CULTURE

Art made in the form of books

On a standard working-day evening the Evripidis bookstore in Halandri is bustling with people brousing the shelves for a book that might catch their interest. The bookstore’s design – the modern version of an old-fashioned bookstore with shelves running the length of the wall and three stories running perimetrically as galleries – makes the commotion visible throughout the shop. It is this lively atmosphere of a public space that artist Kyrillos Sarris found as the ideal condition for organizing a series of events and exhibitions on «Artists’ Books,» a genre of art that was born in the 1960s and, generally speaking, is art modeled after the form of books. Back then, artists’ books were born out of a concern for democratizing art, for bringing it closer to a broader public and rendering art as the lively element of a collective experience. The manner in which art was displayed and the choice of venue were geared toward this objective. The events held at the Evripidis bookstore, which began in late February and will culminate at the end of May, are jointly organized by Sarris and art historian-curator Nadia Argyropoulou in collaboration with Evripidis and are the bookstore’s unusual and rather sophisticated way of celebrating its 50th anniversary. The events consist of a number of lectures and the alternating exhibitions on the work of four Halandri-based artists who work in the genre: Kyrillos Sarris, Markos Kabanis, Tassos Vrettos and Yiannis Kouroudis. Exhibitions also include the display of a selection from the Marzona collection, an internationally reputable collection of artists’ books and all sorts of documents related to arte povera, minimal and conceptual art. The small selection from the Marzona collection include artists’ books by some of the biggest names in conceptual art: Daniel Buren, Lawrence Weiner as well as the Art & Language group are among them. Whereas the exhibition by Kyrillos Sarris stretched throughout the bookstore’s shelves with the works displayed in a discreet way among the books for sale, thus helping ascribe new meaning to them, the Marzona collection is intentionally displayed in a more standard, museum-like way with the books placed in display cases and made obvious to the book browsers. The exhibition on the Marzona collection is meant to point to the history of the genre and to introduce the viewer to a now-waning art form that had great currency in the ’60s. At the time, it was born out of a more general trend for «dematerializing» art, a tendency that placed emphasis on the idea rather than the end product of art and generated conceptual art, performance, video or process art among other art forms. Artists’ books either served as documentations of an artwork or were independent art forms. They were produced either as multiples or came as one-of-a-kind books. Guided by the utopian, politically minded quests of the art of the time, Sarris still hopes to create the conditions for art to become more democratic, more accessible to a broad public. Ironically, it is mostly the art that imitates popular imagery and advertisement aesthetics that now seems more geared to the larger public. Artists’ books are too intellectual and elitist to fulfill that purpose. Is there a dynamic place for them in the contemporary art world and is their original, socially sensitive role still pertinent to our days? The exhibitions and events at the Evripidis bookstore are an occasion to ponder such issues. On April 14 there will be a lecture on Maria Tsantsanoglou, who is curator of the Costakis collection of the Russian Avant-Garde. The series of events will culminate in a round-table discussion scheduled for May 26. Art historians Daniel Marzona and Denis Zacharopoulos and conceptual art theoretician Seth Siegelaub will participate. At the Evripidis bookstore in Halandri (11 Andrea Papandreou, 210.680.0644/www.evripidis.gr).