Istanbul's Biennial may have put the city on the art-world map in 1987, but the city's fast-paced Europeanization and naturally creative and innovative vigor has captured international attention otherwise. If your trip to Istanbul fails to coincide with the installation of this biennial citywide celebration of art, not to worry, as these days, plenty of creative juices flow during in-between years, displayed in unique and sometimes historic environments and as part of noteworthy private collections.
The major talk of the town is the new, old SantralIstanbul, Eski Silahtaraga Elektrik Santrali, Silahtar Mah., Kazim Karabekir Cad. 1, Silahtar (tel. 0212/444-0428; www.santralistanbul.org; free admission to the Museum of Energy; admission to current exhibitions 7TL), the recently restored and repurposed Ottoman-era Silahtaraga electric power plant. The industrial space, which also houses, appropriately, the Museum of Energy, is a fun and interactive educational tour through the history of power. The SantralIstanbul complex takes up 12 hectares (29 acres) of space on the Bilgi University campus on the northern shore of the Golden Horn. There are concert halls, a public library (in two of the former boiler rooms), an amphitheater, and living space for visiting artists. SantralIstanbul is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 8pm. A free shuttle departs from in front of the Atatürk Cultural Center in Taksim every half-hour between 8:30am and 9pm.
Another space that has made a splash in Istanbul is Antrepo No. 3, Antrepo No. 3, Karaköy (tel. 0212/334-7300; www.antrepo4.com; free admission), one of a cluster of four Customs warehouses (among which is the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art next door, formerly known as Antrepo No. 4) lining the waterfront of the Bosphorus at Tophane. Designed as a warren of alternatively unexpected, chaotic, noisy, and thought-provoking exhibitions and installments, Antrepo intends to conceptually dissolve the barriers that separate art from urban life. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 7pm when installations are on-site.
The cultural face of Garanti Bank, Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center, Istiklal Cad. 115A, Beyoglu (tel. 0212/293-2361; http://platformgaranti.blogspot.com; Tues-Sat 10am-6pm; free admission), has been one of Istanbul's most important art spaces since it arrived on the art scene in 2001. At the helm is Vasif Kortun, curator of past Istanbul Biennials, who has created an interactive space that includes the most comprehensive library of art publications in the city. In addition to showing contemporary exhibitions featuring art from Turkey and abroad, Platform acts as a national, regional, and international cultural portal, with residency programs available for artists from countries where artistic expression remains relatively untapped.
Galerist, Istiklal Cad., Misir Apt. 163/4, Beyoglu (tel. 0212/244-8230; www.galerist.com.tr; free admission), is another one of Istanbul's and Turkey's more influential artistic spaces. Turkey's leading artists are showcased in this gallery, while one of Galerist's objectives is to expose the international artistic community to Turkish contemporary art through exhibitions abroad. Galerist is open Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 7pm.
Since its founding in Ankara in 1984, Galeri Nev, Istiklal Cad. 163/18 in the Misir Apt. 5th Floor (tel. 0212/252-1525), and Maçka Cad. 33, Maçka (tel. 0212/231-6763; www.galerinevistanbul.com; free admission), expanded to a second space in Istanbul and has mounted more than 300 exhibitions. The founding partners, architects by trade, concentrated the earliest exhibitions on Turkey's first modernists. The gallery has also hosted exhibitions of European modernists such as Bonnard, Dalí, and Picasso. Nev has a private collection of original prints, more than a hundred limited-edition reproductions, and 93 volumes of art books and catalogs. The Istanbul location is open Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 6:30pm.
Also leading the charge to elevate the profile of progressive art in Turkey is the not-for-profit Proje4L/Elgiz Çagdas Sanat Müzesi, Meydan Sok. Beybi Giz Plaza B Blok, Gültepe (metro to Levent; tel. 0212/281-5150; www.proje4L.org; free admission). In addition to housing the private collections of its founders Sevda and Can Elgiz -- representing a range of mediums by both local and international artists -- the museum organizes lectures and seminars and welcomes guest artists. The museum is open Wednesday to Friday, 10am to 5pm, and Saturday 10am to 4pm, Tuesday by appointment.
With all of this contemporary rebound to the antiquity of Istanbul, Gallery Apel, Hayriye Cad. 7, Galatasaray (tel. 0212/292-7236; www.galleryapel.com; free admission), offers some refreshing middle ground by featuring works created using traditional materials like felt, ceramic, wood, and glass. Exhibitions are constantly changing and feature modern sculptures, prints, and even full-size architectural mock-ups. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, 11:30am to 6:30pm.
There's certainly something to be said for viewing contemporary art in the palatially historic ground floor of the Palace Section of the Çiragan Palace Hotel, Çiragan Cad. 32, Besiktas (tel. 0212/326-4646; www.kempinski-istanbul.com). The gallery (entrance through parking lot) features a different contemporary artist every 6 weeks. Entry is free and access to the gallery is round-the-clock. If you plan to go on the last Saturday of the month, the hotel also hosts a chamber orchestra in one of the rooms (11am-1pm; reservations required; free admission).
As major patrons of Turkish art in general, the banks along Voyvoda Caddesi, the street also known as Bankalar Caddesi in Karaköy (base of the Galata hill) result in a nice density of galleries. Keep your eyes open for banners and don't be shy about bypassing the security guard. (The word "sanat" for art, or "galerie" should help).
For additional information on current installations, log on to www.mymerhaba.com or pick up a copy of Time Out Istanbul. If you'll be traveling during the Biennial, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Art (www.iksv.org) is the official site for the event.
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