Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, is a cultural gem in the Caucasus. The city has a rich heritage and, as it develops at great speed, is quickly becoming a new destination for contemporary art lovers. Today, Baku has a vibrant modern art scene with numerous galleries spread around the city. Here are the city’s ten best contemporary art galleries and museums not to miss.
Baku Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art, or the MIM as it’s referred to, is home to an outstanding contemporary collection of Azeri and European masters. Though its main mission is to present the works of local avast-garde artists from the second half of the 20th century, such as Rasim Babayev, Ashraf Murad, Aga Ousseinov or Nadir Kasimov, the museum also displays works from the European masters such as Dali, Chagall and Picasso. The Museum was initiated by the First Lady, Mehribad Aliyeva, and opened to the public in 2009. The Museum has, as it is defined, a ‘moving abstract structure’ thanks to its bright white walls and open spaces where no walls or corridors stop the visual flow, developing a multidimensional perspective to each exhibited work.
Once serving as the arm of the Soviet Lenin Museum, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, The Museum Center was renamed and re-conceptualized in 1991. Today, besides hosting several Azerbaijani State Museums under one roof, it boasts an exceptional modern art gallery located on the 4th floor of the Museum, and covers five distinct halls. On the top floor, the art gallery’s halls are covered by a stunning glass roof, giving the space natural light all day long. The gallery displays works ranging from contemporary fine art to photographs, sculptures, graphics and designs, and hosts constantly changing solo exhibitions from acclaimed Azeri and international artists.
This iconic, multi-functional cultural complex, symbolic of national pride and the formation of civil society, is justly considered as the signature landmark building of Baku. The architectural concept, the robustness, and the peerless design make the Heydar Aliyev Center worth a visit in itself, yet it is also home to a conference hall, a museum and 9-story exhibition hall. Designed by the internationally acclaimed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, the complex opened its doors in 2012 with the inaugural exhibition of Life, Death and Beauty showcasing over 100 masterpieces from the exceptional Andy Warhol. Although this start set the bar high, the Heydar Aliyev Center has continued to put on an outstanding selection of art exhibitions ever since, displaying unique solo shows of internationally recognized contemporary photographers, sculptors and painters.
Yeni Gallery has been at the forefront of Baku’s contemporary experimental platforms since 1986. Initiated in 1988 by a few emerging artists, who later collaborated under the establishment of the Association Of Creative Youth of Azerbaijan, the venue became the city’s most prominent cultural hub. Yeni translates as ‘new’, which reveals the gallery’s intention to help emerging artists; fostering creative artistic expression; and being an open and accessible platform for any novel art movements. The gallery represents established and newcomer artists alike under various profiles, ranging from photographers to architects, composers, vocalists and poets, creating a stimulating, multifaceted contemporary art center.
A modern vision set in an ancient building in the heart of Baku’s Old city, this is the YAY Gallery, or the ‘share’ Gallery in English. An outgrowth of the YARAT Contemporary Art Space, YAY Gallery is the direct result of the collective desires of artists and art-dealers. The gallery is a social enterprise with YAY sharing all proceeds from sales of work between the artists and YARAT. Though the focus is to promote and nurture Azerbaijani contemporary art, the gallery hosts artists from home and abroad. In addition to six exhibitions a year, the gallery has rapidly established a strong following for its program of talks and publications which will uphold its inclusive mission.
Another commercial gallery just beside the sea promenade of Baku, Natavan Gallery & Club, is a new player in the city’s contemporary art scene. Though it has barely celebrated its one year anniversary, the Natavan Gallery has already established its name by participating at acclaimed art festivals and becoming a favored spot for buyers and art enthusiasts alike. Named after the owner, Aliveva Natavan, who, with the help of creative director Neymatova Sayyara, aimed at creating a place that fuses a wide range of styles, trends and artistic voices. While it is primarily home to a great selection of Azeri paintings, Natavan also displays photomontages, sketches, and fine arts from various artists.
ART GROUP is a unique, creative complex that was established by local artists Elmar and Jamelya Gashiev in 1995. What makes this venue novel is that since 2000 it has also functioned as a design studio, with the main focus on interior, exterior and architectural design projects. Besides the design activities, ART GROUP promotes fine and decorative Azeri art in a great variety of mediums, ranging from paintings, photographs, carpets, ceramics and antiques. ART GROUP’s sister site isART Garden, one of the top cultural restaurants in Baku not only because of its traditional culinary practice but also thanks to the great variety of in-house contemporary exhibitions.
This establishment scarcely self-publicizes, and yet is an active participant in Azeri cultural life with exhibitions attracting constant media interest. The latest exhibition Those, Who Lost Their Heads by Anar Shamsiev garnered substantial interest thanks to its unflinching examination of social problems. The Kiçik QalArt brand covers both the gallery and a project sponsored by Art Ex East. The Gallery itself is located in Almaty’s Old City and was established in 2009. To uphold the shared features of today’s contemporary art galleries, Kiçik QalArt is also home to diverse events, most of them exploring modern-day themes -such as world peace or office life.
An outstanding venue set beside the old city’s iconic Maiden Towers, Qiz Qalasi Gallery is currently one of the most influential art hubs in Baku. Founded in 1999 by the prestigious Azeri artist Salhab Mammadov, the gallery exclusively showcases the finest contemporary Azerbaijani art pieces. Today, Qiz Qalasi acts as a dynamic center for exhibitions, collections and commercial activities. The gallery is an active participant in international art fairs and art competitions, with the clear aim to market and share the Azeri art landscape. Qiz Qalasi Gallery maintains a strong collaboration with, and therefore primarily exhibits, well-established local artists. However, due to its European arm, the Berlin-Baku Gallery, excellent international joint exhibitions are featured by both locations.