Just as the Arter opened, the new museum of the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University was inaugurated at the old port of Galata during this year's Istanbul Biennale. Close by, work is underway on the new Istanbul Modern designed by Renzo Piano. This gallery brought modern art to the Bosphorus in the 1990s. Both galleries are part of the Galata Port Project, aimed at boosting tourism with a cruise ship terminal and luxury hotels.

In addition, the Pelivneli Gallery was opened in a former liqueur factory early this year in the financial district of Maslak. Once surrounded by orchards, the white 1930s building stands today in the shadow of a gleaming high-rise complex. The juxtaposition of the old factory building and the ultramodern glass and steel giant is as fascinating as it is exciting, but also spotlights the close links between art, commerce and capitalism.

Inside the Arter Museum (photo: Ulrich von Schwerin)
Art and gentrification inextricably linked: new museums, like the Arter, may change the image of a city, enliven the art scene and attract new visitors. But they can also push property prices up and result in the displacement of weaker social groups. As the historian Esen explains, "space for the socially disadvantaged is destined to become increasingly rare"

It's hardly coincidental, after all almost all major art museums in Turkey are financed by private foundations. Koc, Sabanci, Garanti, Eczacibasi – all long-established companies active in the nation's cultural life. Many of their exhibitions, concerts and festivals are first-class, but the corporate sponsorship is controversial. In particular, Koc's involvement in the Biennale comes in for regular criticism due to the foundation's involvement in the arms sector.

Explosive social and cultural mix

The Koc Foundation wants the site of the new Arter in Dolapdere und Tarlabasi to be perceived as an opportunity for cultural exchange and social engagement. Jamie Pearson of Grimshaw Architects says the stark contrast between the stone and glass cube and its surroundings is intentional. "Putting this thing here was like throwing a pebble into the neighbourhood and watching how the waves change this place," says the architect.

Founding director Fereli is aware that the new museum is pushing up rents and property prices in the neighbourhood. But local people were happy about the development, he says. Previously, people moved away as soon as they could afford to, but now they say they want to stay, says Fereli. Now steps must be taken to prevent "unscrupulous property developers" from coming and building high-rise blocks in the area, he adds.

Tarlabasi's experience of gentrification has been particularly painful. Since 2006, the AKP government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pushed through a controversial urban development project against large-scale resistance. This has involved tearing down hundreds of old houses to be built anew as offices and apartments for the middle classes. Today, all that's left of the historic district are a few churches and old facades.

Few other Istanbul neighbourhoods have attracted so much attention from the media, scholarship and the art world, says the historian Esen. With its explosive social and cultural mix, the district is "poor but sexy," he says. He believes the big art institutions will now try to "exploit" the history of the neighbourhood. "Space for the socially disadvantaged is destined to become increasingly rare," says Esen. In the end, however, the picture is unlikely to be truly black or white.

Ulrich von Schwerin

© Qantara.de 2019

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

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