Office by Day, Gallery by Night: An Experiment in Dual Identities in Istanbul - Atlas Obscura
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Office by Day, Gallery by Night: An Experiment in Dual Identities in Istanbul

article-imageAll photographs by Rachel Friedman

Istanbul is a city with zero public funding for the arts, so private money has swooped in to fill the gap by supporting a wide range of spaces and projects. Among them is Borusan Contemporary, an office-museum concept (the first in the world, they claim), opened in 2011.


At the end of every week, employees of Borusan Holdings, a conglomerate active in the steel, auto, and telecommunications industries, tidy their desks and leave behind an active contemporary art museum. It’s open to the public all weekend for viewing mesmerizing multi-platform, site-specific installations. When I was there, a selection of work from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was on display. Massive images of the Golden Gate Bridge were projected onto a long wall on one floor; on another, long stacks of television screens illuminated the room with eerie blue light.


A few employees were still finishing up their work as I wandered the nine floors, popping into various nooks to find where artwork was interspersed with office space. Specific areas of each floor form mini-galleries, but there are is also a permanent collection of sculptures and paintings you must hunt a bit for. A light-installation piece flashed through in the hallways as I made my way up the stairs, past the outdoor café, and out onto the roof deck. I peaked into the little gazebo where the company’s employees have their rooftop meetings looking out onto the city’s hillside homes, the sleek cappuccino machine now unplugged for the weekend.

Some of the best views in Istanbul are to be had at contemporary art galleries and museums — the sculpture garden at Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art, Istanbul Modern’s terrace restaurant, not to mention art hotel Marti’s top floor sweep of Taksim Square — but nothing tops Borusan’s panorama view of the Bosphorous Bridge, which reaches out from the hills to span the luminescent water. A bronze and gold sculpture by Andrew Rogers called “Unfurling” is on permanent display, seemingly impervious to the heat and cold of the seasons. I sat down on a long white bench to wait for the sun to set. The noise of chaotic Istanbul was blissfully muted; only the occasional renegade horn punctuated the silence.

Construction of the castle-like red brick building began in 1910, but was halted during World War I. The second and third stories remained unfinished for decades, and whistling winds coursing through led to locals nicknaming the building “Haunted Mansion.” Another legend tells of a girl as beautiful as a fairy passing away in the space, leading to its second nickname: “the kiosk with the fairies.” Both nicknames have stuck to this day.

This November, three major art events collide in Istanbul: the 9th Contemporary Istanbul, 2nd Istanbul Design Biennial, and the very first Art Istanbul Week. The contemporary art scene here is not much older than a decade, with new galleries, museums, and unique art spaces like Borusan sprouting up every few months in diverse neighborhoods across the city.

Borusan Contemporary is located at Baltalimanı Hisar Street, Perili Köşk No:5, 34470, Rumelihisarı, Sariyer, Istanbul, Turkey.