Istanbul Modern presents an exhibition that opens to the sea: "HARBOR"

The Istanbul “HARBOR” in modern and contemporary art in Turkey


Istanbul Modern’s new exhibition focuses on ports and harbors. Emphasizing Istanbul’s relationship with the sea, “HARBOR” takes a close look at how art in Turkey has presented the cultural and social life that developed on the coasts and around the ports of the city from the late 19th century to the present. The exhibition is on view from January 28 through June 4, 2017.

After twelve years at Antrepo 4, a warehouse situated in the area known as the Port of Istanbul, Istanbul Modern presents “HARBOR”, its last exhibition before beginning the transformation of its building.

Curated by Çelenk Bafra and Levent Çalıkoğlu of Istanbul Modern, the exhibition presents a selection of paintings, sculptures, models, engravings, drawings, photographs, videos, and installations by thirty-four artists and collectives from various periods and disciplines.

Exploring how port areas are reflected in the visual arts, not only as geographical locations but also as sites of social and economic interaction, the exhibition delves into the symbolic and metaphorical aspects of the concept of “harbor”. Emphasizing Istanbul’s relationship with the sea and its ports, “HARBOR” shows the cultural and social life that developed on the coasts and around the ports of the city from the 19th century to the present, through the eyes of artists.


The exhibition’s name dates back to 1941

“HARBOR” takes its title from an exhibition held in 1941 by a group of academy artists, who coalesced around a social realist approach in Istanbul. The group, which would later come to be known as the Harbor Painters, chose to produce art through participatory observation. Their first exhibition focusing on the harbor with its workers, living conditions and social issues, went down in art history as the “Harbor Exhibition”.

The current exhibition “HARBOR”, held in Istanbul Modern’s temporary exhibition hall of 1500 m2, features close to two hundred works by thirty -four artists and collectives in Turkey.

Participating Artists and Collectives: Nevin Aladağ, Meriç Algün Ringborg, Hüseyin B. Alptekin,
Avni Arbaş, Volkan Aslan, Turgut Atalay, Antonio Cosentino, Darzanà (Feride Çiçekoğlu,
Mehmet Kütükçüoğlu, Ertuğ Uçar), Hasan Deniz, Cevat Dereli, Abidin Dino, Feyhaman Duran, Mıgırdiç Givanian, Ara Güler, Nedim Günsür, Nuri İyem, Özer Kabaş, Borga Kantürk, Gülsün Karamustafa, Volkan Kızıltunç, Muhsin Kut, Mıgırdiç Melkon, Yasemin Özcan,
Serkan Özkaya, Sébah & Joaillier, Arslan Sükan, Hüsnü Tengüz, Cemal Tollu, Selim Turan, Ömer Uluç, xurban_collective (Güven İncirlioğlu, Hakan Topal), Mümtaz Yener, Fausto Zonaro

The press conference was held at Istanbul Modern in January 27 with the participation of the Chair of the Board of Istanbul Modern Oya Eczacıbaşı, Istanbul Modern Curator Çelenk Bafra, and Istanbul Modern Director Levent Çalıkoğlu as well as the exhibition artists.


Oya Eczacıbaşı: Toward the new Istanbul Modern

Noting that Istanbul Modern came into being as Turkey’s first private museum of modern and contemporary art 12 years ago, Chair of the Board of Istanbul Modern Oya Eczacıbaşı said, “In December 2004, our first temporary exhibition, ‘Making Istanbul Modern’, presented visitors with a visual story that documented both Istanbul’s privileged position as a harbor city and the process of establishing our museum. In twelve years, we hosted 120 exhibitions and hundreds of activities in Antrepo No. 4. As our last exhibition before we begin the transformation of Antrepo 4 into a world-class museum building, we are focusing on harbors and ports and the relationships that modern and contemporary artists have established with Istanbul’s harbors.”


Çelenk Bafra: Audiences set sail into their memory and imagination

Pointing out that the exhibition experience is not limited to artworks in the gallery, Istanbul Modern Curator Çelenk Bafra added, “In the museum courtyard, we host a gigantic galley produced out of found materials from the Haliç shipyard in Istanbul on the occasion of the Venice Biennale’s international architecture exhibition. The dizzying effect of the construction site in the port area that is being gentrified, and the presence of the sea itself right at hand, all enrich the audience’s experience”. Indicating the significance of the exhibition in terms of comprehending a city and its history through its relation with the ports and adjacent sea, Bafra said, ““HARBOR” offers numerous hints, associations and interpretations to sail us off not only into the real world but also into our own memories and imagination around the concept of harbor.”


