Istanbul Modern Museum


What makes a good museum? What makes good art?

I wondered about this as one person critiqued what another raved about. Was the person critiquing more knowledgeable, more discerning?

Generally, when it comes to art, my philosophy is “it’s personal…there is no right or wrong answer.”

(A good standby for any art notice. Of course, some experts might disagree; after all, art is a science, too. One that can emit a variety of emotions, or none at all, presumably driven by what is “good” or “bad.”)

And yet, I realize that even so, even if it is personal, one can get swayed when listening to other persons who excels at “art speak.”

(Or any speak, for that matter.)

In other words, in our attempt to look cultured, educated or insightful, we may go along with others’ opinions because they seem to know what they’re talking about.

(Does the catwalk ring any bells? After all, would most of us wear even a fraction of the clothes that are modeled? Even if we looked like models?)

Yes, even if we think that we don’t mind coming across like an ignoramus, even if we are content to just experience the art without needing History of Art 1001 to back us up, its difficult for our perceptions not to be colored by those of others.

(After all, when you like a painting that your friend says she wouldn’t hang in her dog’s crate, it’s difficult not to eye the piece more critically.)

Which is why sometimes it’s nice to go to a museum alone. Your perceptions are completely your own.

So, that is what I did. I took me, myself, and I off – finally, after two years in Istanbul – to visit the Istanbul Modern Museum.

(Plus, there is the timing issue. I am slow. I am a slow shopper. I am a slow art peruser. Which meant that during my recent girls’ – okay, middle-aged woman’s – trip to Madrid, I got so lost in the art, I lost my friends. Multiple times. Not a problem when you have a phone, but ours were resting on silent mode inside a locker.)

I had heard a lot about Istanbul Modern because it’s a great place to take visitors. It’s located right on the Bosporus and, in addition to being a museum, it happens to house an excellent restaurant (with, of course, excellent views of the Bosporus and old town).

(By the way, it seems to be a thing here for museums to have good restaurants. Restaurants that can stand on their own, no art required. In fact, the restaurants are open long after the museum closes.)

Istanbul Modern, opened in 2004, is a contemporary structure with – alas the title – modern works of art. In addition to the traditional on-the-wall works, there were a number of video installations that I found very moving.

(And when I say “moving,” I mean unsettling. In a good, make-you-reflect way. The one that still plays in my mind was by Hale Tenger. It was a video of the front of the St. George Hotel in Beirut, past which Rafic Hariri and his motorcade drove when a car bomb exploded, killing the former Prime Minister. In the film, the white curtains go from lifeless to fluttering in the wind, synchronized. You watch and wait, with a sense of foreboding of what is to come. Nothing does though; it already happened. But the silence and the waving of those white curtains in the empty windows are pregnant with implication and reflection.)


The museum is not large, which is nice. You don’t need a month to enjoy it. I would say three hours would be good, but it depends on how quickly – or slowly – you go. If you are like me and like to read about a work or artist to form a context, then allow three hours.

(Excluding time to dine. Or imbibe. Or both.)

The main (top) floor where you buy tickets houses (17TL to get in, approximately $8) the permanent collection, while the bottom floor is for visiting exhibitions (there is also a library with resources and a cool “ceiling” of suspended books, plus cinema). “Neighbors” was the exhibition I saw, with work by artists from neighboring countries. It was a combination of photographs, art, and video installations.

(I would give more specifics except almost all my notes from my iPhone mysteriously, and annoyingly, disappeared.)

(I still am not entirely clear on all the notes that were mysteriously deleted, except I do know that – besides my museum notes and all my insider recommendations of places to go in Istanbul! – I am missing my “Names” cheat sheet note that helps me avoid having to ask someone I have met enough times that I should know their name but do not “Tell me again what your name is?”)

If you are curious (or happen to be in Istanbul), you can read more about the exhibit here:


Overall, I found the art to be more provocative and, again, unsettling than at a museum housing more classical works. Of course, this is because the art subjects are contemporary themes that are harder to keep at arm’s length than a picture of a war scene from the 1700’s, no matter how poignant.


After all the cultural inhalation, I needed to exhale with a good meal: grilled salmon, asparagus and rocket salad. And a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Plus, an espresso afterword.


(The mind and heart aren’t the only things art stimulates.)

And the views of old town, crystallizing over the waters as the sun dipped below the horizon werent’ bad either.


But don’t let my opinion sway you. Be your own judge.

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