A lot comes to mind on the topic of art in Istanbul. Mosques, churches, mosaics, rugs, the list is long and full of art from the past. Knowing that somewhere has a rich history, we tend to focus on that and forget about it's present. I came to Paris expecting to learn about nearly exclusively the past in my study of art history, thinking I would learn from Poussin through David, to Delacroix and finishing with Cezanne. Yet I've been unexpectedly exposed to modern and contemporary art, setting me on the thorough mission of learning about the last 100 years in art, and more importantly, understanding it.
On a similar note, there's more to Istanbul than it's history. Art never stops, in fact, having a colorful history precedes a great continuation of art. While it may not be known worldwide, contemporary art in Istanbul flourishes, with a strong background of modern works from the past century and a half.
We were witness to this today, at the delightful museum the Istanbul Modern. In a more current district, yet still an easy walk from the historical center, the Modern houses an extensive and curated collection of Turkish art from the last 150 years. To clarify, that time frame is often referred to modern, with contemporary relating to art being created now.
The museum was good for a number of reasons. First off, it has an extensive collection. While the world development of art has certainly affected Turkey, the reverse can't necessarily be said, so there is less international demand for pieces, keeping them home in Turkey. Next it was quite well organized, with an exhibit tracing the development of Turkey modern, a general collection, a photo exhibit on the theme of power, and a temporary exhibition on modernity, it's woes and looking beyond them.
Finally, it was good because there were numerous placards on the walls explaining the exhibits themes and contexts, and more importantly, the bulk of works had placards detailing the background of the artist and giving insight into the piece. I find that essential, especially for modern art, which often is harder to interpret with just the eye. To get beyond the aesthetic value, it is important to know the artists intention and meaning to the work.
The pieces at the museum were great. Many dealt with the theme of progression in a society with so much history, be it progression artistically or socially. Others revealed the Turkish artist's awareness of global art, as they were studies in photo-realism, abstraction and more.
Nearly every big city seems to have modern art museum. It makes sense, art thrives, everywhere.
Here's some works I liked (photos courtesy of Istanbul Modern's website)