5 Modern Art Galleries to Visit in Istanbul

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Şahin Kaygun, Untitled, 1985
Şahin Kaygun, Untitled, 1985Courtesy of Istanbul Modern

We look at the modern galleries making waves in the Turkish city, bridging the culture of East and West

Think of Istanbul and you probably imagine the beautiful and ornate treasures of a rich and exotic history. It is a city that conjures ideas of the art of the past rather than the art of the future. But exploring Istanbul in 2015 demonstrates that modern art is becoming as entrenched in the city’s culture as the Bosporus. The mosques, the palaces, the souks in the city are as integral as ever, but to see what the people who live there now are saying about Istanbul’s present and future, here is a walking trail of five of the Turkish city's best modern galleries.

Istanbul Modern
On the European bank of the Bosporus in the Karakoy district, the Istanbul Modern is the best place to start an adventure into the city’s modern art scene. A recent show of the work of pioneering Turkish photographer Şahin Kaygun was a joyful celebration of artistic innovation, and it is also home to Past and Future, the gallery’s permanent exhibition charting the rise and struggles of artists over the last century – from the 1914 Generation who had been studying in Paris before being forced to return to Turkey at the start of WW1, to The New Branch Group of the 50s who focused their attentions on social realism. 

A short walk from the Istanbul Modern into the famous Beyoglu district, Mixer is hidden away from the crowded tourist streets in a converted car garage. The gallery seeks to offer young artists exposure and to make collecting art a possibility for everyone. Affordable originals and limited edition prints are for sale, both in the gallery and on their website. When leaving Mixer, it’s worth walking the steep hill lined with bakeries and record shops to the Museum of Innocence – an extraordinary collation of the objects, garments and tools imagined and used by the characters in Orhan Pamuk’s novel of the same name. Conjuring the physical world both of a fictional story and a factual time, it is a museum experience like no other.

Misir Apartment
Turn the corner at the top of this peaceful street and head into the crowds of Istiklal Avenue, all marching to the sounds of accordion players tucked in the doorways. Behind one of these is the Misir Apartment, an elaborate Art Nouveau building with an illustrious past. Since it was built in 1910, innumerable personages have resided there including the Khedive of Egypt and the poet and politician Mehmet Akif Ersoy, and today it houses a number of galleries and art spaces, including Galeri Nev, Nesrin Esirtgen Collection, and Pi Artworks, which play host to a constantly updating cavalcade of artists and exhibitions.

In the Beyoglu district sits this beautiful gallery, which has preserved its 18th century powder coloured wall paintings as part of its pledge not to erase the past from the future. Modern works hang in perfect harmony with Istanbul’s history. Showing until the first week of June is Hand of the Artist, a solo exhibition of works by Ayca Telgeren. Telgeren’s tactile language of hand-cut works explores the future of collective consciousness and the confrontation of the self in a collection that is both fun and fulfilling.

The Elgiz Collection
Founded by Sevda and Can Elgiz in 2001, the Elgiz collection was the first contemporary art museum in Turkey, and is curated with such passion and integrity that it is well worth the metro journey to the business district of Maslak. It is still entirely run and maintained by the philanthropic Elgiz family, who are likely to be found in the gallery and willing to tell the stories behind some of the incredible works that make up their collection, such as this piece by Abdurrahman Oztoprak who inspired the family to begin collecting and remained a close friend until his death in 2011.