Istanbul’s contemporary art scene has been on the rise since the 1980s, but it’s the last decade that has seen an unprecedented surge, boosted by a growing Turkish economy. The continent-straddling city’s teeming streets once housed an estimated dozen galleries in the early noughties – this figure has now flourished to over 200 as a slew of institutions both local and foreign open outposts there.
Established in 2002 by Hazer Özil, Dirimart gallery is one such driving force behind the Turkish art world’s recent boom. Today sees the official opening of its second space in Dolapdere, launching with the exhibition ‘Surface and Beyond’, that brings together the work of renowned international and Turkish artists, including Sarah Morris, Haluk Akakçe, Tomás Saraceno, Isaac Julien and more.
Dirimart looked abroad for a vision to match its ambitions to create the largest commercial art venue in Istanbul. It found it in German-Iranian architect and Studio MDA founder Markus Dochantschi. He was enlisted at the end of last year and the new gallery completed in less than three months – hardly surprising for an architect behind the Lisson, Paul Kasmin and 303 other galleries in New York, where his practice is based.
‘To come to Istanbul and deliver the expectations of what a Chelsea gallery can do was a great challenge. Is there a conflict between architecture and art? I don’t see it that way,’ says Dochantschi. He adds, ‘Architecture is there to create a flexible platform for the curator and the artists. When you look at the space it looks like we didn’t do much – and that’s the idea.’ To wit, the open, pared-back space features a flexible system of sliding walls hung from concrete ceilings that can be rearranged easily, including forming temporary rooms to show film works.
Also crucial was to create a sense of openness, inviting in the residents of Dolapdere who might normally feel intimidated by a contemporary art gallery. The building's glass walls help achieve this, connecting the gallery's interiors with an outdoor sculpture garden and the street. ‘It’s important that art communicates with different ages and social backgrounds,’ the architect says.
Heinz Peter Schwerfel, meanwhile, has curated the inaugural show, which centres on the theme of surfaces and getting beneath them. The works chosen for the exhibition make the most of Dochantschi’s versatile design – a delicate sculpture by Berlin-based, Argentine artist Tomás Saraceno mirrors natural light back into the space. Elsewhere, Ayşe Erkmen’s large, neon-pink ball punctuates an artificially illuminated corner of the gallery, flanked by a duet of glossy Isaac Julien photographs and a matching Sarah Morris painting. Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat has created a triptych of photographs especially for the show, which leads into a separate room with a film installation, also by Morris.
The transformation of entire neighbourhoods in Istanbul has been triggered by a recent spate of cultural builds – Karaköy and Tophane are two such districts that have benefited from the opening of the Istanbul Modern, for example. Dolapdere – and, by extension, Dirimart’s new space – will soon be bolstered by a contemporary art museum next door – led by the Vehbi Koç Foundation – due to open at the end of 2017.