Art’s playful and serious sides

At the end of the vast and impeccably arranged exhibition of the Dakis Ioannou contemporary art collection, it is a work by the renowned American artist Christopher Wool that sums up the playful mood and upbeat, contemporary mood that runs throughout the show. In one of Wool’s works using graphics and words as imagery, the painting reads: «If you can’t take a joke, you can get the fuck out of my house.» Although in bold, black print, all the more prominent against a white background, the words are not necessarily discernible as words carrying any particular message, but as letters that can be enjoyed for their visual qualities. Balancing between form and content, decoration and meaning, Wool’s work annihilates the very meaning it produces: it plays on ambiguity, predictability and surprise. «Monument to Now,» which is the title of this long-awaited exhibition and one of the most ambitious Athens 2004 cultural events, expresses, by its very title, this punning ambiguity and playful mood. It takes an open-minded, relaxed approach to art, while also acknowledging its fluidity and diversity. Extending throughout a large industrial building in the heart of Nea Ionia, as well as at the Deste Foundation in Neo Psychico, «Monument to Now» is the second-biggest display of the collection of Cypriot businessman Dakis Ioannou after «Everything that is Interesting is New» which was held in 1996 at the Athens School of Fine Arts. It includes works by 61 international artists, most of them established, as well as several who are up-and-coming in the art world. Included among them are: Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Robert Gober, Olafur Eliasson, Kiki Smith, Kara Walker, Nari Ward, Douglas Gordon, Liza Lou, Ghada Amer, Matthew Barney, Gilbert & George and Charles Ray. George Lappas, Nikos Navridis and the young Lina Theodorou are the exhibition’s three Greek participants. Ioannou, whose influence and reputation as an art collector is world renowned, has gathered five international curators from three different generations to collaborate in «Monument to Now.» The curators are: Dan Cameron, curator at New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as curator of the recent Istanbul biennale; Alison Gingeras, curator at Pompidou’s National Museum of Modern Art in Paris; Massimiliano Gioni who was one of the curators at the 50th Venice Biennale and curator of the 2004 Manifesta biennale; Nancy Spector, curator of contemporary art at New York’s Guggenheim Museum and Jeffrey Deitch, a long-time collaborator of Ioannou’s and of one of New York’s most renowned curators of contemporary art. They have all worked together in selecting the works from the Dakis Ioannou collection and have presented them in a way that includes different points of views in one entity. The outcome is a broad-ranging presentation of contemporary art (there are works in all media) that takes no single direction, but attempts to be as balanced and varied as possible, within, however, the context of an art collection whose focus is on the Anglo-Saxon contemporary scene and, somehow, on an «American,» pop-like, more extroverted aesthetic. The strong presence of works by Jeff Koons, one of Ioannou’s preferred artists (it is Koons’s «One Total Equilibrium Tank» that inspired Ioannou to explore contemporary art in the mid-1980s), is probably one of the most obvious examples of this aesthetic. The artist’s giant «Balloon Dog» (actually made of stainless steel but appearing as lightweight as a balloon), together with his huge, collage-like paintings, express a playful mood and the collection’s taste toward works that show contemporary art’s flexible engagement with different, often seemingly contrasting, issues and aesthetics. Jeffrey Deitch’s argument of how contemporary art is increasingly based on the idea of «collage,» both in terms of form and content, is a description that fits the collection’s profile. Chris Ofili’s collage-like paintings, for example, appropriate elements from the decorative arts and African folk art which it blends with the tradition of Western painting. Takashi Murakami’s «Inochi» (his most recent work finished in time for the exhibition), a bionic cyborg, suggests contemporary art’s engagement with issues pertaining to biotechnology. Original installations by the British artistic duo of Tim Noble and Sue Webster, in which a specially lit heap of discarded materials placed on the floor creates the shadow image of the two artists on the wall, is a body of works that reflects on the relationship between high modernism, contemporary art and mass culture. It also considers the role and persona of the contemporary artist, an issue that curator Alison Gingeras elaborates on in her extensive essay. In a more self-sarcastic mode, an installation by Maurizio Cattelan in which an effigy of his head emerges out of a trap-door is also concerned with the role of the contemporary artist and his relationship with museums and art institutions. Like many of the works in «Monument to Now,» Cattelan’s installation invites the viewer to seriously reflect on contemporary issues but to also amuse himself with art. This blend of seriousness and play is one of the reasons that makes «Monument to Now» such a distinctive exhibition. «Monument to Now,» at the Deste venue in Nea Ionia (E. Pappa & Filellinon, open Tuesdays-Saturdays 12 – 9 p.m.) and the Deste Foundation of Contemporary Art in Neo Psychico (8 Omirou, open Mondays-Fridays 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Saturdays 12 – 4 p.m.) through the end of the year. (Check the opening hours over the Olympic Games period). Info at: 210.672.9460 or at