Turkey's famed Istanbul Modern museum and art gallery reopens its doors
The Nusretiye Mosque is located on the shore of the Bosphorus coast in Istanbul's Tophane district, a stone's throw away from the tourist districts of Sultan Ahmed and the opening to the Golden Horn. It was constructed in 1826 by Sultan Mahmud II, an Ottoman ruler remembered as a reformer, who set about modernising an Ottoman state that was beginning to lag behind Europe technologically and militarily. During Mahmud's rule, the Ottomans brought in a number of cultural imports from Europe, including building styles. The mosque is distinct from the classical Ottoman era in that it combined traditional architectural elements with European-inspired baroque styles, making the building a remarkable contemporary structure for its time. A few decades later, a clock tower was added to the front of the mosque, which told passersby the current time, unlike other public clocks in the empire that only signalled prayer times. Today the area surrounding the mosque has been subject to a vast refurbishment programme by the Turkish authorities, which includes the opening of shopping boulevards and most significantly, the re-opening of the famed Istanbul Modern museum and art gallery. (All photos courtesy: Cemal Emden/Istanbul Modern)
First opened in 2004, Istanbul Modern quickly established a reputation as one of Turkey's most important cultural centres and a museum of international calibre. Its recent refurbishment lasted five years before its opening in May 2023 and was undertaken by architects Renzo Piano. The structure houses thousands of contemporary pieces in temporary and permanent exhibitions, spread across 10,500 sqm.
The architects designed the building by drawing inspiration from the Tophane district's location, including the sparkling waters of the Bosphorus. Given the site's historical use as a harbour for over a millennium, the building's shape evokes the graceful lines of ships of varying sizes. Mimicking the interaction between sunlight and the waters of the Bosphorus, the building's facade consists of a series of 3D-formed aluminium panels that can reflect light to a varying degree depending on the time of day.
Istanbul Modern's five-storey building houses not only expansive exhibition halls, but also a library, event spaces, film auditorium and a restaurant with a breathtaking view of the nearby Bosphorus, Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque.
The building's design and placement has drawn criticism for blocking the view of the Nusretiye Mosque. One of Turkey’s well-known architects Seda Ozen Bilgili said in a tweet that she would protest against Istanbul Modern for "curtaining" the view of the mosque from the sea.
Criticism of the museum's construction is linked to the disapproval of the district's vast Galataport development. In recent years large parts of the Tophane coast have been blocked off as developers built a waterfront shopping mall complex. Locals have criticised the design for not being in keeping with the area's heritage and historical architectural styles. The fact that visitors must go through two security checks to enter the museum is also considered unusual when compared to other sizeable museums in the world.
Still, even on weekdays, visitors join long queues to enter the museum, with its opening drawing Turkish art enthusiasts and young people. The museum offers several exhibitions, each accompanied by a publication and educational resources, to its visitors. Showcasing more than 280 works by 110 artists and two artistic duos, the permanent Floating Islands exhibition charts Turkey's contemporary artistic history from 1945 through to the 2000s. The exhibition of Always Here exhibits only contemporary female artists in line with the museum’s commitment to support and advocate their work.
The In Another Place exhibition (pictured above) is proving popular, since it contains 22 never-before-seen portraits taken by Palme d’Or-winning filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday between 10am and 6pm local time. The price of admission is 120 Turkish liras ($6) for Turkish citizens and 200 Turkish liras ($10) for international visitors.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.