Contemporary art in… Istanbul: Art Radar guide

Art Radar’s guide to making the most of Istanbul’s art scene.

Fancy a long weekend art break? We kick off the first of our Art Radar Contemporary Art In… Art Guide Series with a visit to the breath-taking city of Istanbul. Our art guide contains everything you need to know for a successful visit: from where to find the best galleries to what to wear and when to go.

The Hagia Sofia mosque is just one of Istanbul's memorable cultural sites. Image courtesy Creative Commons.

The Hagia Sofia mosque is just one of Istanbul’s memorable cultural sites. Image courtesy Creative Commons.

Istanbul, a legendary city which spans two continents and sits on seven hills, is known for its rich Islamic decorative culture and archaeological treasures. So it might not be the first city that springs to mind when you are thinking of taking a trip to see contemporary art – but we want to encourage you to get on to your travel agent and book a trip soon. Over the last decade, the contemporary art scene has blossomed, and Istanbul is now a sophisticated, rewarding contemporary art destination well worth a trip.

Cengiz Çekil, ‘Tanned Jackets’, 1994. Image courtesy Cengiz Çekil.

Cengiz Çekil, ‘Tanned Jackets’, 1994. Image courtesy Cengiz Çekil.

When to go to Istanbul to see contemporary art

Keep an eye out for the major contemporary art events listed below. They are usually held in the autumn; try to time your visit to coincide with one of them:

  • Contemporary Istanbul – its inaugural edition was held in 2006; today it has over sixty exhibitors with about half hailing from Istanbul
  • PlugIn New Media fair – an extension to the Contemporary Istanbul fair introduced in 2013 showing at the same time; this fair covers video art, sound and light installations, interactive and generative design, indoor mapping projects, robotic designs -“any and every art piece you plug in” in the adjacent Istanbul Congress Center.
  • Istanbul Biennial – started in 1987 (next one in 2015), the biennale is held in the autumn every other year.

Happily autumn is a weather-friendly time to visit Istanbul, and you can expect bright sun with an autumn nip: ideal for walking the streets and popping in and out of galleries. Check out the monthly temperature averages here.

ArtInternational in Istanbul, 16 September 2013. ©HoneybunnPhotography . Image courtesy ArtInternational.

What to wear in Istanbul on your art trip

Wear what you would expect to wear to any world-class city: Istanbul stands alongside Paris, New York and London in the style stakes. Just a couple of tips for women: wear flat shoes suitable for cobbled streets and pack a head scarf if you have any plans to visit a mosque. (You can’t go to Istanbul and miss the Blue Mosque)

Mehmet Güleryüz, ‘Good Deed’, 2011, oil on canvas, 250 x 180 cm. Image courtesy The Empire Project.

Mehmet Güleryüz, ‘Good Deed’, 2011, oil on canvas, 250 x 180 cm. Image courtesy The Empire Project.

Where to stay in Istanbul for contemporary art

There are two areas where hotels are located: south of the Golden Horn is the historical district where you can find many cheap hostels and hotels, and north of the Golden Horn which is the business entertainment and shopping district and contains most of the four and five star hotels, as well as, the art galleries. You can stay in either area, and a taxi journey between the two will take only fifteen minutes.

If you can’t stretch to the Four Seasons our recommended hotel south of the Golden Horn is the low budget but uber-stylish boutique Empress Zoe Hotel in Sultanahmet – splash out and get a room with a balcony overlooking the glittering Bosphorous.

North of the Golden Horn try W Hotel where you can step outside and straight into the art gallery cluster in the stunning historic Akaretler Row Houses, an upscale neighborhood filled with  restaurants, cafes.

How to get around Istanbul

The bright yellow taxis are metered and are plentiful, cheap and safe. Hail them easily at the side of the road. A word of warning: allow plenty of time because traffic can be bad at certain times of day.

If you are on a budget the tram and the rail line stop at Taksim station which is in the middle of the cluster of art galleries.

Maps of art galleries in Istanbul

The art galleries are located in clusters north of the Golden Horn in and around Taksim station and along Istiklal Cadessi (Cadessi means street). You will need a map, but you can easily walk between them or if you get tired hop in a taxi.

Click here for the online map.

You can also check the publications Time Out Istanbul and The Guide Istanbul for their picks of the best shows and happenings.

Or simply visit any of the top art galleries to pick up a copy of Akbank Cagdas Sanat Haritasi Contemporary Art Map Istanbul, which is an easy-to-follow, pocketable print map that also tells you what is showing where.

If you are staying at one of the big hotels, ask the concierge for Where Istanbul and check out the map at the back and the gallery listings inside

Rampa Gallery's booth at ArtInternational, 16 -18 September 2013. Image courtesy Rampa Gallery.

Rampa Gallery’s booth at ArtInternational, 16 -18 September 2013. Image courtesy Rampa Gallery.

Which are the best contemporary art galleries in Istanbul

Art Radar asked Istanbul gallerists to recommend the best contemporary art galleries institutions and initiatives in Istanbul and we list them for you here.

  • Elipisis Gallery
  • Galeri Nev
  • Galerist Tepebasi
  • Rampa
  • Sanatorium
  • The Empire Project
  • X-ist

Which are the most interesting contemporary art institutions and initiatives in Istanbul

  • Arter
  • Nesrin Esirtgen Collection
  • Salt Beyoglu
  • Salt Galata
  • Siemens Sanat

Which are the best contemporary art museums in Istanbul

  • Istanbul Modern
  • Proje 4L / Elgiz Cagdas Sanat Muzesi

Related Topics:  Turkish contemporary artcontemporary art events in Istanbul, art tourism

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