As the rents go up, the galleries are moving to Metaxourgeio

A weekend stroll in Psyrri, an area that was once so full of promise, makes it apparent that the opportunity to become an artists’ retreat as well as a place for contemporary art stores has been lost. Will Metaxourgeio share the same fate? The rapid rise and fall of the district is a valuable lesson for the Municipality of Athens, which should have been more sparing in the number of permits it handed out to nightclubs and eateries and made more of an effort to clean up the area’s image. Negative image «When I first opened the gallery here the mood was buoyant and the atmosphere positive,» said Els Hanappe, a Belgian who recently closed her art gallery on Pallados Street. «I liked the fact that there were many art galleries around and it was close to the city’s commercial and historic center,» she said. «We quickly became disillusioned. There was no organized plan to revamp the area, nor any policing. I have been robbed twice. Why should people go and see art in a place where they do not feel safe?» «The government should show more concern. It shouldn’t have handed out permits to all the tavernas; it should have put emphasis on cleanliness and architectural restoration,» she continued. «The initial euphoria could have been preserved if infrastructure works had been carried out. Only bars and cafes have been created,» Hanappe noted, adding that «the number of people who buy art in Greece is very small and will remain so. Turnover therefore is low. The only solution is to work with clients from abroad. When I reopen in Gazi or in Thiseion I will change policy.» Stathis Panagoulis and Giorgos Vamvakidis from the Breeder art gallery agreed. To enter their gallery in Efmorfopoulou Street we had to pass by a group of semi-conscious drug-addled youths. «We are thinking of moving,» said Vamvakidis. «We will probably move to Metaxourgeio. Anyway it’s not where the gallery is located that is important but what we display. We take part in the large fairs abroad and it is not by chance that many of the Greek artists that we represent exhibit their work outside the country. This is true of the clients too.» «When you have a gallery today you have to compete with all the world and not just Athens,» Vamvakidis added. «Our clients are Greeks who are always traveling. They are highly informed. If we do not satisfy their demands they will buy elsewhere abroad. As for the contemporary art market in Greece, we believe it is at its peak. Foreign art galleries are likely to open here soon. There might be activity in the center but it chiefly concerns art galleries that sell paintings for salons and their clients in Kolonaki.»