April 05, 2011

Istanbul: Thriving Art Scene

When the Sakip Sabanci Museum in Istanbul staged Turkey’s first-ever exhibition of work by Pablo Picasso in 2003, promotional billboards covered the city’s walls with the venue and dates of the exhibition, and just a single word: “Picasso.” On opening day, crowds filled the museum to capacity – not because of public passion for the artist, but rather, because everyone in Istanbul had wondered, “What – or who – is a Picasso?”

In just eight years, Istanbul’s passion for modern and contemporary art has blossomed, reaching from an elite group of wealthy, intellectual pioneer collectors to a mass public that, it seems, cannot get enough. Like much of what one experiences in Istanbul, the scene was a study in contrasts against the calls to prayer that sound five times a day from the great mosques throughout this exquisite, high-energy city.

But while these historic mosques – the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Sultanamet, among them – remain the primary draw for tourists, it’s the contemporary art scene that most excites Istanbul natives. Galleries open almost monthly these days, largely along the pedestrian-only Istlikal Caddisi (Independence Avenue), a bustling, shop-lined street in the Taksim district (Casa Dell’Arte is one prominent newcomer) – though a new art center is burgeoning in nearby Tophane (Beyoglu).

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