İstanbul - The Capital of Arts & Culture
İstanbul, whose historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers great opportunities and unique experiences with its multilayered past and present, blending tradition and modernity at every corner. It is an ancient city with an incredibly rich cultural heritage, which shows itself in the museums, palaces, archaeological sites, and streets. At the same time, plenty of modern and contemporary art museums and galleries, exhibition and concert venues, arts & culture events, and various kinds of festivals bring cultural dynamism to the city.
İstanbul offers a full calendar of arts & culture activities and events. In recent years, the city’s contemporary art scene has attracted more and more attention. Especially after becoming a European Capital of Culture in 2010, İstanbul has become one of the most significant global art capitals in the contemporary art scene with the inauguration of new museums and international arts & culture events.
As a city that warmly welcomes art lovers and performers, İstanbul stages ballet performances, operas, musicals and theatrical performances; concerts by world-famous singers in stadiums and concert venues; and arts & culture activities like workshops, exhibitions, auctions, biennials, and art fairs.
The well-established art institutions the İstanbul State Opera and Ballet, the İstanbul State Symphony Orchestra, the İstanbul State Theater, and the İstanbul Municipality Theater (İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi Şehir Tiyatrosu) which have an important place in the cultural and artistic life of İstanbul, stage concerts and performances at the city’s leading venues throughout the season and are closely followed by thousands of art lovers.
Biennials and Art Fairs
The İstanbul Biennial has been organized since 1987 by the İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) and is considered one of the most prestigious biennials alongside Venice, São Paolo, and Sydney. The biennial attracts over 500,000 visitors from across the world during its 3-month-long presence. One of the most comprehensive international art exhibitions organized both in Türkiye and in the immediate region, the İstanbul Biennial plays an important role in the promotion of contemporary artists not only from Türkiye but also from a number of other countries in the international arena. In recent years, İstanbul Biennial’s venue selections have drawn special attention by international audiences. The venues are chosen to increase the cultural interaction with the city’s historical and cultural values.
İKSV also organizes the İstanbul Design Biennial since 2012 with the aim of exploring a wide range of fields related to design, including architecture, urban planning, interior design, industrial design, graphic design, fashion, textiles, and new media.
Contemporary İstanbul is one of the major art events and leading annual international art fairs in the city. Taking place annually in September, Contemporary İstanbul offers a platform for the city’s thriving art scene, growing art market, and collector base. Since 2006, the fair provides an access point to the best contemporary art from the wider region. Being one of the most visited art fairs in the world, Contemporary İstanbul also attracts a wide range of international audiences with its special projects like CI Dialogues, CI Editions, CI Design, Plugin, Collectors’ Stories, and Recent Acquisitions.
Mamut Art Project, Step İstanbul, and Base İstanbul are the new generation art events that create environments where emerging artists have the opportunity to exhibit their works, bringing contemporary artists together with collectors and art lovers. Thanks to such events, both professional collectors and contemporary art enthusiasts who have just started collecting have the opportunity to become acquainted with the works of emerging artists.
Museums and Arts & Culture Centers
İstanbul is home to numerous contemporary art museums and arts & culture centers which are landmarks of the city's modern arts & culture scene.
The Sakıp Sabancı Museum, located on the shores of Emirgan, hosts exhibitions of world-renowned artists in İstanbul. The main building of the museum was donated to Sabancı University in 1998 by Sabancı Family, together with the collection, to be turned into a museum. The museum opened to visitors in 2002 with the addition of a modern gallery building, and adopted a multifaceted museological understanding that can be seen in its rich collection, temporary exhibitions of prominent international artists, educational programs, and seminars. In addition to all these, concerts, theatrical performances, and other artistic events take place in the museum’s stunning and peaceful garden.
Founded in 2004 as Türkiye's first modern and contemporary art museum, İstanbul Modern hosts various interdisciplinary events and exhibitions, and plays a major role in the introduction of Turkish artists to the city, the country, and abroad. The museum has an international approach that involves collecting, preserving, exhibiting, and documenting works of modern and contemporary art, photography, design, architecture, new media, and cinema. İstanbul Modern also aims to bring art closer to the public with its training programs for audiences of all ages.
The Pera Museum, whose historical building was built by architect Achille Manoussos, was renovated by architect M. Sinan Genim and turned into a modern museum in 2005. In addition to the collections of the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, the Pera Museum also hosts the works of world-renowned artists with its temporary exhibitions. The museum offers a wide variety of opportunities such as publications, events, learning programs, and film screenings.
