CULTURE

The Averoff opens its decks to modern exhibits

When it was taken out of commission in the mid-1940s, the Averoff ship had already established a glorious history of successful battles during the Balkan Wars. It was a historical landmark that captured a seminal point in Greek history and once the ship was turned into a museum (through the initiative of Admiral Nikolaos Pappas, also former commander in chief of the Hellenic Navy) in the mid-’80s, the history that it conjured up became even more vivid. But during the past few years and largely owing to the work of rear admiral and director of the Averoff battleship Aristotelis Dimitsas, the Averoff museum also began to expand to other, not strictly historical exhibits. Although a warship loaded with historical symbolism, the Averoff ship is putting across signs of a flexible contemporary museum, and its most recent exhibit on contemporary art (currently on view) is one of the best examples of this winning profile. Innovative projects Inspired by an exhibit on Kounellis, Dimitsas had the idea of organizing an exhibit on contemporary artworks made with the leftovers from the ship’s renovation works. This initial plan never materialized but the current exhibit fulfills the wish for showing contemporary art on the ship’s premises and as such shows an openness on the part of the Hellenic Navy for hosting alternative, innovative artistic projects. Art has, of course, been shown at the Averoff ship before, but both the works and the display were more conventional, as in a group exhibit in 1996 that mainly comprised paintings by contemporary artists on the subject of the sea. Another exhibit scheduled for the near future will also focus on seascapes, this time by one of Greece’s most important masters of the genre, the 19th century painter Konstantinos Volanakis. One of the most acclaimed academic artists of this country, Volanakis is unequaled in the range and skill with which he has honored Greece’s maritime history, and for that reason the display of his works in a warship will most likely produce a most suitable effect. Apart from the art exhibits, the Averoff museum has naturally taken part in exhibits on Greek history. Items from the ship, for example, participated in an exhibit organized by the Historical Archives of the Hydra Museum and plans for this coming spring involve participation in a touring exhibit on the war cruises that took part in the Cretan struggle of 1868. Later in the year, the Averoff ship will also take part in an exhibit on the Balkan Wars. But the principal focus of the Averoff ship museum is of course the ship itself. This is why Dimitsas has initiated two major projects that involve restituting the ship’s powder magazines and using electrical power to simulate the motion of the engine rooms. The greatest ambition, however, lies in turning the 25-acre surroundings off the bay where the Averoff ship is moored, into an area that, together with the adjacent Averoff ship, will highlight Greece’s maritime history. Property of the Hellenic Navy, this area has long been destined to become a «Park for the Hellenic Maritime Tradition,» but nothing concrete has yet been done toward this goal. The only other landmark in the area is a life-sized replica of the Athenian triremes which the British Trireme Foundation in collaboration with the Greek Ministry of Culture (at the time of Melina Merkouri’s tenure) and the Hellenic Navy helped produce in the mid-’80s. Unfortunately, however, the ship has since been falling apart, although there are plans to renovate it for an exhibit in Germany next year. For a country with such a rich maritime history, there is more than enough material to spark off innovative ideas about how to best present this tradition. The Averoff ship is currently one of most successful and innovative projects of the Hellenic Navy carried out in this respect.