Istanbul Modern Returns to the Bosphorus
By Grace Jefferd
The Istanbul Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, known as Istanbul Modern, is reopening to the public on May 4 in a new building at its original location in the Karaköy district. The revamped museum complex is designed by Italian architectural group Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) and is inspired by its waterfront location overlooking the Bosphorus.
The new five-story glass-walled building in the Galataport redevelopment boasts 10,500 square-meters of space for the display of its permanent collection of modern and contemporary art, as well spaces for temporary exhibitions, a dedicated workshop area, and a 156-seat auditorium for events and film screenings. Additional amenities include a restaurant, outdoor café, library, bookstore, and an external terrace beyond which sits the museum’s roof covered by a shallow pool of water that seemingly merges with the Bosphorus below.
The opening displays include a new showcase of the museum’s collection, “Floating Islands,” which presents a chronology of more than 110 contemporary artists working in Turkey (Türkiye) from 1945 to the 2000s. “Always Here” celebrates 11 contemporary women artists; “Infinity Room: Bosphorous” centers around a site-specific installation by Turkish-American new-media artist Refik Anadol. “Another Place” is the first of what will be many exhibitions in a dedicated photography gallery; and “Constructing Architecture” details the creation of the museum itself. A newly commissioned, three-part hanging installation by Berlin-based Olafur Eliasson, Your unexpected journey (2021), and Richard Wentworth’s installation of hanging books, False Ceiling (2005), from the old building, welcome visitors into Istanbul Modern.
With the site’s history in mind, the structure is designed to resemble ships passing through the harbor, while its materials recall light playing off the water. It is a sizeable step up from the previous Istanbul Modern, which was a repurposed customs warehouse. The transparent and accessible design by RPBW, “reflects the ethos of the museum: a multifaceted experience offering visitors audience-oriented exhibitions and programs inspired by the artistic diversity of the present day,” according to the museum. RPBW’s founder Renzo Piano shot to international fame for his work with Richard Rogers on the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in the 1ate 1970s, and is known for his art museums such as the Fondation Beyler (1991–97) in Basel, Switzerland, the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago (2000–09), and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (2007–15) among numerous other major art museums. RPBW has also designed famous architectural landmarks around the world, like The Shard in London.
Founded in 2004 and chaired by Oya Eczacıbaşı, Istanbul Modern was the first museum of contemporary art in Turkey when it debuted nearly 20 years ago. The museum aims to make art accessible to the broader public and focuses on a visitor-centered approach. Istanbul Modern had occupied a renovated apartment building in the Beyoğlu district since it closed its original building in 2018 during the Galataport reconstruction.
Grace Jefferd is assistant editor at ArtAsiaPacific.