Contemporary Art in Istanbul

by Selma Sevkli

So you are in Istanbul and have visited all the important sights like Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Basilica Cistern. They are all on the “must-see” list along with the Archeological Museum, Dolmabahce Palace, City Museum, Press Museum, etc. If you have more time for some contemporary Istanbul, here are a few suggestions, especially for those into modern art. These are all private museums, mostly pioneered by prestigious families of Turkey, such as Koc, Sabanci and Eczacibasi.

Sabanci Museum

Located in one of Istanbul’s oldest neighborhoods on the Bosphorus, Emirgan, the museum presents a multipurpose museological environment with concerts, conferences and conservation units. It has a rich permanent collection, temporary exhibitions (such as that of Pablo Picasso’s or Rodin’s works) that attract many people nationwide and internationally. It was built in the 19th century as a Horse Mansion, used by some consulates as well and was bought by the Sabanci Family in 1950 and transformed  to a museum in 1998.


The permanent collection presents many pieces from Ottoman calligraphy, which is a 500-year-old specific calligraphy art. The collection includes rare manuscript copies of the Qur’an, official documents such as decrees and grants of appointment, privilege and income and individual inscriptions. Exclusive pieces of early Turkish Republic and late Ottoman Empire (1850-1950) can be found in the painting collection. Archaeological and stone works can be found in this collection as well as decorative arts and furniture. Check the website for temporary exhibitions

Address: Sak?p Sabanc? Cad. No:42 Emirgan 34467
Phone: (212) 277 22 00

Open daily between 10:00-18:00 except Mondays.



Pera Museum

Originally constructed by architect Achille Manousos in 1893, the museum opened in 2005 by the initiative of another dynasty of business people, the Koc family. The permanent exhibition includes Anatolian Weights and Measures, Kutahya Tiles and Ceramics and Oriental Paintings. One of the most famous paintings in the museum is of Osman Hamdi’s “The Tortoise Trainer” (Kaplumbaga Terbiyecisi in Turkish).

"Göksu Sefas?" (Enjoyment of Göksu Creek) - from Wikipedia Commons

Do not forget to check out the auditorium as there is always something interesting going on. There is an activity space for visitors, a nice cafe and a gift shop. They organize educational art workshops for children:

Address: Me?rutiyet Caddesi No.65 34443 Tepeba?? – Beyo?lu

Phone: (212) 334 99 00

Open daily between 12:00-18:00 except Mondays.



Salt Museum

Previously the Ottoman Bank Museum, it was recently transformed to a comprehensive multilevel art place with 15,000 square meters of space. It is the largest cultural foundation in Turkey by size. A variety of permanent and temporary exhibitions can be found in the museum, from paintings to experimental art, films to literature. Salt is a multidisciplinary museum that everyone can find something to enjoy, be stimulated by, or question. The museum has two locations fifteen minutes apart by foot, one in Galata and the other in Beyoglu. Both are free of charge to visit.

Salt Beyoglu Address: Istiklal Caddesi No:136 Beyo?lu 34430

Phone: (212) 377 42 00

Salt Galata Address: Bankalar Caddesi No: 11Karaköy 34420

Phone: (212) 334 22 00

Both open Tuesday-Saturday 12.00-20.00, Sunday 10.30-18.00



Borusan Contemporary

The only one of its kind, a “museum-in-an-office” concept. The building functions as the office of the holding company during the week, and as a museum on the weekends. It is possible to see a variety of the art collection in the museum. Single artist and group exhibitions are displayed in the Haunted Mansion part. Educational programs and academic discussion sessions are regularly organized. Children’s workshops can be checked out at

Address: Baltaliman? Hisar Street, Perili Kö?k No:5, 34470
Rumelihisar?, Sariyer, Istanbul, Turkey

Phone: (212) 393 52 00
Open Saturdays and Sundays between 10 am- 8 pm


Istanbul Modern 

Opened  in December 2004 with the initiative of the Eczacibasi family, this is the first Modern Arts museum in Istanbul. It is located at the renovated old docks of the Karaköy district facing Topkapi Palace. Istanbul modern has a rich library, exhibitions, photo gallery, sculpture courtyard, movie theater, cafe and souvenir shop. The permanent collection is called “New Works, New Horizons”  and it presents the evolution of modern and contemporary Turkish art from its earliest stage to the present day and features the most prominent artists and works in Turkey. The text to the side of each piece discuss the social, cultural, economic, and political dynamics of this development.

istanbul Modern from Wikipedia Commons

Address: Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi Liman Isletmeleri Sahasi Antrepo No:4 Tophane / Karakoy

Phone: (212) 334 73 00
Open daily between 10:00-18:00 except Mondays.



Santral Istanbul Energy and Arts Museum

Known as Silahtaraga Electric Plant, the building used to be the electric power plant of Istanbul. Built by Hungarians in 1914 at the tip of the Golden Horn, it produced energy for Istanbul from the Ottoman period until 1983, but then it was shut down because it wasn’t effective anymore in competing with modern technology. The grounds were taken by Istanbul Bilgi University in 2004 and transformed into a university campus, restoring the power plant as well. Santralistanbul was opened as an electric museum displaying industrial power machines and modern art exhibitions in September 2007. Perfect museum to visit with children as it has many interactive tools to demonstrate how energy works and transforms. For current exhibitions:

Santral?stanbul energy museum from Wikipedia Commons

Address: Eski Silahtara?a Elektrik Santrali, Kaz?m Karabekir cad. no1 Eyüp (Free Bilgi University shuttle could be taken from Taksim Square in front of AKM, every 30 minutes)

Phone: (212) 311 50 00.Open daily between 10:00-22:00 except Mondays.

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