Athens event to please the eye

Months before it opened to the public, «Outlook» – the chief artistic event organized by the Cultural Olympiad – had caused some discussion and roused much anticipation, but also some reservations, on the local art scene. The exhibition promised to bring the best and most interesting of international, contemporary art to Greece and its total budget of 2.3 million euros, which makes it the largest and most costly visual arts production ever held in Greece, led many to expect an excellent result. Now that the exhibition is slowly drawing to an end, impressions are still fresh enough to allow for a final judgment. The fervid reactions that the exhibition caused among a handful of infuriated visitors and the rather hasty decision to withdraw the «blasphemous» works that caused the outrage are, despite the publicity, minor incidents that temporarily obscured the scope of the exhibition. But in a rather backhanded fashion, they recalled all the interest and speculation that «Outlook» sparked, which is perhaps to be expected in a country where large-scale exhibitions are far from frequent. «Outlook» is indeed an expansive exhibition that includes roughly 200 works by 85 artists and is housed in three large venues (a total area of 5,000 square meters) all along Pireos Street: the exhibition space of the Athens School of Fine Arts, the Benaki Museum’s new building and the Technopolis complex in Gazi. Its artistic director is Christos Joachimides, an internationally known curator, based in Berlin until recently and the man behind many important international exhibitions, among them «American Art of the 20th Century,» «Metropolis» and «Zeitgeist» (organized in collaboration with Norman Rosenthal, director of the Royal Academy). For «Outlook,» which is his first large Greek commission, Joachimides and his close collaborators toured the world to pick out artists and their works, some of which were made especially for the exhibition and, in some cases, make references to the city of Athens. Jan Fabre’s huge, bronze turtle ridden by a miniscule man, for example, is inspired by the mythic turtles of the Kerameikos region while an installation by Jason Rhoades is inspired by a gold tooth that the artist came across while in Athens. More direct references to Greece include Beat Streuli’s large banner of images of the city’s streets and people, Gunther Forg’s photographs of Athenian interwar architecture and Francis Alys’s video and photography installation. However, the works in «Outlook» are not bound by a specific theme. Joachimides aimed for diversity (works range from installations, to paintings, photographs and video) and openness. A painting by the German 19th century romantic painter Kaspar David Friedrich which shows a woman looking out of a window was actually what gave Joachimides the idea for the title of the exhibition; it expresses the exhibition’s lack of one given direction and its intention to explore the future of art. Indeed, one of the arguments often heard against «Outlook» is its lack of focus, the accumulation of disparate works with no theoretical concept to back them up. At a time when too much is written, often giving insignificant art disproportionate importance, and when theory rather than our own instincts or sheer visual pleasure have become the agents through which we understand art, perhaps this lack of theory is refreshing. One of Joachimides’s objectives is to reinstate an unaffected relationship with, and more immediate experience of, art. He claims that the contemporary, image-saturated world of «instant information» has upset aesthetic values and our hierarchy of criteria and has weakened the true significance of art. Through «Outlook,» Joachimides hopes to reverse this situation. He has intentionally tried to avoid sensationalism (there is no shock value, for example) but has opted for large works that stay with viewers, as opposed to the transient visual effect of what he calls «clever art.» As in most large exhibitions, some works are more powerful than others. Interestingly, the works by several of the Greek artists (they are 11 in all) make for some of the exhibition’s best moments: The playful installation by Dimitris Kozaris, the surreal handling of scale in the installation of Giorgos Lappas and the ethereal quality of Nikos Alexiou’s work stand out. (The other Greek artists are: Apostolos Georgiou, Panos Kokkinias, De Anna Maganias, Nikos Markou, Maria Papadimitriou, Thanassis Totsikas, Nikos Haralambides and the world-renowned Yiannis Kounellis.) In terms of nationality, Germany is the country that is most richly represented. Joachimides’s long contact with German art may be a likely explanation. Most of the works in «Outlook» are by living, contemporary artists. However, in order to show the continuity between the past and the present, Joachimides has also included works by an older generation of artists, all key figures in paving the way for today’s art. The artists are: Bruce Nauman for video art, Yiannis Kounellis for installation art, Ed Rucha for photography, Sigmar Polke for painting and Joseph Beuys as well as James Lee Byars for sculpture. Acting as points of reference, their works help link recent developments to their origins. As for the rest of the works, they provide a taste of what contemporary art looks like. After all, «Outlook» does not make any grand theoretical statement. (Its supplementary catalog, however, contains some very interesting theoretical texts; Nicolas Bourriaud’s skepticism of contemporary art and Arthur Danto’s essay on the contemporary concept of beauty are interesting to read.) «Outlook» is more of a rare chance for the Greek public to see works of internationally acclaimed artists gathered together and an artistic event that will give Athens some international exposure in anticipation of the Olympic Games. The aftermath of the exhibition (works that will be purchased by the Ministry of Culture, cultural exchanges with other institutions or plans for other large-scale exhibitions) will be something to look out for in the near future. «Outlook» will remain open until January 25. Guided tours have been scheduled. For general information visit: [email protected] (tel 210.825.9620). «Outlook» is organized by the Cultural Olympiad of the Greek Ministry of Culture and implemented by ARENA, a non-profit organization for the promotion of contemporary art.

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