The contemporary art museum Arter was opened in 2010 as a subsidiary of the Vehbi Koç Foundation with the aim of providing a sustainable infrastructure for producing and exhibiting contemporary art. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Vehbi Koç Foundation in 2019, the museum moved to its new stunning building in Dolapdere. Arter presents exhibitions from but not limited to its own collection as well as performances and events across disciplines, expanding the range of its programs. In addition to exhibition halls, the building accommodates performance halls, education and event areas, a library, a conservation laboratory, a bookstore, and a dining area.
SALT is a cultural institution in public service. SALT’s multi-layered programs are distributed at SALT Galata and SALT Beyoğlu in İstanbul. Located in Karaköy, one of İstanbul’s most historical districts, and in the former headquarters of the Imperial Ottoman Bank, one of the city’s most beautiful historical buildings, SALT Galata organizes research-based exhibitions, publications, and web and digitization projects focusing on arts, architecture, design, and social and economic histories. SALT Galata also houses SALT Research, which brings together extensive publications and archival collections and features exhibition spaces, a bookshop, a restaurant, and an auditorium. SALT Beyoğlu, on the other hand, hosts various exhibitions and public programs in a historical building located on İstiklal Street, İstanbul’s most famous and lively pedestrianized avenue.
The Borusan Contemporary Art Collection, which was laid in the 90s, gained a comprehensive and robust identity with artwork acquisitions by notable and international contemporary artists in the 2000s. After its relocation to the Haunted Mansion in Rumelihisarı in 2011, Borusan Contemporary became a staple of cultural life in İstanbul. Focused on the “New media art,” the Borusan Contemporary Art Collection places particular emphasis on experimental works that challenge representation boundaries by using new forms of artistic expressions, such as augmented reality, video installations, and light sculptures. With its breathtaking view of the Bosphorus, the Haunted House comprising of gallery and office spaces, the museum cafe and the Borusan ArtStore is open to visitors on the weekends.
The Elgiz Museum is located at İstanbul Maslak Beybi Giz Plaza and was established in 2001. Since its foundation, the museum has brought the works of many emerging artists and curators to the international platform. Art enthusiasts have the opportunity to attend various temporary exhibitions of Turkish and international artists as well as to see works from the Elgiz Collection. The museum also runs training and social programs.
The Museum of Innocence was founded by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk and inspired by his eponymous prize-winning novel. It offers insight into İstanbul’s daily life in the 1970s and 1980s, and presents items that the novel’s characters used, wore, heard, saw, collected, and dreamt about - all meticulously arranged in boxes and vitrines. This extraordinary museum won the 2014 European Museum of the Year Award.
In recent years, three new museums were opened in İstanbul: the Tekfur Palace Museum, the Anemas Dungeons Museum, and the Galata Tower Museum. These venues also host various temporary exhibitions, art festivals, and art events. There are also some new museums and arts & culture centers that are on their way to opening their doors including the renewed the İstanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture and the Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM).
Other leading addresses that keep the city’s art pulse strong are the Süreyya Opera House and Cultural Center, Evliyagil Dolapdere, the Doğançay Museum, the İstanbul Photography Museum, the National Palaces Painting Museum, Meşher, the Ara Güler Museum, the Rezan Has Museum, the Sadberk Hanım Museum, the Tophane-i Amire Culture and Art Center and the Turvak Cinema-Theater Museum.
The Republic of Türkiye Ministry of Culture and Tourism is preparing a significant project in İstanbul under the name “Beyoğlu Cultural Road.” The project, starting from the Galataport İstanbul, located in Karaköy, will cover cultural and art stops along the line extending towards the Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM) including the Galataport İstanbul, the Galata Tower, the Galata Mevlevi Lodge Museum, Narmanlı Han, the Tarık Zafer Tunaya Cultural Center, the Emek Cinema, the Atlas Pasajı (Atlas Arcade), and the Atlas Cinema Museum. Beyoğlu Cultural Road, which will be a center of attraction for both local and international art enthusiasts, will feature new museums, exhibition halls, and cultural venues.
As a city that welcomes art lovers and performers with open arms, İstanbul is also an oasis of concert and performance venues where world-famous artists perform.
Providing a bridge between Western and Eastern cultures, İstanbul has become one of Europe's cultural and artistic centers. Numerous art galleries featuring both contemporary and classical art, are spread across many of the city’s modern and historical districts such as Nişantaşı, Beyoğlu, Karaköy, Balat, Bebek, Levent, Maslak, Kadıköy, and Moda. These galleries exhibit exciting works by established and emerging artists from Türkiye and abroad. In addition, new galleries continue to open, and art lovers continue to meet new artists in a city that is dynamic and inspiring.