ISTANBUL — The new Istanbul Modern museum is a study in contradictions: It provides stunning views across the water of the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque on the European side of this city and to Asia to the east, but at first glance, it looks, simply, like a spiffy stack of waterfront containers. And both of those aspects of its design are the point.
The new space, designed by the architect Renzo Piano, will officially open on Tuesday, more than a month after welcoming its first visitors and nearly 20 years after the museum, which specializes in modern and contemporary art, opened in a former warehouse in the same location. (It then moved, for a time, to a 120-year-old temporary space in the nearby Beyoglu neighborhood.)
It’s a culturally crucial moment for a country more in the news these days after a devastating earthquake in February that killed tens of thousands of people, and a fraught election in May that cemented President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hold on power for another five years. But, more than that, the opening is also a celebration of the museum’s humble roots in a utilitarian waterfront.
On a recent spring afternoon, as families and the city’s famously pampered street cats lounged in an adjacent park, a crowd of about 100 people milled about the five stories of the 10,500-square-meter (about 113,020-square-foot) building. Several of the opening exhibitions, each running for about six months, celebrate modern Turkish artists but also honor modern art across the globe.
The building’s open staircases — a Piano signature — seem to invite visitors to the upper floors from the lobby and then again to the rooftop, where a reflecting pool has already become a popular hangout for the chatty Bosporus sea gull crowd.
The official opening of the museum