One of the comments made about Art Athina – the annual contemporary art fair in Athens – is that it gets better each year, which means that there is an improvement both in terms of the number and the quality of works shown by the participating galleries. It also means that Art Athina is getting more international, an attribute which, in a country on the artistic periphery, is highly valued. Judging from the number of participating international galleries and art collectors invited to this year’s event, Art Athina 2003, which opens to the public on Thursday, reflects the objective of its organizers (the Hellenic Art Galleries Association in collaboration with maria panayides artproductions) of placing the Athens art fair on the international map. It also shows a growing, positive response on the part of international galleries, which in this year’s event number eight more than last year. Among the new participants are Borgmann-Nathusius gallery from Cologne and Carlier-Gebauer and Kapinos galleries, both from Berlin. There is also a strong presence of Italian galleries. In contrast to the preceding Athens art fairs, the number of international galleries now equals the number of Greek galleries. This increase shows the event’s gradual transformation from a local event 10 years ago, when it first started, to an international art fair. Most likely, it is also a sign of a growing art market in Greece and a strong presence of art collectors inclined toward international, contemporary art. According to the organizers, the number of visiting international collectors has also increased. A special cultural program has been planned for them. Another aspect of Art Athina that has helped build its international reputation is the special exhibition which is organized each year on the contemporary art of a specific country. This year the focus is on Belgian art, and the curator of the exhibition titled «The Ambiguity of the Image. Belgian Art Now» is Florent Bex, an independent curator and former director of MUHKA (the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp). Art Athina is, of course, primarily an event about Greek contemporary art. There are 33 Greek galleries participating and the general impression is that, unlike previous years, their focus is less on international art and more on the work of Greek artists. This shift is likely to ensure a balance between Greek and international art. But which of the two will draw the most attention from art collectors cannot be easily determined. Presumably, art events like Art Athina help to expose Greek art internationally. But unless Greek art is shown in art fairs abroad, this exposure is in itself inadequate in securing a place in the international art market. Art Athina, at the HELEXPO Exhibition Center (39 Kifissias, Maroussi). Opens Thursday and runs to 31 March, from 12-9 p.m.