As announced in a recent press conference by Fleurette Karadontis, niece of the late Elise Goulandris and president of the Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation, the much awaited Goulandris museum will open in just a few months, on October 1, with a series of celebratory events.
Shipowner Basil Goulandris and his wife Elise were active members of the art scene in Athens, as well as in their second hometown, Paris. In the latter, they were both awarded with the title Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, in honor of their contributions to the arts.
Through their dedication to the arts and their travels, they met and formed relationships with other art collectors and artists, and over the years they accumulated an incredible contemporary art collection – one that includes masterpieces by artists accepted as part of the canon of art history, such as Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh, and Claude Monet, as well as many prominent Greek artists.
While their collection received much recognition in France, it was their dream to build a museum in Athens, and present their collection there for the Greek people to enjoy and benefit from.
The first plans for the museum of contemporary art of the B&E Goulandris Foundation were announced in 1992. The initial hope for the art-collecting couple was for a building designed by I.M. Pei on land that was to be provided by the Greek state. Those plans became snarled in red tape and ultimately fell through, but that didn’t stop them from continuing to dream of displaying their large collection in a museum in Athens.
Now, years after their deaths (Basil passed in 1994 and Elise in 2000), the opening day of October 1 is fast-approaching, and it seems the museum will be all that they wished for – if not designed by Pei.
As Kyriakos Koutsomallis, the couple’s nephew (and director of the foundation’s smaller Museum of Contemporary Art on the island of Andros) said: “The goal is to create a museum that’s open to all – young and old, rich and poor, connoisseurs and amateurs.”
Many of these prestigious artworks previously hung in the couple Goulandris’s private homes. Now, they will find their home in a large new space on Eratosthenous Street in Pangrati.
Featuring 7,250 square meters spread over 11 floors, the museum was built around an early 20th century building, to which new stories were added. It consists of beautiful spaces for the lobby and the exhibitions (permanent as well as temporary), an art library, a workshop space, a café-restaurant, offices and an amphitheater with room for 190 people.
In addition, the museum has also taken on the renovation of the adjacent Aghios Spyridonas Square, as a gift to the City of Athens.
The location of the museum is important, as it’s centrally situated nearby many of Athens’ existing large museums, such as the Benaki Museum, the Byzantine and Christian Museum, and the Athens Conservatoire, making it easily accessible to those wanting to visit several museums in a day. At the same time it is also embedded in a living neighborhood.
The incredible collection will be on display for the citizens of Athens, and simultaneously provide the city with a new visitor attraction, on a level with some of the leading contemporary art museums in Europe.
This article first appeared on Greece Is (www.greece-is.com), an English-language publishing initiative by Kathimerini.