Everybody loves Istanbul.
No, really. I dare you to find someone who has visited the brashly beautiful, culturally saturated East-Meets-West capital of Turkey and not fallen head over heels—just as I did during a stopover there some years ago. Nothing beats a few days in Istanbul, I gushed in this column.
I was wrong. What beats a stopover in Istanbul is a stopover there during Artweeks Akaretler Festival, a 16-day free event sponsored by Bilgili Holding and UBS serving up world-class contemporary art in an exquisite setting—not to mention live cultural offerings and a vibe that marries cool with smart, eclectic with chic, hip with hipster. Here’s how to take it all in.
I’m not a fan of viewing art in convention centers or other such sterile settings. I am a fan of The Akaretler Row Houses, where Artweeks takes place. Built in the 19th century by Sultan Abdulaziz to house the most prominent and high-ranking officials of Dolmabahce Palace, the painstakingly restored houses in the always-buzzing Besiktas neighborhood are now home to offices, residences, shops, restaurants and 22 art galleries, where thousands of festival attendees mingle and ogle. Among the local galleries represented are Dirimart, Öktem Aykut, Ferda Art Platform and Şerife Bilgili Ercantürk; I relished discovering profound work by contemporary Turkish artists like Meltem Sarikaya, who pushes a potent feminist agenda with a dazzling sense of the absurd.
This year, for the 8th edition of Artweeks, a 16-day public program was added: artist talks and creative screening events, all free to the public. The final hurrah was a pop-up concert by the Istanbul Jazz Orchestra—live and acapella from the balconies of the Row Houses. It was almost too surreally beautiful to be believed.