Lonely Planet Writer

Ottoman villa in Istanbul opens to visitors for the first time with an art exhibition

A stunning late-19th-century Ottoman villa in Istanbul has been opened to the public for the first time as a showcase for a temporary exhibition of provocative contemporary art belonging to one of Turkey’s top collectors.

Contemporary art in Istanbul. Image by Jennifer Hattam

Built in the 1880s, the sumptuous two-storey villa, in the Üsküdar neighbourhood on the Asian side of the city, was home to Abdülmecid II, the last Ottoman caliph. The vivid, intricate wall paintings and brightly coloured geometric-pattern tile floors provide a striking backdrop for the 30 works of sculpture, painting and photography displayed within the building’s lofty rooms and on its wooded grounds.

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An avid amateur painter himself, Abdülmecid II often hosted artists and writers at his home, a historical titbit that inspired the curators of the ‘Kapı Çalana Açılır’ (‘Doors Open to Those Who Knock’) exhibit as they created an artistic dialogue between the works on display and the space itself.

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Entering the villa is like an ‘encounter with a parallel universe, a universe that is frozen in time but still in motion’, co-curator Károly Aliotti told the Turkish press. Aliotti, the manager of the Ömer M. Koç Collection from which the exhibition is drawn, curated the show along with Melih Fereli, the founding director of ARTER gallery, which is also financially supported by Turkey’s wealthy Koç family. Lifelike but surreal sculptures dominate the exhibition, from Irish artist Daphne Wright’s unsettlingly supine swan and horse, both made from white marble dust and resin, to Australian artist Patricia Piccinini’s silicone children interacting with strange beasts.

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‘The works in the show focus on the links between man and animal, living and dead, monster and angel, movement and stasis,’ the curators said in a statement. ‘They are asking if it is possible for them to meet in a state of equilibrium.’ The show also includes a pair of photographs by Danish-Norwegian duo Elmgreen & Dragset, who curated the 15th edition of the Istanbul Biennial, running in parallel with ‘Kapı Çalana Açılır’. Koç Holding is a major sponsor of the biennial.

‘Kapı Çalana Açılır’ is on view at the Abdülmecid Efendi Köşkü in Üsküdar, Istanbul, close to the Altunizade metrobus stop, until 12 November. Admission is free and opening hours are Thursday–Friday 2-7pm and Saturday–Sunday 11am-7pm.

By Jennifer Hattam