I want to spend the weekend before I leave Istanbul for a while, visiting the museums all over the city.
With its mixed culture, Istanbul offers a never-ending richness for art lovers and museum enthusiasts. Apart from the districts like the Bosphorus and Historical Peninsula that can be classified as open-air museums, the hundreds of museums of various sizes on both sides of the city offer excellent examples of classic and modern art, and present visitors in pursuit of a theme or a specific object a journey into the past and the future. Every moment, this city accompanies both its residents and visitors with its heritage of culture and art, and never fails to display hospitality or send visitors home in the hope of meeting again. So, I set out on a tour of the museums in this city that I love with great enthusiasm in this respect.
The Lifeline of Industry
My first stop is the Rahmi M. Koç Museum in Hasköy. This museum exhibits various examples of industrial products and processes, and has everything ranging from aircraft to submarines, an olive press to a lathe, steam engines to bicycles. The industrial objects in the collection repaired by the museum, and the spaces transformed into exhibition areas were in fact chosen from derelict historical buildings and given life with painstaking restorations. In a short time, the museum, which opened in 1994 in the building that served as the Ottoman lengerhane (foundry) in the past, needed a larger exhibition space, and with the purchase of the Hasköy Shipyard, it was transformed into an extensive campus. Over the years, the museum’s collection, which originally began with the private collection of Rahmi M. Koç who collected mechanic and industrial objects from his childhood, has expanded even further with the purchase of new products, gifts, and donations.
Wandering around the different sections, I explore the development stages of the technology we use frequently in our daily lives and the principals behind the functions of certain equipment. The section in which I spend the most time in the museum is the “How does it work?” section. Pressing a button is enough to watch the interior mechanism of motors, household appliances, cars, and many other devices that have had their exterior casings removed. Upon recommendation of a museum official, I decide to look around the museum’s open-air grounds. After wandering around the nostalgic shops in the outside section, I am surprised to come across the ships Kısmet and Uzaklar in which Turkish travelers completed a world tour on voyages that took years. Then, I climb up into the civil aircraft DC-3 that left its mark in the 1930s and take a rest in one of the passenger seats. Before leaving, I want to join one of the museum tours. Among the options is a tour of the Golden Horn by boat, a submarine tour, or a nostalgic train tour between Hasköy and Sütlüce -I choose the submarine tour. I examine the 75-year-old submarine that served in the Turkish Naval Forces for 30 years accompanied by a guide, a retired soldier that served there, and sadly leave the museum where I could easily spend an entire day.
Paintings Fit for Palaces
Naturally, I cannot deny the passion in collections formed with personal effort, but the attraction of the artwork collected by the dynasty or officials of the palace is something quite different! I head towards Beşiktaş, the northeastern corner of the Dolmabahçe Palace, to visit the National Palaces Painting Museum. The Crown Prince’s Apartment that today is used as a painting museum was constructed in the period of Sultan Abdülmecid and allocated as the residence of the princes that were in line to the throne. The building stands out with its magnificent architecture and represents the princes acquiring a relatively free lifestyle with the Tanzimat reforms after the secluded life of the palace. I know Sultan Abdülaziz, Sultan Murad V, Sultan Abdülhamid II, Sultan Mehmed Reşad V, Yusuf İzzeddin Efendi, Sultan Mehmed VI, and Caliph Abdülmecid lived here during their princehoods. I enjoy viewing the painting collection shaped according to the art taste of the dynasty members in the residence where they spent a part of their lives.
After examining the portraits of the sultans that appear to match the splendor of the room excellently, I take a look at the works of the palace artists. It is particularly worth seeing the works that depict 19th-century Istanbul and the paintings that reflect the transformation in the Ottoman Empire in the Tanzimat period. I slowly head towards the most spectacular hall in the Painting Museum. I decide to spend most of my time in the museum examining the works of Russian painter Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky, which are exhibited in this hall. The collection comprises mainly of paintings depicting the sea and includes the artist’s world-famous and extremely impressive painting Shipwreck on Stormy Seas. I don’t want to leave Beşiktaş without visiting the Palace Collections Museum and the Naval Museum. Both of the museums are in this area, close to each another.
Technology in the Service of Art
On the second day of my museum tour, I travel over to Emirgan, one of the most beautiful places on the Bosphorus, by boat to visit the Sakıp Sabancı Museum. I begin my museum tour with the exhibition Osman Hamdi Bey Beyond Vision. The expression “beyond vision” is not an ascription; this is an analysis conducted on six of the painter’s works with equipment of the latest technology revealing details not visible to the naked eye. Using the X-ray imaging technique, Osman Hamdi Bey’s charcoal sketches before the application of the painting, his painting techniques, and the restored sections are clearly visible. The pigment analysis done by examining micro-specimens taken from the works with a special kind of electron microscope reveals the content of the paints used by the artist. Finally, the organic structure and characteristics of the canvases of the six works are determined with an infrared spectroscopy. Those interested in the prospective collaboration of technology and art, and who want to see the works of an artist who represents one of the turning points in the history of art from a new perspective should not miss this exhibition.
I head to the “family rooms” of this mansion where the Sabancı family spent the summer months. In the residence decorated with European antique furniture, imposing chandeliers produced in Bohemia, Chinese porcelains, and Iranian rugs, there are oil paintings, many of which were acquired by Sakıp Sabancı. I walk up to the top floor of the mansion, which resembles the palaces of the late Ottoman period with its decoration. Next is possibly the most impressive section of the museum, entitled Arts of the Books and Calligraphy Collection. This collection reflects a passion and care for books, and contains rare samples of the arts of calligraphy, binding, illumination, and marbling. The earliest of the books, especially copies of the Qur’an al-Karim and handwritten books Sakıp Sabancı collected from the 1970s until his death, date back to the 14th century. In addition to the works exhibited, it is also possible to watch how the arts I mentioned earlier are produced. Before I leave, I rest for a while in the 18,000-square meter garden. The grounds resemble a botanic garden. In addition to trees frequently seen in Istanbul, there is also a variety of more than 100 plants including rare species brought from the Middle East, the Americas, Australia, North Africa, and the Caucasus.
Modern Art at the Airport
As I prepare to leave Istanbul, I want to spend my last hours in the city communing with art. While I wait for my flight, there is a special art collection that I can see in the Istanbul Airport Turkish Airlines Special Passenger Lounge. The exhibition Selection from the Istanbul Modern’s Art Museum Collection, presented as part of the project founded in collaboration with Turkish Airlines and Istanbul Modern, takes place on an area of 130 square meters and brings together important examples of the four main trends of Turkish modern art. In addition to landscapes from the beginning of the 20th century, the exhibition, which will be renewed three times a year, includes abstract works from the 1950s. Among the selection, visitors can see masterpieces of Hakkı Anlı, Fethi Arda, Ferruh Başağa, Hasan Vecih Bereketoğlu, Nurullah Berk, Adnan Çoker, Abidin Dino, Neş’e Erdok, Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu, Hoca Ali Rıza, Hikmet Onat, Selim Turan, and Fahrelnissa Zeid. The works interpret the value of Anatolian culture in a new perspective. The search for a Eastern-Western synthesis particularly attracts my attention. Storing away the images of artists, each representing a different face of Istanbul, the memories of adventure lovers, and the designs of engineers, I say goodbye to the city in the hope of returning very soon.