The Istanbul Biennial

The art extravaganza extends its waves of reach to the islands

If Venice is the flashiest of the world’s art biennales, with superyachts lining the Grand Canal and dinners at the Cipriani for 400, then the Istanbul Biennial (from Saturday September 5 to Sunday November 1) is surely the most political, as it offers a platform upon which many creeds and nationalities come together in a way they cannot always do in everyday life. The central theme of this year’s biennial? Waves.

Of course, waves can be interpreted in many ways (magnetic waves or those of sound or heat), but given their watery associations, it seems appropriate that this year the event extends its reach beyond the museums and spaces in Istanbul to the islands dotted around the Sea of Marmara. Venues include a lighthouse (first picture), a boat, an art-nouveau hotel and a 15th-century hammam. Particular highlights include works by French artist Pierre Huyghe, who will create an underwater stage for marine life on the Bosphorus, while paintings referring to underwater people by American artist Ellen Gallagher will also be on display at Istanbul Modern.


The island of Büyükadais a particular draw. Here, Argentinian sculptor Adrián Villar Rojas is showing 29 new sculptures on the seashore by the house (second picture) in which Leon Trotsky once lived; a ghostly installation of video works by Ed Atkins will be displayed at Rizzo Palace; works by Susan Philipsz, focusing on how communications and Marconi’s invention of the radio have revolutionised society, will occupy a house designed by Raimondo D’Aronco – one of Istanbul’s greatest art-nouveau architects; while the Hotel Splendid (third picture) will be the locale for animations that make the doors disappear, by South African artist William Kentridge. All motorised vehicles are banned on the islands, making them a sanctuary of peace and quiet – perfect for viewing art.

Back on the mainland, Istanbul Modern will host an homage to the people of Turkey with works by Sarkis and drawings by Orhan Pamuk, author of the book The Museum of Innocence.


Running concurrently with the biennial is ArtInternational at the Haliç Congress Center on the banks of the Golden Horn, selling works for between €3,000 and €300,000. Highlights include a satyr painted in monochrome by the pre-eminent Turkish artist Taner Ceylan, on sale at the Paul Kasmin Gallery for €123,000, and some golden prowling tigers – or are they sheep? – painted by Selma Gürbüz and selling at the Rampa Gallery for €70,000.

In total, 87 galleries from 27 countries will participate in ArtInternational (September 4-6) – from San Francisco to Baku, as well as the main hubs in New York and London. The fair also provides a programme of exhibitions, events and forums, enabling visitors to experience the rich cultural history of Istanbul alongside the flourishing local contemporary art scene.

Make the most of your time in the Turkish hub with our guide to a long luxurious weekend – and while there, try the best meze in the city

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