A museum’s successful outlook

Just off bustling Vassilissis Sofias Avenue, the internal courtyard of the Byzantine and Christian Museum affords visitors a calming reprieve right in the heart of Athens and a suitable atmosphere for viewing the masterpieces of Byzantine art that are included in the surrounding buildings. Yet, for decades, this historical museum had, perhaps unjustly, a severe profile that kept it from achieving high visitor attendance. This profile has completely changed over the past several years and, thanks to the museum’s director, Dimitris Constantios, attendance has tripled. Constantios has managed to turn the museum into an attractive spot for visitors and has «modernized» the museum by organizing exhibitions that place Byzantine art within a broader context. He has also opened up the museum to exhibitions that are not strictly on Byzantine art yet are presented in a way that draws parallels. Among forthcoming plans, examples include an exhibition on Greek photography from the period 1940-1980. The exhibition is scheduled for May and will be held in cooperation with the Organization for the Promotion of Greek Civilization (OPEP). An exhibition on Salvador Dali is to be decided upon in the next few days. In the fall, the museum will host a large exhibition of European porcelain produced by some of the most important manufacturers during the 18th century. The holdings belong to the Passas collection, which was offered on a 20-year loan to the museum last summer, and the exhibition is being held on the occasion of the celebrations of Mozart this year. The exhibition is the first large presentation of European 18th century china in Greece. More immediate plans include an exhibition on the work of two pioneering Greek restorers of Byzantine icons: Fotis Zachariou and the much younger Antonis Glinos, who was one of the first Greek technicians to specialize in paper restoration. The exhibition which opens at the end of the month will focus on the paintings and drawings made by each artist outside their professional work in restoration. At the end of March, the museum will present an exhibition on the preparatory drawings (the so-called anthivola) produced by 18th and 19th century religious icon painters from the area of Chionades in Epirus. By focusing on the techniques used for the making of religious icons, the exhibition provides the viewer with an insider’s perspective on an art form that is sometimes hard to decipher. The museum’s director also has plans for pulling the ample surroundings of the museum into shape and turning them into a park with marble statues and architectural fragments dispersed among the greenery. Work will begin in March and is expected to finish five months after that. A cafe-restaurant that is also under way as well as a renewal of the art shops will create a pleasant and lively atmosphere. An open-air amphitheater is also to host cultural events in the summer months. By the end of the year, everything will be ready to greet the second large exhibition of the museum’s permanent collection in a renewed and reopened premises of 3,000 sq.m. Scheduled for 2007, the exhibition is expected to be a grand event that will top off years of work – work that has helped change our understanding of Byzantine art and has made it a lively part of our culture.

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