Istanbul is the most western (in the matter of atmosphere) city in Turkey and passage from the West to the East. Of course, its position has largely determined its character. This city of contradictions that combines Western and Eastern traditions is known for its orientalism and beautiful monuments such as the Dolmabache Palace and the Blue Mosque. Not to mention the delicious food and the beautiful sea that surrounds it. In a port on the shore of Bosphorus visitors can find the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, one of the most interesting and beautiful art museums in that part of the world.
Istanbul Modern is the first private museum in Turkey dedicated to modern and contemporary art. It was founded in 2004 in a stunning location at the Golden Horn port of Bosphorus. For thousands of years this area served as a port that united Istanbul with other commercially important cities around the Mediterranean Sea and the world. In the 13th century, the Italian colonies that lived there built harbors in the area. In the 17th century, the port was turned into the main entry point from and to Europe. In 1879, all along the shore piers started to be constructed. By 1910, the piers were filled with warehouses and hangars. In 1923, the Turkish Republic was founded and the piers were given to the Maritime Lines and Docks Administration which in soon became the Turkish Maritime Administration. The building that hosts the museum was constructed in 1957-1958 as a warehouse. This construction was part of a project of the design of the Tophane Square by the eminent architect Sedad Hakki Eldem. Until 1990, it was Istanbul’s main port. Nowadays, it continues to accommodate passengers and freight vessels.
The idea for a museum of modern art in Istanbul was first discussed in 1987 when the first International Contemporary Art Exhibition was held. This exhibition is known today as the International Istanbul Biennial. Dr. Nejat F. Eczacibasi inspired by the interest of the event and the change in the Istanbul art scene, decided to embark on the project of creating a permanent museum of contemporary art in Istanbul. At first the Feshane, a former 19th century textile manufacturing plant in the nearby area seemed a perfect candidate but after the 3rd Bieannial in 1991, it was dropped. In 2003, the fourth warehouse on the Galata pier, near the Mimar Sinan Academy of Fine Arts served as a venue for the 8th Istabul Biennial. The then Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave his approval and the warehouse became the host of a museum thus solving the main problem of the project to find a space. The 8,000-square meter dry cargo warehouse, owned by the Turkish Maritime Organization, was transformed into a modern museum building.
The Tabanlioglu Architects were responsible for the renovation of the space to be able to host a museum and all its activities. Due to its original purpose, the construction has a lot of industrial vibes. The interior is simple and white and offers a magnificent view over the Bosphorus.
The museum serves as a meeting point of the global art world and the Turkish contemporary art. It preserves the Turkey’s cultural identity on an international level while supporting artists both in producing and expanding internationally and allowing visitors of all ages to interact with art. It features artworks from various fields like photography, design, architecture, new media and film. The Istanbul Modern is an inclusive museum. From temporary to permanent collections, from educational programs to the shop or the restaurant, this museum offers a glimpse of Turkish modern and contemporary art and of the city’s vibes without discarding its international character. Besides the emphasis on Turkish artists, there are works by Tony Cragg, Julian Opie and Monica Banvicini in the museum’s permanent collection. The museum has collaborated with many prolific institutions such as London’s Design Museum, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, the Benaki Museum, the Verbund Collection in Vienna, the Martin Gropius-Bau in Berlin, the Seoul Museum of Art, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in the Netherlands, the Bahrain National Museum, the Minsheng Art Museum in China, the Thessaloniki and Moscow photography biennales and the Centre Georges Pompidou.
It’s a museum that is definitely worth visiting while visiting Istanbul. Open, modern and visitor friendly, housed in a spectacular location, the museum unravels a side of modern Turkey that people hardly see. The building is spectacular as is the view of the great sea of Bosphorus.