Φαινόμενα (Phenomenon), Anafi island, Photo: Alexandra Masmanidi

In Europe: Athens

Issue no4
aug - sep 2021
Onbeperkt toegankelijk & Eindexamens 2021

In a new series of summer reports we write on art scenes some of the lucky ones among us might soon be able to travel to again. As the first in the series Danai Giannoglou takes a look at the vibrant art scene of Athens, where museums are opening up after renovation, independent spaces keep on popping up on surprising locations, a private collector has asked Massimiliano Gioni to curate a group show and a promising biennial is soon to be opened.

Antiquity, tagged walls, islands, sea, documenta, iced coffee and the economic crisis are a few of the answers I got when I asked people around me what Greece brings to their mind. No one seemed surprised that contemporary art and culture were not included in the responses, even though a dynamic yet multifaceted and lively creative scene is currently being cultivated in Greece.

If we consider that the Greek art scene is very much shaped by its direct political, financial and social context, the answers I collected bear some truth regarding its character. Underfunded, DIY, with a heavy cultural past but always full of life, both in recent and earlier history. In the past decade Athens has witnessed a massive surge in art spaces and an expansion of new audiences and cultural actors. From galleries to artist-run spaces and pop-up projects, and from museums to art centers and festivals, the Greek cultural ecosystem is establishing a balance between the different institutional roles that these developments demand and that have been missing for a very long time.

The broader city center, one of the most lively parts of Athens in terms of markets and day/night life, is also the center of the art ecosystem. Here one can find the capital’s biggest museums such as the Acropolis Museum right underneath the hill and close to several archeological sites, the Archeological Museum, the Byzantine Museum with one of the city’s most beautiful gardens, the Benaki Museum of Greek culture with its main collection exhibited on Koumpari street and its Contemporary Art annex on Peiraios street, the Museum of Cycladic Art with a permanent collection and an important contemporary program, as well as the Theocharakis Foundation. In the neighborhood of Syngrou-Fix you can now visit the recently re-opened National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), housed in the former Fix Brewery and led by the recently appointed Katerina Gregos. The nomadic projects of NEON Organization will lead you to hidden or usually inaccessible city landmarks, while a visit to the Onassis Stegi center will introduce you to cutting-edge Greek and international theater and dance makers. Lesser-known museums that are definitely worth discovering are the Epigraphic Museum, the Benaki Museum’s Mentis Passementerie, as well as the Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation which presents works from the vast spectrum of Tsarouchis’ creative activities in a building designed by Tsarouchis himself in one of Athens’ outer neighborhoods Maroussi.

Myrto Xanthopoulou, The Opposite of Falling, 3137, Athens, 2021

Myrto Xanthopoulou, The Opposite of Falling, 3137, Athens, 2021

The list of independent and non-profit art spaces in Greece grows longer and longer each year. Older ventures, such as Radio Athènes which explores questions of language and the relationship between art and literature, but also State of Concept which recently presented an exhibition in collaboration with Association Phenomenon based on the role and practice of care in Margaret Kenna’s work, have been joined by new projects, such as locus athens’ Tavros, ARCH Athens, or the deeply socially involved Victoria Square Project. Other notable independent or artist-run spaces are 3137, A-dash, Snehta, Enterprise Projects, ΎΛΗ[matter]HYLE, P.E.T, Haus N Athen, Akwa Ibom, Saigon and Void to list just a few. Hydroexpress, an artist-run space inside an active plumber’s shop operates in the neighborhood of Kaminia. Farther outside the center of Athens a new art district is brewing in Piraeus, where Rodeo Gallery and The Intermission have both opened on Polidefkous street near the port.

Hydroexpres is based in an active (!) plumber shop in Athens

Hydroexpress

The definitions of independent spaces are often complex and the differences between them are countless. Nonetheless, these spaces have been at the core of the Athens art scene for a long time – in spite of or on account of the country’s economic crisis, position and role in Europe. In recent years they have multiplied, filled empty shops, rented apartments, artist studios and public spaces. Some of them become permanent venues while others only exist temporarily.

Although the art scene of Greece is concentrated around the capital, the heatwaves of the summer force this microcosm to spread towards the islands and the countryside. Some of these migrations constitute long standing traditions, such as the Athens Epidaurus Festival, a theater, dance and art festival taking place at impressive venues such as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the ancient theaters of Epidaurus. On the island of Hydra the DESTE Foundation’s Slaughterhouse project space presents a group show titled The Greek Gift curated by Massimiliano Gioni – although the DESTE foundation also organizes and presents exhibitions and projects in Athens.

Iro Vasalou, Sleeping with a tiger, K-Gold Temporary Gallery, Lesvos, 2020

Martine Gutierrez, Go straight until you find the sea, K-Gold Temporary Gallery, Lesvos, 2021

Φαινόμενα (Phenomenon), Anafi island, Photo: Alexandra Masmanidi

There are also more recently established artistic summer destinations that have emerged in the past decade and aim to engage in different ways with local communities as well as visitors. Examples include Phenomenon on the island of Anafi, a biennial art exhibition organized by Iordanis Kerenidis and Piergiorgio Pepe, K-gold temporary, an art space in Lesvos with a lively program that lasts the whole summer, Sterna in Nisyros, and Deo projects, an independent contemporary art platform in Chios opening its doors for the first time this year. The high temperatures – which unfortunately have kept rising in recent years – create the perfect circumstances for open-air music and cinema festivals such as the Music Village at the medieval village of Aghios Lavrentios on Pelion mountain, Vovousa Festival in Northen Pindos and the Syros International Film Festival (SIFF).

Apart from its creative meeting points, Athens has several annual dates. If you find yourself around in June or September, don’t miss the Athens School of Fine Arts graduation shows, but also the Athens Biennale. This year, the biennial presents its 7th edition under the title Eclipse from the 23rd of September to the 28th of November and is curated by Berlin-based collective Omsk Social Club and the Ghanaian-American curator Larry Ossei-Mensah.

As I write this piece, the country is going through the most massive wave of wildfires it has ever encountered, so my intention to describe magnificent trails in the nearby hills and mountains suddenly seems nonsensical. However, as this quick inventory clearly demonstrates, Greece relates to many more aspects of social life than just contemporary art. A walk through a Laiki Agora (direct translation being ‘people’s market’, the Greek version of a food market), a swim in one of Attica’s countless beaches or nearby islands – only a quick ride or boat trip from Athens, a stroll in one of the city’s main parks, such as the National Gardens or the Pedion tou Areos, or a late-night screening at an open air cinema can also allow different approaches to the city life.

There is nothing left to say than welcome – and enter at your own risk.

Also open in August – check online for opening hours and days:

Acropolis Museum

National Archeological Museum

Benaki Museum

Byzantine and Christian Museum

Museum of Cycladic Art

National Museum of Contemporary Art

Epigraphic Museum

Hollowed Water, Arch Athens

Anti-structure, DESTE Foundation, Athens

The Greek Gift, DESTE Foundation, Slaughterhouse Project Space, Hydra island

Weaving Histories: Margaret Kenna and Anafi, State of Concept, Athens

Portals, Neon Organization – Former Tobacco Factory, Athens

Danai Giannoglou
is een curator en schrijver, momenteel werkzaam als assistent curator bij De Appel

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