İstanbul is an amazingly artsy city. Walk down any street and you’ll see people dressed not just in the latest fashion, but in the fashion to come. You’ll see street art, you’ll see architecture that is positively inspirational, and of course you’ll see literally thousands of years of some of the greatest art the world has ever produced in the city’s historic buildings.
This artistic nature carries over into the present day, with some truly spectacular contemporary art galleries. Exhibitions regularly come through, so you’ll want to pay attention to what’s upcoming all over the city (including in galleries that might not be on this list!). The most important names in the art world have been hosted in local galleries recently, but perhaps more exciting are the up-and-coming artists showcased, including some incredibly talented Turkish artists just making their first appearances on the world stage.
But even the permanent collections are more than enough to visit the city just for the art alone, so let’s dig in!
İstanbul Modern is probably the best known of all the art galleries. It’s the process of moving, so its current location is a beautiful historic building in the heart of Beyoğlu before it moves to its new state-of-the-art location in nearby Karaköy.
The museum originally opened in 2004, and places an emphasis on being a center for all forms of modern art, including different varieties of exhibitions, installations, photography, cinema, and more. Its location in Karaköy is gorgeous, right on the Bosphorus, where both the building and the views out from it are breathtaking.
Like İstanbul Modern, Pera Museum features wonderful exhibitions all year round. But the permanent collection is special, and unlike most other museums you’ll find outside of Turkey. The Orientalist paintings, ceramics, tiles, and miniatures all speak to the Istanbul of the past, as does the exceptional room on Anatolian weights and measures. Each section and exhibition is accompanied with an interactive section for the kids and movie screenings describing the artworks inside, making it a wonderful gallery for the whole family.
SALT features two buildings, one in Galata and one in Beyoğlu (As well as one in Ankara). SALT Beyoğlu is right in the heart of Istanbul, with possibly the best exhibition space in the whole city. SALT Galata is located in a stunning 19th century building that was once a Victorian bank, and now also houses a bank museum and a world-class restaurant.
ARTER is best-known for its exhibitions. It’s also in Beyoğlu, in a tastefully restored mansion right along İstiklal, the city’s busiest street. The space is specially meant to showcase up-and-coming artists, and acts more as a studio than a gallery in many cases. It features a sister gallery in Berlin and houses many international exhibits and artists as well as Turkish.
İstanbul Biennial only takes place every other year, but it’s widely regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious biennials, united artists from different backgrounds and cultures. It’s housed in different buildings all over the city and allows for a dialogue between artists and the audience, with contemporary artists coming from all around the city.
Contemporary İstanbul is an annual art fair hosted in galleries all around the city, showcasing the artworks of hundreds of artworks from dozens of countries all around the world. Every year there is a theme for the fair which delves into the future of art and what it can become.