The past and present of city life

In the past two decades or so, Athens has changed at a rapid pace. The cost of living has increased but so have the opportunities that the city offers its inhabitants: Its cultural life is richer, as is the variety of services and products available to the public. Although still a peripheral city compared with the large European metropolises, present-day Athens is a different city from what it used to be. But somehow, one has the sense that the sudden and rapid changes that have taken place have not allowed for the city’s past to assimilate into the present or for people to grow aware of the city’s recent history and more traditional aspects. Two separate group exhibitions on contemporary art have their own way of making the public think about such issues, about what Athens used to be and has become in the past few years. In an unusual and playful exhibition titled «The Athenians» and currently on display at the Zoumboulakis gallery, six contemporary artists have created their own version of what they feel Athens and its people to be. Drawing on his usual humor and light sarcasm, Antonis Kyriakoulis has sketched large cartoons – some in the form of banners – of female figures, one assumes, the Athenian socialite ladies. Captions and words poke fun at social gatherings and focus attention on the deeper tensions in the Greek social class structure. Constantinos Kakanias, a Greek artist who lives in New York, has drawn a huge ancient Greek amphora (the painting is humorously placed on a pedestal) decorated with figures of «Mrs Tependris» – a grand-dame jet-setter and the artist’s famous fictional character – and her entourage. With smart humor, Kakanias speaks of how a figure that represents some of the most important aspects of contemporary life understands the country’s past. A cute and pleasant yet, at a second glance, slightly disturbing painting by Diamantis Aidinis depicts pedestrians at one of the city’s crossroads. The different scale of the figures and the angles from which the images are painted evoke a sense of people’s loneliness moving in a crowd. There are also Paris Chaviaras’s small-scale paintings that put together images and objects collected from everyday life, the dreamlike assemblages of Antonis Michailides and a collection of small paintings by Yiannis Skaltsas. Ranging from the humorous to a more esoteric feeling, «The Athenians» presents six different versions of how living in this city is experienced. The fact that the exhibition is being held at one of the city’s oldest and most established galleries enhances the allusions that it makes to the city’s local character. The second exhibition does not make any direct reference to Athens, nor does it intend to. This is a group exhibition on the genre of drawing rather than on a particular subject matter. A company by the name of «Synthesis» has put together works by 20 different artists, some of them foreign. (Some of the names of the artists participating are Nikos Alexiou, Lizie Calliga, Miltos Manetas, Lila Polenaki and Alexandros Psychoulis, among the Greek artists, and James Watkinson, Claudia Wegener and David Medalla.) It is a varied exhibition that includes some very interesting works made in one of the most basic and oldest genres in the visual arts. Viewing exhibitions with such a contemporary feel and international mix at an establishment like the Parnassos Literary Association is unexpected, to say the least. The still-lifes and landscape paintings made in a pseudo-academic style and shown on the ground floor is much closer to the kinds of exhibitions normally shown here. Parnassos is one of the oldest but now old-fashioned, rather frumpy cultural establishments of the city, a sort of club and venue for the «culturally sensitive» members of the Athenians bourgeoisie. By holding this contemporary art exhibition on the premises of Parnassos, the organizers of the show have created an odd mix of old and new, as one of the city’s more traditional venues displays aspects of its current scene. It provides yet another occasion to think about continuity and transformations and the ways that Athenians position themselves in respect to their past and present of their city. «The Athenians,» at the Zoumboulakis gallery (20 Kolonaki Square, 210.360.8278) through March 10. The group drawing exhibition at the Parnassos Literary Association (8 Karitsi Square, 210.322.1917) runs through February 28. ([email protected])

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.