Planning ahead for the future

Following its presentation at the Martin Gropius Bau Museum in Berlin and at the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna, the exhibition «Light and Color in the Russian Avant-Garde,» which has been highly praised in the European press, has now arrived home to Thessaloniki’s State Museum of Contemporary Art (SMCA), the museum that organized it by drawing from its famed Costakis collection of Russian avant-garde art. The opening of this important exhibition marked the occasion for a press conference on the museum’s new goals and future exhibition program by its new board, presided over by Giorgos Tsaras, as well as from the museum’s director since the institution’s establishment in 1997, Miltiades Papanikolaou. The Costakis collection is clearly the museum’s strongest asset. Papanikolaou has used it to build an international network of scholars on the Russian avant-garde as well as to also organize large, important exhibitions. This activity, complemented by scholarly catalogues, have helped give the museum international exposure. The presentation of the recent exhibition in Berlin and Vienna is one of the best examples of the museum’s international policy. It is a policy that might gradually enable the exchange of more exhibitions between the SMCA and other museums worldwide. For a Greek museum to enter the echelon of highly ranked museums is a rare luxury, but it is one that the SMCA can afford considering the importance of its permanent collection. Having realized this potential early on, Papanikolaou has effectively been working towards this international direction. A number of exhibitions on the Costakis collection that have already been scheduled are helping to enhance the museum’s reputation both internationally and locally. «Kandinsky and Shamanism,» to be held at the museum a year from now, will examine the ways in which a number of Russian avant-garde artists (Mathiusin, Filonov, Ender, Goncharova and Larionov among them) were influenced by the Russian folk myths and shamanism. The exhibition is a joint collaboration between the SMCA and other museums in Russia and Europe. There is also the ambitious project of a retrospective on Liubov Popova, one of the best represented artists in the museum’s collection (approximately 200 works that cover different periods of his work). The exhibition is scheduled for December 2007 and is to be held in collaboration with the Tretyakov State Gallery, among other museums. A year after that, the SMCA will hold a joint exhibition with Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum to mark the reopening of the Dutch museum. One of the goals of the museum is to also use the collection for designing multidisciplinary exhibitions. An example is an exhibition on the connections between visual arts and film, planned to coincide with the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in November. Drawings for film posters made by the artists of the Russian avant-garde as well as drawings and story-boards by Sergei Eisenstein will be included. Apart from the Costakis collection, the museum will also focus on Greek art, both the history of modern Greek art and contemporary art production. The museum’s board stressed the importance of the museum’s role in supporting and documenting Greek art. An exhibition that will bring together works by selected students of all the schools of fine arts in Greece as well as from several international art schools will be established as an annual event. Every year, the museum will also publish a survey of the visual arts scene in Greece. Meanwhile, it will continue its documentation of Greek art and artists, thus enriching its existing, detailed archives on the subject. Thematic exhibitions There will also be large survey exhibitions on selected themes from 20th century Greek art. The exhibitions officially announced were «Art and Ideology,» an exhibition that is to examine the relationship between Greek art and politics in the period 1930-60 (to be held next fall) and a large exhibition on abstraction in Greek art, scheduled for 2008. The work of expatriate Greek artists is to be included in the exhibition policy of the museum. An exhibition on Switzerland-based Greek artist Sakis Panayiotidis which just opened at the SMCA art is just one example. One of the most important announcements made at the press conference concerns the establishment of an art biennale that is to focus on the art of the broader Balkan region (countries in the area of the Black Sea and the Southern Caucasus are included) and will be held in two years from now. What inspired the idea was the success of «Cosmopolis 1,» an exhibition on the art of the broader Balkan region that was organized by the museum last December. The museum’s other activities have also paved the way toward this upcoming biennale. The Forum for European Cultural Exchanges that was initiated by the SMCA and its Center of Contemporary art (a branch of the museum focusing on experimental, contemporary art) and has been held for five consecutive years (in collaboration with Apollonia and Art Box) has helped to prepare the ground. It is against this backdrop that the museum is currently actively networking with institutions in the broader Balkan region. The participation of eight Greek artists in the «Caravansari 5» annual visual arts forum held in Tblisi, Georgia, is partially organized by the SMCA and is a step toward «Cosmopolis 2.» (The artists to appear in the Georgian exhibition are Babis Venetopoulos, Lydia Dabasina, Christina Dimitriadou, Giorgos Katsangelos, Despina Meimaroglou, Danae Stratou, Evanthia Tsantila and Alexandros Psychoulis). Through its Center of Contemporary Art (an autonomous yet affiliated part of the museum), the SMCA also covers experimental, contemporary and inter-disciplinary projects. Ilias Mykoniatis (a professor of art history at Thessaloniki University and the center’s director) announced an upcoming exhibition on the soundscapes of Constantinos Vita. The exhibition will focus on the visual arts aspect to the work of this musician and is the only specific project the center has made official thus far. Limited exhibition space is one of the major problems that the museum is facing. Apparently, the purchase by the state of a total of 12 acres of former industrial space has been agreed upon. The purchase has still not been made but the funds have apparently been earmarked: 12 million euros in total. Papanikolaou said that he considers the issue closed. Until then, the museum hopes to make the best of its already existing exhibition spaces, the 3,300-square-meter Lazariston Monastery building plus the exhibition space in Thessaloniki’s port which was allocated to the museum in 2001. It will also make the best of its collection. Besides the large, thematic exhibitions, Papanikolaou plans to organize temporary, alternating exhibitions of the works in the Costakis collection, the point being their greater visibility and communication with the public. The museum has organized important exhibitions on an international level, in a very short time and under difficult circumstances, considering that when the museum first opened it practically had no offices. Now the museum’s director and members of the board want to expand further, develop a steady exhibition program and establish a more solid basis as well as a more varied profile. To these ends, greater exhibition space that would enable it to fully benefit from its permanent collection seems necessary. The important exhibitions and the scholarly catalogues it has produced up till now and the well-trained, dedicated staff both need the necessary support to match the good work. A spacious building would not only give the museum better international standing but would also help the museum’s staff to conduct its work more effectively – giving greater visibility to its collection.