Difficult times for young artists

An exhibition of works by artists who have received the Spyropoulos Award over the past three years was recently on display at Athens Municipality’s Melina Cultural Center. Art critic Olga Daniilopoulou, director of the Spyropoulos Foundation and curator of the exhibition, spoke to Kathimerini about the history of this award and the difficulties that young Greek artists face today. How was the Spyropoulos Award established? The painter and his wife Zoi were always surrounded by young people. So, in the foundation’s charter, drafted in 1990, apart from the safekeeping of the painter’s work, there was also a stipulation that this award be given to two young artists under the age of 30 each year. The chosen artists may be engaged in any form of creative artwork: painting, sculpture, video, installation or digital photography. What conclusion have you drawn after dealing intensively with the award for 12 years? Twenty-five artists have received the Spyropoulos Award so far. Among them are: Nikos Haralambidis, Thalia Hioti, Andreas Savvas, Lina Theodorou, Nikos Artemis, Achilleas Papacostas, Xenofondas Bitsikas, Pantelis Handris and Dimitris Tzamouranis. They have all been recognized abroad, they undertook postgraduate studies and have moved on to academic careers. That means that the institution is successful and that the judging committees make the right choices. What must a young artist’s work possess in order to be distinguished by the committee? Artists who make a clear artistic statement stand out. I don’t mean that the works must be very original. On the contrary, I am referring to the way in which an artist presents his ideas in his work, his seriousness and how he leaves his mark. What difficulties have you come across all these years? Our only problem is the prize money. It was 1 million drachmas (approx. 3,000 euros) in 1990, when we started out, which back then was a helpful contribution to a young artist. Today that sum is nothing. I wish we were in the position to double it. What is it like for an experienced curator like yourself to work with artists who exhibit their work for the first time? One needs to be a bit of a teacher and a bit of a psychologist. In the end, a special relationship develops between the curator and the artist, beneficial to both sides. If these award-winning artists had been born in France, for instance, or in the United States, would their future be any easier? Definitely. The fate of Greek art is to walk alone and without any support structures. Abroad, career opportunities and offers for postgraduate courses pop up before an artist has even finished fine arts school and one can find all the necessary help, which is not the case here. You have worked with 12 different winning groups since 1990. Do you detect any changes in the way that young people viewed their career then as compared to the way they do now? They are more determined today, because many go abroad to continue their studies as soon as they have finished studying here. That gives them a different perspective on work and presentation. They learn different materials and types of behavior and they see great exhibitions. For about 30 years, Spain has eagerly and stubbornly supported all of the country’s new talents. What do artists in Greece do, once they have finished art school? They try to make it on their own. Besides, gallery owners in Greece are not part of any helpful foundation as they are in other countries, where they support new artists until they become established, even if only to be able to sell their work at good prices later. Peggy Zoumboulaki is the only one to do that here and that is her own choice. Our country does not provide the money even for journalists to travel to the Biennale in Venice to view the diaspora Greek participants; sometimes even the artists’ catalogs do not arrive here.