Adrian Villar Rojas 'The Most Beautiful of all Mothers' 8Tum Annerlerin En Guzeli), 2015. Site Specific Installation, Organic and Inorganic Materials Adrian Villar Rojas 'The Most Beautiful of all Mothers' 8Tum Annerlerin En Guzeli), 2015. Site Specific Installation, Organic and Inorganic Materials © Kubra Karaeizmeli/Biennale

Istanbul Biennale 2015: a guide

So much to see and so little time? We've planned the perfect two-day trip to get the most out of the 14th biennale.

With exhibitions displayed in over 30 venues, the 14th instalment of the Istanbul Biennial ‘Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms’ is breaking new ground with its innovative approach to staging. At the same time, the sheer size of this year’s Biennial is overwhelming: where do you even begin? We’ve gone through the listings and put together a two-day itinerary that highlights some of the Biennial’s most important works and venues.

Day 1 – Beyoğlu

Begin your day with breakfast at Namlı Gurme in Karaköy (Rıhtım Cad. Katotopark Altı 1/1, Karaköy), where you can create your own mixed plate from a wide selection of fresh cheeses, meats and salads (the stuffed eggplant, although an uncommon breakfast food, is particularly tasty). From there, walk to SALT Galata, stopping first at Room 211 in the Vault Karaköy House Hotel where you’ll see a miniature installation created by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. The display at SALT Galata is modest in size, so you’ll have time to pop into the cafe and enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee as you gaze out onto the Golden Horn.

Vault-KarakoyVault Karaköy House Hotel

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From SALT, follow the tramway in the direction of Tophane, to the Galata Greek Primary School, a neo-classical building that still retains the air of a place of learning even though it hasn’t housed students for quite a long time. It’s a large venue – the former classrooms are wide and have high ceilings – so expect to see the work of many different artists, including Prabhakar Pachpute and Anna Boghiguian.

Anna BoghiguianAnna Boghiguian, The Salt Traders (2015), photo by Sahir Ugur Eren © Biennale 

Once you finish, you’ll probably be famished. Not far from the school is Fasuli (Kılıç Ali Paşa Cad. 6, Tophane), one of the best kuru fasulye (baked white beans) joints in Istanbul. While it may sound like a humble dish, these beans are served with rich gravy and are the perfect fuel for an afternoon of exploring.

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Next take a walk over to DEPO, a former warehouse that now serves as an exhibition space, where you’ll find artists like Francis Alÿs. After a quick look around, double back on yourself and follow the signs to Galatasary high school. It’s a bit of an uphill trek, but you can stop at Cezayir on the way. This restaurant hosts only one artist’s project, but it also serves as a venue for a large portion of the Biennial’s lectures and seminars; make sure to check the schedule before you go.

Galata-Greek-Primary-SchoolGalatasaray Greek High School

Once you reach Galatasaray high school, located right on Istiklal Caddesi, you can head to ARTER. All three floors of the exhibition space are dedicated to the Biennial. Of particular note are the works of Fredrik Carl Mülertz Størmer, a Norwegian geophysicist and mathematician who used photography to capture images of aurora for closer study.

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You may be flagging a bit, but there’s only one more stop. Head down Istiklal Caddesi to the Adahan Hotel, which is close to Tünel Square. In Room 104 you’ll find a fig-inspired installation by artist Meriç Algün Ringborg. Once you’ve had enough of the figs, walk down to Sensus (Büyükhendek Caddesi 5, Kuledibi), a wine bar located right next to the Galata Tower. Here you can sip on some of the best wines Turkey has to offer and nosh on a charcuterie plate as you mull over your art-filled day.


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Day 2 – Istanbul Modern, Kadıköy and the Princes’ Islands

Since the Istanbul Modern is one of the Biennial’s main venues, it’s best to tackle it first thing in the morning when you’re feeling refreshed and ready to go. There’s lots on offer, but be sure to check out Istanbul-based artist Aslı Çavuşoğlu’s installation on extracting red dye from insects, an archaic Armenian technique. Another piece of note is Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s 1870 painting of waves; a celebrated pathologist and neuroscientist, Ramón y Cajal was also surprisingly renowned for his medical artistry.

Istanbul ModernIstanbul Modern

You’ll also find Orhan Pamuk’s notebooks filled with his sketches and writings on display, as well as an installation by New York-based artist Georgia Sagri that was co-commissioned by the 14th Istanbul Biennial and the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. The latter, titled “my first science fiction book, Religion”, features a 3D film of Middle Eastern musicians together with displays of severed limbs.

Georgia SagriGeorgia Sagri, 'SPLITTING INTO MOLECULES CAN DAMAGE FACIAL EXPRESSIONS', (pencil and ink on paper, 21x12,5cm, 2015) © Bienalle

Once you’ve had your fill, take the tram to Kabataş and catch the ferry to Kadıköy, where you can visit the much smaller and easier to manage studio of artists Tunca Subaşı and Çağrı Saray on Yeldeğirmeni Sokak. From here, you can walk to Çiya Sofrası (Güneşlibahçe Sk. 48/B, Kadıköy), one of the best restaurants in the city. After a lunch of Ottoman stews and first-rate kebabs, walk back to the ferry terminal and catch a boat going to the Princes’ Islands (Adalar).

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Kaptan Pasa Sea BoatKaptan Pasa Sea Boat

Disembark at Büyükada; the island is one of the hubs of the 2015 Biennial. But before you leave the docks, step onboard the Kaptan Paşa Seabus, a hydrofoil ferry that has been transformed into a venue. You’ll realise once you reach the town square just how small the island is, making it easy to visit all of Büyükada’s exhibition spaces. There’s the Büyükada Public Library, Çankaya 57, a mansion built by an Armenian tradesman, Mizzi Köşkü mansion, the Hotel Splendid Palas and Rizzo Palas, a lofty wooden residence. But the real draw of Büyükada is the Trotsky House, where Leon Trotsky lived in exile from 1932-1933. The villa has been neglected for years, so it will be interesting to see how it has been used as an exhibition space.

Trotsky HouseTrotsky House

As you take the ferry back to Kabataş, sip a tea and enjoy the sun set over the city. Ending the day on the salt water, the focal point of this far-flung Biennial is by far the best way to reflect on all that you’ve seen.