Contemporary Greek art heads beyond local frontiers

Over the past few years, the visual arts scene in Greece has become an increasingly lively field. The proliferation of art galleries, their exhibitions of international artists and trendy names in the contemporary art scene, the opening of contemporary art museums and the emergence of a new generation of young art collectors are some of the factors that have brought variety and a contemporary, more international feel to what was formerly a more local and constricted domain. Potentially, this «opening» could also help contemporary Greek art become more well known outside the country, especially as countries in the artistic periphery (the Balkan region is an example) are becoming the center of attention. A sign of how Greek art is beginning to gain international exposure is the participation of Greece as the honorary country in the forthcoming ARCO art fair in Madrid. ARCO is the outcome of Spain’s cultural politics in the early ’80s. It was founded in 1982 and has since grown into one of the most prestigious international art fairs. In this year’s fair, which will begin in February 11 and will last for a week, there will be 15 Greek galleries participating; they were chosen by a Greek committee out of the 35 that petitioned. ARCO 2004 will also host seven more, non-commercial exhibitions, all focused on contemporary Greek art. The exhibitions that will open in Madrid in mid-February are an initiative of the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Cultural Olympiad in collaboration with the Spanish local authorities. The Cultural Olympiad has appointed the Hellenic Art Galleries Association (an important grouping that has helped develop the Greek visual arts scene) to organize the entire project and has also assigned five Greek theorists on art and architecture to curate the exhibitions. The project’s total cost is estimated at 500,000 euros. «Breakthrough! Greece 2004: Contemporary Perspectives» is curated jointly by Katerina Gregou, Denys Zacharopoulos and Sania Papa and charts Greek art from the ’80s to the present through the work of 26 artists, among them Ilias Papailiakis, Giorgos Lappas, Nikos Alexiou and Thanassis Totsikas. The three curators have also organized another exhibition on an interactive, virtual reality, audiovisual project carried through by «Personal Cinema» a group of 12 artists that uses new media and computer technology. «The Making of Balkan Wars: The Game» which is the title of the particular project, refers to geopolitics and the way contemporary wars are presented to us. Contemporary Greek photography is the focus of a third exhibition curated by Marilena Kara. Among the 10 participants are Alexandros Georgiou, Lila Kabani, Panos Kokinias and Thodoris Raftopoulos. Selected architectural projects from the ’60s and ’70s by the architects Xenakis, Krantonellis and Zenetos together with the work of 16 contemporary Greek architects are the subject of yet another exhibition curated by Maria Theodorou. The exhibition will also include the first public presentation of the awarded project for the conversion of the FIX building into the National Museum of Contemporary Art. In an attempt to cover as broad an artistic spectrum as possible, organizers have also prepared an exhibition on film. The focus is the avant-garde films that Greek filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos made in the ’50s and ’60s. Two separate exhibitions, both organized by Spanish institutions, will again focus on Greek art: the Reina Sofia Museum will host an installation of Maria Papadimitriou and and the La Caixa foundation will present a one-man show of artist Nikos Mavridis’s work. The exhibitions will remain on view for more than a month but the actual art fair will last less than a week. Over the course of the week there will be round-table discussions on issues concerning contemporary Greek art. Seen in its entirety, Greece’s participation in this year’s ARCO amounts to one of the few comprehensive and large-scale international presentations of contemporary Greek artistic output. In some of the exhibitions, links between contemporary art and the past help trace the course of Greek art and define its identity through time. The emphasis, however, remains on contemporary production and, judging from both the artists and the themes selected, it is most likely that the exhibitions will help show that Greece is moving in pace with international artistic trends and will hopefully help pave the way for future artistic exchanges. Anticipating the international attention Greece will gather in view of the summer Olympic Games, the participation of Greece in ARCO is a well-timed event that may expand the Greek artistic scene even further.