DESTE Prize opts for older artists, but innovation remains its focus

When in 1999 the DESTE Foundation began its biennial practice of awarding a Greek artist with a prize, the idea was to promote contemporary art and to provide young artists with international exposure rarely given to them in this country. The initiative, together with the foundation’s exhibition program at the Center of Contemporary Art, was welcomed as a breath of fresh air in a country where contemporary art and young artists have long been left with no substantial museum or institutional support. Counting greatly toward this outcome was the profile of DESTE’s founder Dakis Joannou as an art collector of international clout and prestige. Still firmly centered on the most recent trends in contemporary art, the DESTE Foundation seems to be simultaneously veering in a new direction. No longer directed by a curator as it was in the past, the foundation has not yet made its objectives officially clear but the general impression is that it is gradually becoming more attuned to the vision of its founder. His curating for the recent show shown at DESTE Center of Contemporary Art (one of its best exhibitions) suggests that Joannou is now actively involved in the exhibition policy and profile of DESTE. At the same time, DESTE is becoming less «institutionalized,» less modeled on a museum-like structure with its succession of steadily alternating exhibitions. More flexible, yet more introverted, DESTE seems to be turning into a more contained and perhaps more sophisticated venue. Change and flexibility are, after all, characteristics of the DESTE Foundation as a private initiative, but also fit its image of an institution that, like the contemporary art it shows, constantly keeps up with contemporaneity. The DESTE Prize The nomination of established, not new, artists for this year’s DESTE prize may be viewed as part and parcel of the changes currently taking place. In its third year, the prize will be given to one out of six well-known Greek artists in their 40s: Nikos Alexiou, Apostolos Georgiou, Dimitris Kozaris, Nikos Navridis, Maria Papadimitriou and Nikos Tranos. Their nominated works are currently exhibited at the DESTE Center for Contemporary Art and the prize will be announced in mid-September. As with the previous DESTE prize, the entire process is divided between two committees, a Greek-based committee that selects the artists and an international committee that decides on who will receive the award. The prize carries with it a 10,000-euro purse. In an attempt at objectivity, each committee is as diverse as possible: The selection committee includes art curators Katerina Koskina and Marina Fokidi, the art collector Constantinos Papageorgiou, the artist Rena Papaspyrou and the architect Giorgos Tzirtzilakis. The international mix of the jury committee – comprising Joannou, Tuula Arkio, director of the Finnish National Galleries, artist Maurizio Cattelan, curator and artistic director at the Nicola Trussardi Foundation Massimiliano Gioni and Lars Nittve, director of Stockholm’s Moderna Museet – shows an attempt at impartiality and also endows the prize with some international recognition. Until now, the young artists who had been nominated could use this recognition as an opportunity for broader, international exposure. Although it would therefore seem that the prize is more useful to younger artists, Joannou felt that because young artists have not completed a range of work sufficient enough to be judged, the prize should address the work of elders. For them, the prize represents more of a symbolic recognition for their work than a useful, early career boost. Indeed, many of the young artists who were nominated for the DESTE prize subsequently received international exposure. Georgia Sagri, Andreas Savvas and Sia Kyriakakos, all participants in the 2001 DESTE prize (Sagri was the winner), have been included at international exhibitions: Kyriakakos together with Dimitris Rotsios represented Greece at this year’s Biennale, Sagri was one of the artists included in «Radar, Connecting Europe,» a project presented at this year’s Venice Biennale, and Savvas was one of the two Greek artists selected by the Spanish curator Rosa Martinez for the international art exhibition «Copyright Europe Exists,» currently on at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art. Although establishing and institutionalizing young artists is not DESTE’s objective, giving them exposure is. The idea is to send out information on young artists, not to act as mediators between institutions. It is a fine balancing act, particularly as in Greece the museums or structures supporting contemporary young artists are scarce. Which is what also explains why international curators in search of young Greek artists sometimes turn to DESTE for an opinion. For the art biennale currently organized by Flash Art magazine in Prague for example, the curators asked DESTE for a suggestion. Nikos Papadimitriou, Vassileia Stylianidou and Athanassios Argianas, the Greek artists chosen for the biennale, were all DESTE’s suggestions. Until now, curators looking for young talents could pick one of the artists nominated for the DESTE prize. Now that the prize goes to older artists, this is probably not true. But DESTE Foundation’s Archive of Contemporary Greek Artists is constantly updated to provide a vital search tool. A project documenting the work of contemporary Greek artists, it fulfills DESTE’s goal of providing information on and exposure for artists. Compared to when the DESTE prize was focused on young artists, this is a more subdued and perhaps less directly effective means of giving exposure. But it somehow sums up DESTE’s new mix of a more reticent but more flexible profile. The works of the artists nominated for the third DESTE prize will be on display at DESTE’s Center for Contemporary Art (8 Omirou, Neo Psyhico, 210.672.9460) until November 1.

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