.C., The Real Housewives of Orange County, and Laguna Beach, Orange County has come to represent a certain kind of paradise in the minds of millions of people who have never visited the region. 

True to form, Ataman’s version is told through the words of 24 typical and atypical Californians, each of whom plays a role in the construction of paradise. Filmed in a wide-screen format suggestive of Hollywood films, the piece combines video interviews of people including the twelve-year-old Maya Berko, who wants to be a star; Dr. Robert H. Schuller, founder of the first drive-in church and the Philip Johnson–designed Crystal Cathedral; retired Emmy Award–winning producer Robert Henry, who performs within a living painting in the Pageant of the Masters, Laguna Beach’s famous yearly festival featuring tableau-vivant recreations of celebrated art works; members of the Laguna Beach laughter yoga club; and Southern California’s most famous chronicler of the apocalypse, Mike Davis. 

Other members of this twenty-four member ad hoc community include star chef James Boyce of the famed Montage Resort and Spa in Laguna Beach; thanatologist Lothar Delgado, who counsels on death; a space and time traveler; and the surfer and Quiksilver executive Steve Jones. Also participating, Michael Attie—“the lingerie monk”—founder of a non-sectarian meditation and spiritual study group and former lingerie salesman at Playmates on Hollywood Boulevard, which he inherited; numerologist Sharon Jeffers who offers predictions for the future of California; Norman Franklin Lloyd, who explains his visual method for solving Sudoku and his hopes for finding a mathematical approach to solving the world’s problems; and Carl Braun, a member of the immigrant-opposing Minuteman group from San Diego. Altogether, the 24 personalities create a complex, multi-layered exploration of the construct of paradise. 

According to Ataman “talking is the only meaningful activity we are capable of.” In keeping with this, Ataman’s new work explores “how individuals construct themselves within the play of paradise and how they engineer and construct paradise through their narratives.” 

The exhibition is accompanied by a full color catalogue featuring photos of the interviewees taken on location by Ataman and essays, by OCMA Curator of Contemporary Art Aimee Chang, cultural critic and urban historian Norman Klein, and critical theorist and art historian Irit Rogoff.

Paradise Tour Dates:

BAK (Basis Voor Actuele Kunst), The Netherlands
September 2–December 16, 2007

Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, England
January 19–April 20, 2008

Vancouver Art Gallery
February 9–May 19, 2008

Image Credits:

Photos: Kutlug Ataman: production stills from Paradise, 2007; courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York.

Exhibition Credits

Paradise is commissioned by BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, and Treaty of Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands; the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, England; Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York, USA; the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, USA; and the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada. Paradise is produced by Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü / The Institute for the Readjustment of Clocks, Istanbul, Turkey.


The Orange County presentation is made possible by Michael Krichman and Carmen Cuenca. Additional support was provided by Sheridan Brown. The catalog was underwritten by Jennifer McSweeney.