Scarecrows descend on town of Metsovo

The last thing one would expect in the town of Metsovo this summer is to see artworks by Doni and Jake Chapman and Mariko Mori. The Averoff Gallery, however, has organized an exhibition whose theme is «The Scarecrow» and which features a string of acclaimed Greek and foreign artists showing their work at the gallery and other venues, including the vineyards of the Aghiou Nikolaou Monastery, around this small town in Epirus. The exhibition is jointly curated by Greece’s Olga Daniilopoulou with Nico de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley. The two British curators spoke to Kathimerini about the Museum of Installation, their original artistic project which, however, no longer exists, as well as about the contemporary art scene in London and the possibility of Greek art becoming better known abroad. How did you become involved in the Metsovo project? We were contacted by Olga Daniilopoulou. In art, we can use the terminology of haute couture. The «Scarecrow» exhibition belongs to the pret-a-porter and not haute-couture category in the sense that we brought works from abroad that we were familiar with and which were not new. But every time you place an installation in a different space it is like seeing a different work of art. You can therefore have an in-depth discussion on what is original and what is not. How was the Museum of Installation in London established? Nicola and I had a gallery since 1986 that showed installations only. We later decided that we did not like the idea of trading in artwork, but we wanted to stay in the field. So, in the early 1990s, we rented a space and called it the Museum of Installation. By definition, the name excludes the possibility of commercialization. It is not, of course, a museum in the strict sense of the term, with a hierarchy, infrastructure and employees. But, people could come and visit us and see works of art that were then entered into our archives in the form of photographs and texts. Museums normally have to do with the past, but you commission new work from artists. Isn’t that an oxymoron? For us, the concept of space is extremely valuable: a building with cheap rent, a five-year lease, flexibility and immediate access. Our initial idea was for the museum itself to be a huge installation. Every artist who would show his or her work could change the space in order to show it to its best possible advantage. Don’t forget that in the early 90s, installation was a relatively new means of artist expression… How did you get funding? We looked for sponsors for every project, but this gave us a lot of trouble because we never had anything concrete to show them to convince them. Why did you close down the website and the museum itself? We live in a time when exhibitions are presented via the media and the Internet and this is a very good thing for the production of art on the whole. But we are not so sure that it is good for installation art. You can only see what it is about if you see it up close. This was why we decided to close down the website. Similarly, the museum closed down a year ago and now we are just involved in writing. Even though we could rest on our laurels after 20 years of work, we are more interested in seeing how the museum venture could survive in a different form. With the closing of the museum, we also destroyed all the installations we had in our possession. Like performance art, installations also have an enormous impact the moment they are presented, but their nature is fleeting. Did you perhaps close down the museum also because you did not want to become bogged down in routine? That certainly plays a huge role. We are still very idealistic. More than establishing a new space, we are eager to do new things from the start. If we were not committed to this, we would not have been able to break down and rebuild our space for different exhibitions, especially as we did not have any steady source of funding. Basically, you do everything a conventional museum does not. What do you think of the Tate Modern’s role in making London the center of the visual arts scene once more? That cannot be exclusively attributed to the Tate. It was certainly important but we must also bear in mind the contribution of galleries that attracted the art market. At the same time, we saw a new generation of British artists in the late 90s, such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, who today are recognized throughout the world. The period of young British art showed us that the definition of an artist and how he must behave has changed, as well as the artist’s relationship with the media. What do you think of art superstars? They behave in a certain way because they want their work to become overvalued. Otherwise, why would collectors buy it? The market sets the tone. Even when an artist proves to be a stock market bubble, the game goes on. It is like a fire that you keep feeding with wood. Do you think that we may see a comeback of painting anytime soon? Painting never left the stage. It remains the most valuable thing in art, for historical and other reasons. It is the most established, and difficult, means through which to convey an image. So I think that asking whether painting will survive is like asking if there will be a tomorrow. There may, of course, not be… What are your impressions of contemporary Greek art? It is possible for Greek artists to gain a reputation abroad. In Spain in the 80s and 90s, the government funded and created an infrastructure for Spanish art from young artists. They have now only just matured and are making international art. The same is happening in many countries right now. Maybe it will happen in Greece, too.