Young artists in competition

Contemporary Greek artists often complain about the lack of substantive art criticism in this country. They will often say that they receive no constructive feedback for their work and that the appraisal of a work of art by Greek art critics is usually ad hoc rather than grounded on well-argued criteria. Although it somehow seems that artists will always have something to complain about, their point about art criticism and curatorial work in Greece is not entirely unfounded. Especially at a time of increasing antagonism that a constantly expanding art market and the proliferation of art exhibitions have created, artists are constantly driven to look for new opportunities, exposure and feedback. This is the sort of feedback that the Deste Prize hopes to give to young contemporary artists. The prize is a biennial event that the Deste Foundation established in 1999, soon after it opened up the Deste Center for Contemporary Art. Six years down the road, the center has changed its orientation by focusing on exhibitions exclusively drawn from the art collection of Dakis Joannou (the renowned art collector who is the man behind the foundation and the center) rather than more general exhibitions, but has maintained the Deste Prize event. So while the Deste Center is becoming more «specialized» and at the same time a less rigid, program-based, museum-type institution, it is also maintaining a practice that is somehow at odds with its recent turn. This probably stems from a conviction that contemporary artists need both support and feedback. Running for the fourth time, the Deste 2005 Prize will be awarded on September 20 to one of the six short-listed Greek artists for a work that each artist has created especially for their participation in the Deste competition. The prize comes with a 10,000-euro grant. The artists are Costis Velonis, Poka-Yio (a pseudonym for Polydoros Kariofillis), Dora Ekonomou, Christodoulos Panayiotou, Stefanos Tsivopoulos and Dimitris Foutris. They are all artists of roughly the same age group (the artists’ ages range from their late 20s to just over their mid-30s). With the exception of the Deste competition held two years ago in which participants were all established artists, the prize aims at a young age group. The idea is to support and give exposure to the work of emerging artists rather than enhance the reputation of an already established one. The artists were chosen by a committee appointed by the foundation team (headed by Joannou himself). The members of the committee change each time around, but it is always varied. This year it included art critic and curator Christoforos Marinos, art collector Grigoris Papadimitriou, artist Maria Papadimitriou, director of the Nicosia Municipal Art Center Yiannis Toumazis, publisher/director of Design + Art in Greece and Architecture in Greece magazines Orestis Doumanis, and art critic Avgoustinos Zenakos. A different committee (again chosen by the Deste Foundation) will decide on the prize winner. Dakis Joannou, Nicolas Bourriaud (who is director of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the institution where works from the Dakis Joannou collection are currently shown), artist Urs Fischer, art collector Pauline Karpidas and arts editor of Artforum magazine Scott Rothkopf make up an international team that will judge the best work. All highly prestigious names in the art world, their reputation will help give the winning artist access to broader, international exposure. Visitors can make their own choice by visiting the exhibition on the Deste Prize, which opened at the Deste Center for Contemporary Art in late spring. Each work is exhibited in a separate space and given enough breathing space to be viewed in isolation from the rest of the competing works. A two-screen video by Stefanos Tsivopoulos follows the movements of a young couple in the confined space of their apartment studio. In one screen the house is orderly and in the next completely destroyed. There is nothing much going on in either of them, but the psychological distance between the two partners builds a tension that has a gripping, disturbing effect. Spare, straightforward images that create an interesting effect is also highlighted in a video installation by Christodoulos Panayiotou, who is the exhibition’s youngest artist. On one screen the image of colorful water fountains, together with the acoustic background of a love song, points to our snug familiarity with the artificial and kitsch sentimentality. On the adjacent screen, a spectacle of phantasmagoric shapes that fighter airplanes create in the sky, is again about how emotions are trivialized and made artificial, not by mass entertainment but oddly enough by the war industry. Dimitris Foutris’s installation references the rock music subculture with a certain teenage nostalgia. Poka-Yio’s life-size, chocolate-covered garbage truck suspended above the ground seems like another child’s fantasy. Dora Economou’s «Hong Kong Garden» is a sprawling installation, a mix of a disorderly interior environment with urban detritus and decorative patterns. Another installation, this time by Costis Velonis – the eldest artist of the exhibition who is known through various other exhibitions – is an interesting play of scale and a subtle evocation of dream-like images. When the committee reaches its decision in late September, one of the six artists will be offered an opportunity for broader exposure. For some artists this recognition may come too soon; after all, an artist cannot be judged by a single work but by a body of work that he has built over time. But in the end it does not really matter. After all, the abundance of prizes tends to make them no more than incentives for artists to keep working harder. The works short-listed for the Fourth Deste Prize are on display at the Deste Center (8 Omirou, Neo Psychico, 210.672.9460), until October 29. After the closing of the show, Deste will move to its new premises at Nea Ionia, a large building that housed the «Monument to Now» exhibition last year.

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