One man’s offering of art

In the Greek milieu of contemporary art, a small number of private art collectors are often mentioned for the new impetus they have given to the local market as well as for having built substantial art collections over a relatively brief stretch of time. In a country where state-owned collections of contemporary art are few and only currently in the making, it is perhaps expected that private art collectors should garner such attention. All the more since this is a time when exhibitions and galleries of contemporary art, especially international art, are increasing and the Athens visual art scene is becoming less local and more international. Private art collectors are capturing this new impulse. In fact, some of them are also assuming more public roles. Zacharias Portalakis, a stock broker (and firm owner) and one of the most esteemed collectors in the country, is an example. An avid art collector and a sponsor of major art events over the past decade, Portalakis decided to make his collection publicly known: Around a year ago he turned an entire floor of his office’s building across the Athens stock market into an exhibition hall which hosts temporary exhibitions, all accessible to the public and all drawing from the contents of his art collection. The biomorphic works of Theodoros Stamos followed, a few months later, by the monumental sculpture of Christos Kapralos have been exhibited thus far at the premises of the Zacharias Portalakis Collection. (Simultaneously, Portalakis organizes an annual exhibition at his homeland in Heraklion, Crete). Both exhibitions captured the essence of the collection: its focus on the work of established 20th-century Greek artists or artists of the Greek Diaspora and the tendency of Portalakis to represent each artist in his collection as fully as possible. «PostImpact,» which is the name of the third successive exhibition which opened recently at the Zacharias Portalakis collection venue, turned out to be a surprise. Consisting of works by some of the most reputable international artists (some shown in Greece for the first time), it captured a less-known side of the collection. In truth, this is only a small fragment of works by international artists that Portalakis began collecting in the early ’90s. Among them, one of Andy Warhol’s «Last Supper» series is a highlight. It is shown in the exhibition alongside one of those elegant slit canvasses of Lucio Fontana from the mid-’60s. Arranged on the same wall there are also severe, forceful works by Yiannis Kounellis from the mid-’90s and right next to it, a Polaroid series by Lucas Samaras from the early ’70s as well as «Book #3,» one of the artist’s most famous works from the early ’60s. There is also a painting showing letters and phrases on a white painted canvas by the conceptual artist Robert Barry. Stretching back to artists who first made a reputation in the 1960s, this part of the exhibition is more historical. The rest features works by a younger generation of artists: Christopher Wool, David Reed, Richard Prince, Herbert Hamak, Peter Halley, Günther Foerg as well as the younger Ian Davenport, Stephen Dean and Thomas Demand. In «PostImpact,» the display of the works is done by Portalakis himself but the selection of the works is in cooperation with Georges Armaos, a young Paris-based art historian (he just finished his doctorate) and the exhibition’s curator, who is also the nephew of Portalakis and the son of artists. Armaos’s idea was to base an exhibition around abstraction and photography since they are both two aspects of the post-war period which, although not necessarily linked, have both been crucial to its development. In his essay, Armaos does not make a theoretical analysis of either abstraction or photography. Following a completely different approach, he has written an essay on the concept of art collecting. Only a fragment of his essay is published in the exhibition’s supplementary catalog; the rest of the catalog includes separate presentations of each artist. Each consists of excerpts which Armaos selected out of an international bibliography. The idea is unusual, although in the end one is left with only bits and pieces of information. Armaos has also chosen to omit any written texts on the more famous artists of the exhibition (Warhol, Samaras, Fontana and Kounellis) in the thought that with so much already written on them, anything that is not exhaustively researched would add little that is new. A brief biography and bibliography have been included. Perhaps a few words on the particular works shown would also have been helpful. However, since this is an exhibition that is based on a private collection, perhaps what matters the most is not the theoretical argument on which it is based but the ways in which the works reflect the taste of the collector, its consistency and his artistic criteria. In «Post Impact» one sees no visual contradictions but a harmonious, elegant display. The paintings are all commanding works of art. The works of Fontana, Kounellis, Samaras and Warhol evoke some of the most seminal aspects of each artist’s work. Among the rest of the works, several are especially appealing. Peter Halley’s large, abstract-geometric composition is brightly colored but structurally disciplined and contained. In the catalogue, one reads that it is one of a series of studies by the artist on how abstraction can reflect social concerns such as the structure and order of society. The painting of Richard Prince, a text printed on a blue-painted canvas, is an unusual specimen of work by an artist usually associated with appropriating visual imagery of popular culture. Christopher Wool’s blown up floral pattern is recognizable of the artist’s style from the mid-’90s and probably one of its best examples. Carefully selected and well arranged, the works constitute a sophisticated visual display. «PostImpact» also introduces the public to an unknown aspect of this country’s most important private collections of 20th-century art while also raising more general thoughts on how art collections are constituted, managed and made accessible to the public. «PostImpact,» at the Portalakis Collection (8 Pesmazoglou, tel 210.331.8933), open to the public Wednesdays 6-8 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Until February 28.