Levent Çalıkoğlu: Significance of harbors for humanity

Istanbul Modern Director Levent Çalıkoğlu noted that one of the purposes of the “HARBOR” exhibition was to remind viewers of the visible and invisible transformation of the economic structure that once represented almost all of Istanbul and the socio-economic impact of this change. “This exhibition,” he said, “brings together representational images of Istanbul as a symbolic geographic point as well as current works that are open to metaphorical stories and meanings. It aims to bring to light the nostalgic face of Istanbul’s magnificent past, the culture of its modern harbor as shaped by people, labor and the social order, and the significance of harbors for humanity as a point of arrival and the beginning of future happiness.”


Timeline summarizes the history of the city through harbors

The exhibition includes a timeline of maritime culture in Turkey, social history, and the visual arts. Summarizing the history of Istanbul through harbors, from archaeological work on the Harbor of Theodosius (Yenikapı) to the present, the timeline highlights major transformations and turning points in the city’s relationship with the sea and ports through texts, photographs, moving images, documents, and maps.

The exhibition catalogue, published in Turkish and English, features texts, statements, quotes, photographs, and visuals about the artists and artworks in the exhibition, as well as the exhibition’s conceptual framework by Çelenk Bafra and Levent Çalıkoğlu. It also includes the timeline and a commissioned essay about the transformation of Istanbul’s ports during the country’s modernization process, written by Prof. Murat Güvenç, Director of the Istanbul Studies Center at Kadir Has University and consultant for the timeline.


Works commissioned for “HARBOR”

Selections from Antonio Cosentino’s years-long practice of drawing and painting seashores, harbors, ports, boats and ships almost daily are displayed as framed collages at the entrance of the exhibition. The artist has also produced a handmade ship, “Star of Syria”,  out of used tin cans, The ship reminiscent of the cruisers anchored in front of Istanbul Modern is accompanied by a fantastical story written by the artist.

Borga Kantürk’s “SHORELINE RECORDS”, revisits his works of the last decade related to harbors, the sea, shorelines, ocean travel, and navigation, with a focus on both collective memory and the intertemporal journeys of personal memories. The selection also reflects public sentiment about the recent transformation of Turkey’s shorelines.

Gülsün Karamustafa’s iconic installation NEWORIENTATION” was made as a site-specific installation for Antrepo 1, another warehouse in the same site for the 4th Istanbul Biennial in 1995.The artist adapted, re-produced and re-installed her work for Istanbul Modern’s “HARBOR” exhibition. The installation focuses on women working in the brothels of Galata, which date back to Genoese times, and their encounters with arriving sailors. The artist thus sheds light on another aspect of the port city: the fate of women who went missing in Istanbul and its environs.

Serkan Özkaya’s new work, titled “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Istanbul”, is a single 8-meter-wide projection applied to an interior wall on the building’s sea façade. The viewer is situated as if looking out from the back of a mirror and simultaneously monitoring moving images that convey the transformation of the Bosphorus as well as its inconsumable energy and traffic. By eliminating the walls’ function as physical and metaphorical barriers, the space “becomes transparent”.


After Venice, Darzanà is at Istanbul Modern

The project “Darzanà: Two Arsenals, One Vessel” was created for the Pavilion of Turkey at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia in 2016. Darzanà’s second stop is Istanbul Modern. Coordinated by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Artsand curated by Feride Çiçekoğlu, Mehmet V. Kütükçüoğlu, and Ertuğ Uçar, Darzanà is a project about frontier infringement and hybridity that highlights the common cultural and architectural heritage shared by the arsenals of Istanbul and Venice. After the Biennale, the vessel was brought back to Istanbul, where it takes shelter in a new structure built in the courtyard of Istanbul Modern. The project’s co-sponsors are Akşan Yapı, Assan Panel, İŞ GYO-Nef, and Yenigün-IC İçtaş Construction; its production and lighting sponsors are respectively TEGET and TEPTA.



Istanbul Modern

Temporary Exhibition Hall

January 28 – June 4, 2017

Curators:Çelenk Bafra, Levent Çalıkoğlu

Assistant Curators:Aslı Can, Senem R. Kantarcı


Please click for more information on participating artists and their work.