National Gallery?s unseen works

With downtown Athens blocked by protesters carrying Greek flags as they walked down Vassilissis Sofias Avenue, few paid attention to the large banner announcing the National Gallery?s new exhibition.

Inside the museum, however, some 500 works of art, including paintings, sculptures and engravings from the institution?s permanent collections, transport viewers to a different Greece, one that is far more optimistic than it is at present.

Excavated out of the storage area in which they had been confined for years, the pieces are being put on display for the first time, as the museum?s limited exhibition space had prevented them from being shown before.

In fact, this exhibition is just a preview of greater things to come, as the National Gallery is planning to build an extension to its existing space at the beginning of the new year, which will allow the institution to showcase its entire permanent collection.

The artistic narrative of the part of the collection that is currently on display begins in 15th century Europe and extends to modern Greek art all the way up to 2010. It also includes superb drawings by Rembrandt and Albrecht Durer. Standing alongside them, are works by accomplished Greek artists that are being viewed for the first time, such as paintings by Nicholaos Kounelakis, Theofrastos Triantafyllidis, Constantinos Parthenis, Dimitrios Galanis and Yiannis Moralis, among others.

Even more important than the signatures is the logic behind the current show. Eight curators selected works that had remained in obscurity in an effort to highlight the story behind them. For example, in the collection of Greek pieces, the notables, politicians and noblemen sitting for portraits seem to have a kind of vision for Greece, while people who donated the pieces in the first place — Antonis Benakis (founder of the Benaki Museum) and gallery owner-collector Alexandros Iolas, among others — felt the duty to leave something behind for posterity.

The subject of the works is of equal importance, as they cover a broad range of themes, including landscapes, political art, and artworks that ultimately tell the story of the country itself.

National Gallery, 50 Vas. Constantinou, tel 210.723.5937-8. For more information, visit The exhibition runs to January 8, 2012. Opening hours: Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. Wednesdays from 2.30 to 9 p.m.