New wing opens new horizon for a museum and its artists

By Alexandra Koroxenidis – Kathimerini English Edition The opening of the new wing of the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki was a richly attended, official occasion which marked an important stage in the museum’s 25-year course. For the museum’s founders, the new wing materializes the long-held objective of exhibiting the museum’s permanent collection; if not all at once, given that there are more works than the space allows, then through temporary, alternating displays. For the artists whose work is exhibited, it is one of the rare opportunities offered in this country to have their works become part of an institution focused on contemporary art, more precisely art since the 1950s. The display of the permanent collection, which totals around 2,000 works, including photographs and etchings, comes mainly from Greek artists but also some international ones, and is one of the rare concerted attempts made by a Greek museum to draw up a survey of contemporary Greek art. It is an ambitious attempt which, considering the museum’s limited staff and reliance on mostly volunteer work drawn in by the enthusiasm of its founders, has produced an impressive result. Indeed, the works spread throughout the museum offer a visual diversity that suggests how an objective documentation of Greek art, rather than a selective choice, was closer to the museum’s criteria. In truth, the fact that all of the museum’s works are donations either by the artists themselves, collectors, galleries, or the artists’ families, meant that curatorial choice was limited anyway. The museum’s exclusive dependence on donations may indeed turn out to be one of its flaws. With a budget that does not allow for a consistent buying policy, the museum is guided primarily by what is made available to it; a problem which many museums have to face up to. The Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art is, at least, fortunate in the number of donations it has received. The large donation that Alexandros Iolas made in the mid-1980s – largely thanks to Maro Lagia’s persuasion – established the foundation for donations that followed. Another substantial bequest is the collection of Alexandros and Dorothea Xydi, as well as a series of sculptures by Achilleas Apergis donated to the museum by the sculptor’s family. The future of the permanent collection is one of the challenges that the museum has to face. But the vivacity of a museum is also measured against its temporary exhibitions and its curatorial work, which is where the museum’s second big challenge lies. The schedule of future exhibitions includes solo shows on the work of Stephen Antonakos, Constantinos Xenakis and Yiannis Bouteas, but because of budget restrictions, the question of whether the shows will take place will be left open until the last moment. Judging from the museum’s course so far, the future looks encouraging. Indeed, this is a venture that has met with the support of sponsors and the State. The property that is now the museum’s new wing was given to the museum by Helexpo, and construction was subsidized by the European Bank and the ministries of finance and culture. Before that, in 1997, the museum expanded its premises at the time through a portion of the Thessaloniki Cultural Capital of Europe budget. Even further afield, when the museum was still operating under the name Macedonian Center of Contemporary Art and was not yet a foundation, Giorgos Philippou had made part of his Filkeram-Johnson factory premises available to the museum. The museum’s history is a story of perseverance and enthusiasm for art; a story that may lead to a museum with a comprehensive art collection and a strong curatorial profile. The foundations are already there.