Leave the Ottoman era behind to head to today. Like most visitors you’ll be drawn to the history, but don’t ignore the modern face of Istanbul, with new galleries showcasing local artists, cutting-edge architecture, and a dynamic fashion scene. All the galleries below have opened since 2004, which makes you realize the lack of contemporary arts spaces before that—surprising for a city with such a cultural hub. It’s certainly been one of the most exciting developments to Istanbul, giving it a certain cachet.
START: Tram: Tophane.
1- Istanbul Modern.
When this contemporary art museum opened in 2004 (see p 17) in a converted customs warehouse, it was a much-needed fillip to Istanbul’s art scene. The permanent exhibition ‘Modern Experiences’ highlights prominent 19th-century Turkish painters. Look out for Ihsan Cemal Karaburçak (1897–1970), influenced by Cezanne, Gaugin and Matisse from his trips to Paris, and the huge work
by Nejad Melih Devrim (1923–1995), one of Turkey’s earliest abstract painters. It’s also interesting to see how the first professional artists operated under the new Turkish Republic from 1923, having been trained and financed under the Ottomans, like Osman Hamdi Bey, famed for his Orientalist style. From the cracked glass walls lined with chains, descend to the basement, where the false ceiling comprising suspended books is dramatic. I love the temporary photographic exhibitions in the basement (although the images of Istanbul through the decades from the Magnum group is hard to beat). The shop has an eclectic collection of prints, mugs, and even kits to paint reproductions of paintings on T-shirts.
There’s also a kids section on the first floor with soft play materials. @90 min.(see p 17 for details).
2- Istanbul Culinary Institute.
This informal student-run restaurant presents Ottoman cuisine with a contemporary twist. Breakfasts are enhanced by superb homemade bread, with a daily-changing lunch menu, perhaps including pan-
fried zucchini pancakes. Good value; daytime only. 59 [email protected] Cad. y0212 251 2525. $$.
3- Pera Müzesi (museum).
Opened in 2005 in a restored late 19th-century Pera building, this museum houses the private collec-
tion of the Suna and Inan Kiraç Foundation.In addition to the permanent collections of all things ceramic, Orientalist and Ottoman, head to the top three floors for changing exhibitions. Often these are by prestigious European painters, for example I recently enjoyed the Joan Miró exhibition, with two floors (albeit small) of the Spaniard’s paintings and sculptures, beautifully lit, laid-out and labeled. There may also be a floor dedicated to contemporary Turkish artists and experimental art.
While you’re there, don’t miss Osman Hamdi Bey’s serene Tortoise Trainer(1906) Turkey’s most valuable painting at $3.5m, depicting himself as a dervish ‘training’ the tortoises with music. @1 hr.
65 [email protected] Caddesi, [email protected] 0212 334 9900. www.pm.org.tr.
Admission 7 TL; concession 3 TL.
Tues–Sat 10am–7pm; Sun 12–6pm.
Tram: Tünel or Taksim.
4- Misir Apartmani.
When the top floor of this early 20th-century building opened 360 Istanbul (seeBest Nightlife p 123) in 2004, the rooftop bar, restaurant and fashionistas gathering par excellence, it paved the way for a series of contemporary art galleries. Get the lift to the top, then work your way down and keep your eyes open for even more opening up. Most of the work exhibited is for sale. The private Galeri Nev(5/F; 0212 252 1525; www.galerinevistanbul.com) represents 13 Turkish artists, including Nazif Topçuoglu’s photographs and large installations by Canan Tolon. Exhibitions, changing every few months, usually show a couple of pieces from each, including sculptures. With two changing exhibitions by contemporary European artists or photographers, Galerist. (4/F; 0212 244 8230; www.galerist.com.tr) has brochures in English. Sneak onto the balcony for wonderful views over busy Istiklal Caddesi. Opened in May 2007, Casa Dell’Art (3/F; 0212 251 1214; www.casadell artgallery.com)
represents 15 young established Turkish artists, hoping to promote them overseas. Each month sees a
solo exhibition of two, perhaps Ergin Inan’s mixed media, or Mustafa Sekban’s realistic Istanbul scenes. One of the building’s oldest galleries, Fototrek Fotograf Merkezi (1/F; 0212 251 9014; www.foto
trek.com) houses photographic exhibitions. Usually contemporary Turkish and European photographers, you might catch the occasional exhibition from members of the Magnum photojournalist
agency. @1 hr. 163 Istiklal Cad.
