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Taking Shape


The Akaretler neighbourhood is gaining a reputation as a new art hot spot in the heart of Istanbul, Julia Harte discovers

Julia Harte,

As crowds flocked to the city’s recent Biennial, in-the-know Istanbulites were also getting their modern art fix from a less-publicised location.

Just up the hill from the Beşiktaş ferry station on the Bosphorus is a small neighbourhood of grand and ageless townhouses. Akaretler’s distinctive buildings were originally constructed in the late 19th century as dwellings for Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s staff when they weren’t tending to his needs in the nearby Dolmabahçe Palace.

Nowadays, the area is home to some of Istanbul’s most exciting galleries, as well as to fashionable Turkish and foreign retailers: residents include jewellers Sevan Bıçakçı and Storks, luxury bridal boutique Vakko Wedding House, interior design companies Derin and Autoban, and the upmarket W Hotel. Akaretler also boasts an array of fine-dining options, including wine bar Corvus and The Winston Brasserie, a gourmet Italian restaurant. The presence of smaller street-side eateries, such as café/chocolatier Kahve Dünyası, completes the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the neighbourhood.

In the past couple of years, Akaretler has attracted increased attention from Istanbul’s art and design elite. The GalataModa fashion festival, traditionally held in the city’s Galata district, was moved to Akaretler in June 2011. For five days, 33 of Turkey’s best up-and-coming designers, such as Özgür Masur and Gamze Saraçoğlu, exhibited and sold their collections from pop-up tents; lectures, discussions and a runway show also took place.

‘Fashion has a close relationship with art and industrial design, and we moved the festival to Akaretler to represent this synergy,’ says Banu Koryürek, brand consultant for the Institution of Fashion Designers.

It’s hard to say which came first, Akaretler’s status as Istanbul’s latest artistic trend-setting district or the art venues that contribute to its hip vibe. Two prominent Istanbul art auction houses are located just up the hill from Akaretler’s central promenade. Art auctioneer Antik A.Ş. was the first company to organise contemporary art auctions in Turkey, and moved to Akaretler in 1995. It is now a source for artworks by some of Turkey’s most exciting contemporary artists, including Devrim Erbil, Selma Gürbüz and Bedri Baykam. Nearby is Bali, which started as an art gallery near İstiklal Caddesi in the 1970s. Now located in Akaretler, Bali holds seasonal auctions and also hosts exhibitions in a range of artistic media.

‘As a neighbourhood, Akaretler is sophisticated and creative, but friendly at the same time,’ says Banu Küçüksubaşı, director of the gallery Art ON. ‘We thought, as a fresh gallery, it would be more efficient to be located in the new art and design destination of Istanbul.’

Art ON burst onto the Istanbul art scene with three successive exhibitions after it opened in March 2011. The first brought in unique works from major names such as Damien Hirst and Gary Hume. Other exhibitions have shown work by modern Turkish photographers Ali Alışır and Sıtkı Kösemen, as well as Dexter Dalwood’s pop art paintings, the striking and sometimes disturbing collages of İrfan Önürmen, Burcu Perçin’s conceptual oil paintings showing environmental degradation and Seçkin Pirim’s trompe l’oeil 3-D installations.

Just up the street from Art ON, Rampa Gallery has held nine exhibitions in Akaretler since opening in May 2010, as well as showcasing the work of Turkish artists at art fairs in Hong Kong and Vienna. The exhibitions have included the multimedia sculptures of Cengiz Çekil, the conceptual art and video installations of Ayşe Erkmen and installations by Ergin Cavuşoğlu.

Part gallery, part limited-edition artwork boutique, Artlimits is another newcomer to Akaretler. It opened at the end of 2010 yet despite its recent arrival Artlimits has already picked up some impressive names. It features the colourful, entomology-inspired work of Ergin İnan, who received a President’s Culture and Art Grand Award in 2010, a prestigious Turkish accolade. Also on view at Artlimits are the kaleidoscopic prints of Hamza Arcan, whose fashion illustrations are in the permanent collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. In lieu of regularly organised exhibitions, Artlimits features an ongoing rotation of works by different artists, many of which are signed and are for sale in various sizes.

‘We’re pleased that we started in Akaretler,’ says Aşkın Süzener, a spokesperson for Artlimits. ‘It feels right to be located here, in the very centre of the city, where you see so much contrast between the historical fabric of the city and its cosmopolitan present.’

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