Five offbeat art spaces to seek out in Istanbul

From a soundscape in an abandoned car park to Orhan Pamuk’s imaginary museum brought to life

Collectorspace It’s a difficult reality that galleries around the globe have to deal with: prime locations in the city centre come at a premium. Istanbul’s Collectorspace, just a few metres away from Istanbul’s central Taksim Square has found a resourceful solution to this issue. The former residential building hosts exhibitions in a space not larger than 20 sq. m—once the living room—that are proportional to its size. A single work of art is usually on display, from an important private contemporary art collection, alongside a video interview with the collector and a publication. So far it has hosted works from 15 international collections.

BRM Otopark Another example of an ingenious use of Istanbul’s urban space comes in the form of an abandoned car park in Tophane’s Boğazkesen Street. Cevdet Erek, who has been nominated for the fourth biennial Jameel Prize and selected to represent Turkey in next year’s Venice Biennale, used the space for the 2015 Istanbul Biennial for his immersive sound project A Room of Rhythms—Otopark. The car park was scheduled to be knocked down for redevelopment but the demolition has since been postponed and Erek continues to use the space for sound projects and encourages other artists to do the same. So far, there have been musical performances with a microtonal guitar and a pocket clarinet, as well as a rendition of John Cage’s 4’33”. Erek is excited to see the project grow, saying: “In a time of extreme security we have an open door space”.

5533 The not-for-profit space 5533 is nestled between the shops and cafes of a 1950s shopping centre in the Unkapanı neighbourhood. It opened in 2007 as a satellite venue for the Istanbul Biennial and is fast becoming a base for the Turkish contemporary art scene. Founded by the artists Nancy Atakan and Volkan Aslan and headed by artistic directors on a rolling, voluntary basis, 5533 aims to be a “contact zone” to bring together people from different locations, occupations, and backgrounds to interact, discuss, and display their art-related research. Most recently, the curator and founding director of Protocinema Mari Spirito launched the Proto5533 project, organising exhibitions for emerging artists and curators, with mentoring from established art professionals from Istanbul and abroad.  

Depo Housed in a former tobacco warehouse, Depo is a huge space that supports artists and collectives as well as civic and cultural organisations in Turkey, the South Caucasus, the Middle East and the Balkans. Their programming doesn’t shy away from the big issues that affect the country and the region, such as the recognition of the Armenian Genocide or the influx of Syrian refugees—despite being located in quite a conservative neighbourhood. “There is a polarisation within society since the Gezi uprisings and that is reflected in the community here. That’s why we are touching on taboo subjects,” says Asena Gunal, Depo’s programme coordinator.

The Museum of Innocence

The Museum of Innocence Familiar to some who have read the eponymous book by Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence is a treasure trove of Turkish popular culture and history, as well as a fascinating piece of design and curatorial vision. Both the book and the museum describe life in Istanbul between 1950 and 2000 through memories centred around two families. The museum, which won the 2014 European Museum of the Year Award, is designed as a modern day wunderkammer—each chapter is represented by carefully presented cabinets, which line the walls of the three-storey residential building. Inside you can also find Pamuk’s fascinating “modest manifesto for museums” where he states that the future of museums is “inside our own homes”, rather than in monumental institutions like the Louvre.