The seeds for Istanbul Modern were sown in 1987, during the 1st International Istanbul Contemporary Art Exhibitions, known today as the Istanbul Biennial. Motivated by the interest shown in the event and the dynamism it contributed to the Istanbul art scene, Dr. Nejat F. Eczacıbaşı and Oya Eczacıbaşı embarked on a project to endow Istanbul with a permanent museum of contemporary art.
After a long quest, the Feshane, a former 19th century textile manufacturing plant on the Golden Horn, was converted into a space for a museum of contemporary art. Although the building housed the 3rd Istanbul Biennial in 1992, the project never reached its long-term goal.
Following the death of Dr. Nejat F. Eczacıbaşı in 1993, Oya Eczacıbaşı continued to pursue many different projects to make the dream of establishing a museum of modern art in Istanbul come true. Unfortunately, these initiatives all failed for lack of a suitable space. This all changed in 2004, when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then Prime Minister, gave his approval for the museum to be located in a customs warehouse on the Galata pier near the Mimar Sinan Academy of Fine Arts that had served as the main venue for the 8th Istanbul Biennial in 2003.
Antrepo No. 4, Istanbul Modern’s original building, was constructed as a dry cargo warehouse for the Turkish Maritime Organization under the direction of renowned architect Sedad Hakkı Eldem during the redevelopment of Tophane Square in 1957 and 1958. The 8,000 square meter building was turned over to Istanbul Modern in early 2004 and quickly transformed by Tabanlıoğlu Architects into a modern museum building with all corresponding functions.
After opening its doors in December 2004 as Turkey’s first museum of modern and contemporary art, Istanbul Modern spent 14 years in this building. In 2018, Istanbul Modern moved to a temporary space in Beyoğlu where it welcomed visitors for the next three years while its new building was being constructed.
In 2022, Istanbul Modern returned to Karaköy and its new building designed by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), the firm behind iconic museums and cultural institutions in cities around the world.
For thousands of years, the Golden Horn area served as an inlet port of the Bosphorus, and this natural port united Istanbul with other centers of commerce and culture around the world.
In the 13th century, various Italian trading colonies in Istanbul began to build harbors in the area. One of these was the Genoese port in Galata, which includes the Tophane district. By the 17th century, the Karaköy-Tophane waterfront had become the main arrival point for ships coming from Europe.
At first, each shipping company had its own floating dock/specific anchorage location where it positioned its vessels, and provided a separate rowing team to bring goods and passengers ashore. With the increase in maritime traffic and corresponding rise in the number of passengers, this system became inadequate. In 1879, the construction of piers all along the shore began.
In 1910, warehouses were built on the piers. With the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the piers were turned over to the Maritime Lines and Docks Administration, which became the Turkish Maritime Administration in 1984. The pier served as Istanbul’s main port until 1990.