February is turning out to be a great month for Greek public relations abroad, as two major Parisian cultural venues, La Gaite Lyrique and the Palais de Tokyo, are hosting two large-scale, made-in-Greece exhibitions.
At La Gaite Lyrique, a former opera house which was completely transformed into a state-of-the-art digital arts and modern music center in 2010, Athens-based cultural organization Atopos is once again displaying its extrovert character, which has comprised a major part of its activities to date, through the display of a revamped version of “ARRRGH! Monsters in Fashion,” an exhibition which first opened at the Benaki Museum in 2011. In Paris, the show runs to April 7.
Meanwhile, at the Palais de Tokyo, one of the world’s most renowned centers for contemporary art, curator Nadia Argyropoulou is working on an 100 percent Greek exhibition exploring the ongoing debt crisis and the country’s image abroad. “Hell As Pavillion” features works by young and established artists and goes on display from February 25 to April 4.
This creative Greek presence in the French capital provides an opportunity to examine how a private organization such as Atopos developed its singular, dynamic, based-in-Athens cultural diplomacy. This is a story of Greeks mounting exhibitions locally while at the same time ensuring a Greek presence in museums and other cultural institutions around the world. So far, Atopos shows have traveled to Luxembourg, Antwerp and Zurich, for example, while the most complete version of a previous Atopos exhibition, “RRRIPP!! Paper Fashion,” which opened in Athens in 2007, recently went on display at the Stihl gallery in Waiblingen, Germany. At the same time, the cultural organization has developed a steady collaboration with London’s Barbican Center, with the latter having taken on the management of “Paper Fashion.”
In just a few years, Atopos’s founders, curator Vassilis Zidianakis and architect Stamos Fafalios, succeeded in developing an important network of contacts and relationships with artists, museums and research centers across the world.
How did this network grow to the point of international cultural institutions extending invitations to Atopos to present its productions abroad?
“Through a lot of hard work,” said Zidianakis, speaking from Paris, during a short break prior to the exhibition’s opening on February 12.
Meanwhile, the general impression back home is that Atopos’s two biggest productions, “RRRIPP!! Paper Fashion” and “ARRRGH! Monsters in Fashion,” are traveling through Europe in their original form.
“That is not the case,” noted Zidianakis. “Our shows develop following years of research and this work continues in the aftermath of the first presentations, which usually take place at the Benaki Museum in Athens. We are approached by artists, designers and others and, as a result, half of the items going on display in Paris, for instance, are completely new.”
For Fafalios, who undertook the design of the Paris and Waiblingen exhibitions, the organization’s recognition speaks for itself.
“We haven’t spent a single euro when showcasing our exhibitions abroad, instead they pay us. This has been the reward with relation to our ideas, professionalism and hard work,” Fafalios said, reminiscent of Atopos’s initial conception, when he and Zidianakis shared their first thoughts on the project. “We wanted to demonstrate that Greece was capable of presenting itself in any museum around the world through something contemporary, conceived and made in Athens.”
So what’s next, after Paris?
“We would like to see Atopos’s next major exhibition organized and produced by a global cultural organization abroad,” said Zidianakis. “For someone to believe in our idea and take it to the next level.”
One more recognition, no doubt, for all that Atopos has accomplished so far.