A visual arts festivity in the city’s center
Wednesday evening in the historic center of Athens had something of a Christmas festive spirit brought into the heart of summer. In this breezy night, everything looked beautiful: the lit-up and freshly painted buildings, the historic monuments, the clean streets and pavements, the views out to the Hymettus mountain line and the Lycabettus hill; they all helped build a calming effect and sense of discreet elegance. Despite the hasty preparations and doubts many had about whether the city would be ready to welcome the Olympic Games, Athens looks its best. Athenians must draw some special satisfaction from this, which is maybe why the mood this particular night seemed so positive. The cafes and restaurants were pleasantly crowded and it seemed everybody was out to enjoy what this city tried so hard for. People of all ages took their time strolling along the extended pedestrian route that begins on Dionysiou Aeropagitou through Thiseion, down through the Kerameikos area and north toward Monastiraki, leading up to Syntagma. There was no rush, just a protracted sense of quiet enjoyment. Athens by Art Contributing to this experience is the visual variety afforded by more than 80 works of sculpture placed throughout the center of Athens. Not just the area around the Acropolis, but also stretching through Omonia, Koumoundourou Square, Pireos Street, the National Gardens, and Philopappou Hill. «Athens by Art» is an open-air sculpture exhibition that outlines a visual arts walk all along Athens. It is an ambitious project (a large open-air sculpture exhibition was held in Athens in 1965, although it was not as large as the current one) organized jointly by Athens Municipality and the Greek section of AICA (the International Association of Art Critics). Following the municipality’s appointment of the project to AICA, 15 members-art critics of the association proposed artists that fit the project’s concept. The commission was assigned at the beginning of the year but preparations only really took off as recently as three months ago. The various organizations that had to be contacted for permission (for example, the Company for the Unification of Archaeological Sites and the archaeological ephorates) and the difficulty involved in coordinating all parties involved, delayed the flow of the project and created complications, some not solved until the last moment. This gives a sense of the concerted effort that went into the project’s realization. «Athens by Art» includes works by established and younger Greek artists, and is, perhaps for that reason, varied and broad, although at times uneven. Not all works suit an open-air location and would be better viewed in the surroundings of a studio. Some artists could have done better, but the limited budget given to each (15,000 euros was the top limit) is a likely explanation for their performance. Three elegant sculptures from Takis’s «Aiolika Signals» positioned across Hadrian’s Arch mark the route along Dionysiou Aeropagitou; they are one of the exhibition’s highlights. Costis Tsoclis’s serpentine form – a reference to Saint George killing the dragon – and Konstantin Xenakis’s marble, commemorative-like work are some of the most monumental along that route. So is Dimitris Alitheinos’s rotating headless effigy of an ancient Greek sculpture – probably that of Poseidon – set high up on a pedestal. Although this seemed to be one of the most popular works, it has raised some controversy among members of the archaeological ephorate. An installation by Yiannis Bouteas near the Herod Atticus Theater is actually situated in an archaeological site, thus creating an interesting blend of history and contemporary art, one setting off the other. Moving along Apostolou Pavlou, a colorful, steel construction by Mark Hatzipateras seems like one of the best choices for an open-air sculpture exhibition. A soaring sculpture by Michalis Katzourakis also seems appropriate, as does Nikos Alexiou’s piece at the entrance of the Kerameikos site. Alexiou’s sculpture is the metal version of his fine, fragile and delicate-looking constructions. Among the video works, Yioula Hatzigeorgiou’s installation along the Kerameikos route helps animate the site through alternating, three-dimensional-looking projections. Maria Loizidi’s work, adjacent to the Kapnikarea church on Ermou, is disturbing, but moving at the same time, and raises issues related to the «other.» A sculpture by the well-known artist Philolaos at the bottom end of Syntagma Square and one by Pavlos at the square’s other end are both discreet, yet prominently positioned. Gallery walk Several walks are required to view the works. Over the course of these walks, one may stop by at any of 23 contemporary art galleries that are open daily from 8 p.m. until midnight, making their contribution to this cultural festivity taking place in Athens on the occasion of the Olympics. «Contemporary Art Gallery Walk» is jointly organized by the Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games Athens 2004 and the Hellenic Art Association, and aimed at familiarizing a broad as well as foreign public with the contemporary art gallery scene in Athens. Several galleries have organized special exhibitions to mark the occasion. The a.antonopoulou.art gallery hosts photographs by Greek artists (Giorgis Yerolymbos, Nikos Daniilidis, Nikos Markou and Paris Petridis) that present an unusual, non-touristic view of the Greek landscape. Up in the area of Kolonaki, the Zoumboulakis gallery has organized «Zoolympics,» a humorous and playful exhibition on the theme of the Olympics. In the area of Thiseion, the Bernier/Eliades gallery is presenting the most recent work by the famous British duo Gilbert and George. Added to the sculptures in «Athens by Art,» these exhibitions point to the enthusiasm the people in this city have put into making the Olympic Games an occasion for recreation and cultural exposure. AICA’s Greek section Founded 53 years ago, the Greek section of AICA is one of the oldest international sections of this international association of art critics. An intellectual milieu whose members included people like Manolis Andronikos, Odysseas Elytis and Vakalo, the Greek AICA has worked toward the advancement of art criticism. Currently headed by art critic Efi Strousa, the Greek section of AICA has in recent years been rapidly expanding to incorporate new members. Its activities involve issuing a yearly publication, the organization of symposia, and participation in international conferences such as the recent Instabul Biennale. Self-funded for the most part through member subscriptions, it also receives partial funding from the Greek Ministry of Culture. «Athens by Art» is the first large project appointed to AICA, which, in a way, is an acknowledgement of its experience in the field.