Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art – Istanbul ‘s best-hidden Gem

Hardly anyone I know has ever heard of the Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art, so I really think it’s Istanbul ‘s best-hidden Gem.

Coming to this grand city on the Bosporus river, obviously, everybody is standing in line to see the antique masterpieces at Hagia Sophia and the Topkapı Palace. Or – if they venture away from Sultanahmet – the very ‘French’ Dolmabahçe.

Terrace of the Proje4L/Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art - Istanbul's best-hidden Gem
Homage to Masters of Sculpture, against the backdrop of Istanbul’s financial center view,
Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

But hardly anyone comes to Istanbul to see the young, fresh, and daring Turkish contemporary art.

Big mistake!

Famous Private Collections

You know like when travelling, you keep getting asked what you are going to do and to see?
So when I answered that I was going to see some art patron’s private museum, everybody was all awestruck: ‘Ah, Sakıp Sabancı!’.

And indeed Sakıp Sabancı – coming from a highly wealthy family – has also a private collection in Istanbul, but this one, housed in the former family mansion on the banks of the Bosporus, is rather famous for calligraphy, china, and the family’s furniture and decoration.

So Sakıp Sabancı is very famous and popular. He’s even said to have been a great philanthrope. While it’s true that he donated to many institutions, at the same time he invested in really bad corporations. Nonetheless, at his death in 2004, he left 2.65 billion of Euro. Hence, he was #147 on the Forbes list of billionaires.

Elgiz Collection

But I didn’t want to go to the Sabancı collection, I had to see the Proje4/Elgiz museum, Istanbul’s first museum for contemporary art – founded in 2001 by Drs. Sevda and Can Elgiz.

Although Dr. Can Elgiz is – as far as I know – not on the Forbes list, I think we don’t have to worry about his financial situation: In spite of everything, Istanbul is booming, and Dr. Can Elgiz is not only an architect, he also owns companies building skyscrapers and luxury housing.
So Dr. Elgiz seems to be wealthy. Very wealthy.
And he seems to be guarded. Very guarded.
And Dr. Can Elgiz collects art and has an excellent taste.
Which, is not always automatically connected, by the way.

However, Can Elgiz’ amazing lack of vanity makes it difficult writing about him: One sentence on his person on Wikipedia, nothing on the founder on the museum’s website.
The art – and the art alone – is in focus.

According to Can bey’s wife, political scientist Dr. Sevda Elgiz, the couple started collecting in the 1980s and owns an eclectic collection including Gilbert & George, Cindy Sherman, Tracey Emin, Jan Fabre, Tony Cragg, Sol LeWitt, and Jonathan Meese.
Hence, a really exquisite selection.

Off the Beaten Paths

How do I know this? Because the couple opened a gallery, and I’ve been there. Albeit, I have the feeling that not too many tourists share this experience. Dr. Elgiz’ company is in the financial district of Istanbul, the pretty secluded neighborhood of Maslak.

Since he has chosen this zone for his museum, too, visitors have to venture a bit.
They need to go by subway all the way up to ITÜ Ayazağa station and then walk along construction sites – did I mention that Istanbul was booming?!

As you are crossing a huge parking lot, you are asking yourself whether you’ve lost your way. After all, it seems improbable that there is an art venue in this unappealing surroundings.

However, once you reach the unimposing building…there they are: Overwhelming works of Turkish and international artists are greeting you.

And since Dr. Elgiz is the real philanthrope, entrance is free.

The Roof is On Fire – Metaphorically

To top things up – metaphorically and literally – on the flat, plain roof is a lot of space for the temporary sculpture exhibitions.

Each one of the exhibitions was composed according to a motto. There were for instance Artists over 40, Artists under 40, Artists born between 1952 and 1962, etc.

In 2020, for the 12th Terrace Exhibition, the open call ended on March 15. The motto is ‘‘Despite All’’.

Halil Daşkesen: Articulate, Meliha Sözeri: Cave, and Mahmut Aydın: Female Don Kişot against of the backdrop of the financial district's skyscraper skyline.
Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz  at
Halil Daşkesen: Articulate, Meliha Sözeri: Cave, and Mahmut Aydın: Female Don Kişot against of the backdrop of the financial district’s skyscraper skyline.
Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

What do the artists have in common? Besides being excellent, you mean? They are Turkish, that’s key, Dr. Elgiz acts local.
Some are on show for the first time, some, like e. g. Caner Şengünalp or Mahmut Aydın have already participated in former issues.

 Levent Ayata: I'm Bored, Tanzer Arığ: Dreaming on the Clouds II, Halil Daşkesen: Articulate, Uğur Cinel: Door, Mahmut Aydın: Female Don Kişot Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz
Levent Ayata: I’m Bored, Tanzer Arığ: Dreaming on the Clouds II, Halil Daşkesen: Articulate, Uğur Cinel: Door, Mahmut Aydın: Female Don Kişot Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz
Mahmut Aydın: Not covering up
Mahmut Aydın: Not covering up

I might be wrong, as a matter of fact I hope I’m wrong, but I have the impression that the sculptures are getting less political, less audacious. But let’s hope I’m wrong since it would be a shame if the wonderful Proje4/Elgiz Museum lost its grit’n’edge.

I took the picture on the left showing Mahmut Aydın’s pretty daring sculpture on my visit to the 5th issue that promoted young Turkish sculptors under 40. That show presented a noticeable number of works dealing with feminist and freedom subjects.

Please read in this post why my stay on the roof during the 5th terrace exhibition was a tad bit longer than planned. And how I got the nice exhibition catalog for free.

Under one Roof

Besides the Terrace Exhibition, the Elgiz rearrange works from their impressive collection For instance, under the motto – and the title – “Grey and Beige Portfolio”.

Although the title doesn’t sound very promising, don’t let it fool you: There are big shots like Eric Fischl, David La Chapelle, Jan Fabre, and Erwin Wurm, currently Austria’s top seller who had recently big shows in Duisburg and the Venice Biennial and individual pieces all over the place.

I just hope that he never becomes another Keith Haring, whom I used to like a lot until they started to decorate basically everything with his iconic stick-men.

Next to these international renowned names, there are also many not so famous artists to look out for.

You see – if you are an art enthusiast like I am, the trip to inhospitable Maslak is absolutely worth it!

Beige and Grey
The temporary exhibition “Grey and Beige Portfolio” with works from the vast collection the Elgiz started in the 1980s.
Photo: Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art

To get more tips and info on Istanbul, check my post on 24 hours in Istanbul.

Where to Find Them

Elgiz Museum
Beybi Giz Plaza 
34398 Maslak/Istanbul
Phone+90 – 212 – 290 25 25
Email: info@elgizmuseumistanbul.org

How to Get There

Once you get to the İtü-Ayazağa İstasyonu, exit towards the Plazalar. Across the street, about 50 meters down, you will see Beybi Giz Plaza to your right.

On the museum’s website, you’ll find more directions for if you are going there by car or by bus.

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