Athenian ‘Grand Promenade’ of art

Athens rarely has the pleasure of hosting large exhibitions of contemporary art held in public places. Outlook, an event that took place from October 2003 to January 2004, may not have included many streets and public squares in the Greek capital, but it certainly made an impression. It also helped to kick-start the overall idea of public exhibitions. Athina by Art came next. It was held during the 2004 Athens Olympics and featured the work of established and emerging Greek artists. Put on display along the pedestrian streets of Dionysiou Areopagitou and Apostolou Pavlou, among other central points, they lent the city a certain air, but unfortunately fell victim to vandalism. This summer, Athens has welcomed the National Museum of Contemporary Art, whose aim is to merge that past with the present. A plethora of artists, among which are A-list international names, have been inspired by the capital’s archaeological sites and have either created works in situ or are presenting existing works that are in harmony with the exhibition’s overall spirit: an open forum addressing local and universal issues, fantasy and reality, memory and landscapes. Titled «The Grand Promenade» to highlight the outdoor character of the event, this expansive exhibition represents the first real effort to bring a grand scope of contemporary art to the city of Athens. Running until September 29, the event takes in the archaeological center of Athens, with exhibitions to be held at the museum (in the former Fix factory), the Technopolis art complex in Gazi, at the premises of the Association of Greek Archaeologists on Ermou Street, the Turkish baths in Plaka, the Athens campus of the University of Indiana (also in Plaka), the Roman Agora, the School of Fine Arts on the corner of Tholou and Panos streets (Plaka), the Melina Mercouri Foundation (Polygnotou Street) and along the pedestrian walkway of Dionysiou Areopagitou. According to museum director and exhibition curator Anna Kafetsi, there was an initial desire to have some of these artworks remain in the city permanently, but this was quashed by bureaucratic and other obstacles. «The reasoning behind the exhibition was not to adorn the streets of the city,» said Kafetsi. «In contrast, we wanted the museum to have an open dialogue with the city, to spread across it, from the columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus to Plato’s Academy, to be open to the public.» The exhibition brings together some 80 artworks by 44 Greek and foreign artists, including Anish Kapoor, Gary Hill, Costis Velonis, Rachel Whiteread, Kutlug Ataman, and many more.