Turks are intensely proud of their heritage. But on my recent trip to Istanbul, we were encouraged to forget the past and look only at the present. After arriving at the airport, we sped past 2,600 years of history without so much as a mention of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, or the Grand Bazaar. We ended up far from the bustle of Taksim Square at the Ian Schrager hotel called Edition, which was decked out with a Cipriani restaurant and a hopping nightspot called Billionaire Club (dollars or Lira?).
While more than seven million tourists visit Istanbul each year, most never venture far beyond the old city walls. The taste for modern life is most likely sampled by visiting one of the world’s largest pedestrian malls called Istiklal Street, where nearly three million visitors eat, shop, and drink every weekend.
Istanbul is keen on rebranding itself from a once-in-a-lifetime travel destination to a place where visitors can live, party, eat, and even create. As such, Kyle DeWoody and I were invited to open a shop for Artlog’s sister company GREY AREA as part of the government-sponsored Istanbul Arts and Culture Festival, a.k.a. Istancool (see Artforum’s roundup of the event here).
The affair attracts a large group of Westerners who come to the city to showcase their work alongside Turkish writers, actors, artists, and filmmakers. Though the festival at many times felt like a celebration of American, food, drink, and art, I left Istanbul motivated, inspired, and energized by a city bubbling with amazing diversity and opportunity.
Ten Things I Think I Saw
1. It’s unclear just how big the market is for contemporary art, but the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, SALT, and a gallery district led by Istanbul ’74, Gallerist, and Galeri Mana are spearheading a formidable charge. The dozen or so galleries near the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art have even launched monthly art walks. More on the must-visit contemporary art community in Istanbul here.
2. Draping her subjects in intricate raw meat necklaces and placenta dresses, Turkish photographer Pinar Yolaçan stole the show at Istancool. Dazed & Confused editor Jefferson Hack presented her work and said, “She takes the language of fashion photography and makes it her own, à la Cindy Sherman.” Don’t be surprised if you see her work popping up a lot more in the coming year. Find out more about the artist here.
3. There is no doubt that the Turks celebrate their history: festival moderator and actress Pelin Batu hosts a weekly eight-hour news program based on debating current topics in the context of Turkey’s history. Fox News is said to be considering syndication…
4. The film director Ferzan Özpetek had the largest and most passionate local crowd. The beloved Turkish director is based in Italy, but everyone we spoke to said he hasn’t lost his Turkish identity. Read more about Özpetek here.
5. Fashion photographer Mario Sorrenti shot in Istanbul for the first time. To be sure, it will not be his last.
6. Palace hotels like Ciragan Palace and The Four Seasons, which is built into a one-hundred-year-old prison, are undoubtedly luxurious—but for half the price, you can stay at The House Hotel, a former mansion that’s been converted into a boutique hotel in the heart of the city.
7. Overly hyped restaurants with a view always have subpar food. Case in point: Ulus 29 has a great view and is quite a scene, but I would rather eat at Munferit or a more local spot directly on the Bosphorus like Suna’nin Yeri instead.
8. One of the most celebrated contemporary buildings is the corporate office of Vakko, the Turkish version of Hermès. The building was designed by REX, the firm of Joshua Prince-Ramus (a former partner of Rem Koolhaas/OMA). But don’t discount the local contemporary architecture: MoMA just announced a partnership with the Istanbul Modern to expand its Young Architects Program to Turkey.
9. Hot in Turkish pop/rock right now: Duman’s Senden Daha Güzel.
10. Living in Istanbul for a month or longer might be exactly what I need. Care to join me on this AirBnB sublet in a neighborhood reminiscent of NYC’s West Village, Cihangir?