5- Sanat Galerisi.
Here’s a chance to get an idea of future plans to ‘smarten up’ in time for 2010, when Istanbul will be European City of Culture. In a Belediye (council) gallery, display boards and photographs showcase proposed The Pera Museum.
designs to regenerate [email protected], a downtrodden area of Beyoglu which still makes made middle-class
Istanbullus shudder. Photographs of ‘before’ (the ‘narrow alleys and ramshackle houses’) contrast
sharply with computer-generated pastel-hued apartments, where a businessman talking on his mobile
phone is supposed to illustrate that in ‘new Tarlibasi’, people can talk on mobiles without the fear
of being mugged. It begs the question – what will happen to the original residents? @20 min.
217 Istiklal Caddesi. Admission free. Open daily 9am–4.30pm.
6Atatürk Kültür Merkezi
(AKM, or Atatürk Cultural Centre).
While awaiting your shuttle bus to santralistanbul(see bullet 7), take a look at the iconic cultural center in Taksim Meydani (see Istiklal Neighborhood Walks, p 52). Hardly contemporary any more, this was considered cuttingedge architecture when converted from the 1930s opera house in 1969 by Hayati Tabanlioglu, then renamedstanbul Cultural Palace. It burnt down during a performance just one year later, and reopened in 1978 as the AKM. Some love the grey steel box-like exterior, others hate it, but
with the plethora of music, dance and theatre performances, maybe its external appearance doesn’t
really matter. (Due to reopen after renovations in early 2009.) @10 min. See p 132 for details.
One of my favorite places in Istanbul, period. This astounding new art space, opened in September 2007, transformed the Silahtaraga Power Plant, which provided electricity to the city from 1911 to 1983. Many of the original structures had to be knocked down but were rebuilt with the same dimensions, giving amazing scope and scale for large-scale art, sculptures and installations. The themed exhibition
changes a couple of times a year, mainly of Turkish contemporary artists. Few people, even locals,
have even heard of this ambitious place, but I’ve been telling everyone I know. Wonderful! @90 min.
See p 42 for details.
Lunch inside the restored power station at ottosantral. Some of the original machinery on show
In the grounds of the gallery, this is rather like an industrial warehouse turned funky, with exposed pipes and menu of fresh salads, Thai chicken and original pizzas. Creative décor by day, buzzing DJ-bar by night. 0212 427 1889. $$.
Yes it’s a shopping mall, but even if you have no intention of trailing around its up-market stores laced with designer brands (see p 96), take time to admire this wonderful piece of architecture. A metro journey from Taksim Meydani, the mall was designed by the Jerde Partnership (designers of several Las Vegas hotels) and opened in early 2006, its mix of residential, office, retail and entertainment has certainly been a big hit amongst Istanbullus, who flock to the softly curvaceous mall. Its multiplex movie halls and restaurants for a day out. With clever use of well-designed courtyard and terraces, visitors are not exposed to the elements (sun or rain) yet it never seems enclosed. Creative lighting at
night brings it alive. @30–60 mins.
185 Büyükdere Caddesi, Levent.
0212 353 5300. www.kanyon.com.tr. Most stores 10am–9pm;
restaurants later. Metro: Levent.
10- Büyükdere Caddesi, Levent.
If you emerge from
Kanyon at night, the sight looks more like a New York or Hong Kong scene than Istanbul. Blue and white neon-lit skyscrapers show off the city’s financial and business hub, the international banking headquarters growing vertically year by year. By 2010, there are likely to be another two buildings added, with 81 and 101 floors respectively.
When I see the lights cast on the birds flying above, I can’t help but contrast the scene with the spot-lit
Yeni Camii (see p 71),which seems to summarize today’s Istanbul. @20 min