Art fairs tend to be unofficial indices of a society’s prosperity and creativity. While presenting a selection of the local and foreign visual arts harvest to the broader public, they also reflect the overall state of the market through deals as well as in the networking done between gallery owners, collectors and institutions such as museums and curators. The 16th Art Athina opens tomorrow at the Tae Kwon Do complex in Faliro – and it’s a big wager. The fair, which runs to Sunday, comes at a time of great financial distress, yet at the same time revealing the willingness of participants to send a powerful message. Despite the overall negative climate, the fair had no cancellations and will showcase 58 gallery pavilions from 11 countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, the United States, Italy, Cyprus, Britain, the Netherlands and Turkey), presenting works by over 300 artists, including well-known Greek and international names. Given that all eyes are on Greece these days, we, as a country, taking advantage of the situation, can prove that we have a lot to say in the realm of visual arts. Just before the fair’s opening, Kathimerini spoke to participating gallery owners as well as organizers, who have left nothing to chance and this year are once again promoting an ambitious program of visits by international collectors. «During such a period, art can produce interesting and stimulating works, breathing life into a strained society. I believe that a visit to the Tae Kwon Do complex will leave visitors with a sense of optimism, the feeling that we can move forward and have a noteworthy artistic production,» said Art Athina consultant Maria Panagidou, who has been part of the event since its establishment back in 1993. «Art Athina has always been a lively dialogue between this country and others and this will be evident this year more than ever before.» «Over the last few months, we took part in three international fairs: the London Freeze Festival, one in Miami and New York’s Armory Show. Everyone commented on the state of the Greek economy but in a well-meaning, humorous way,» noted Stathis Panagoulis of The Breeder gallery. Currently celebrating its eighth year, the gallery has also developed a significant presence abroad. «I believe that Art Athina will reflect the kind of numbness that defines Greeks right now. Even at the gallery we have fewer visitors, people feel they’re hanging in midair as they confront a new era. This year we decided to present works by Vlassis Kaniaris, juxtaposing them against works by Stelios Faitakis, creating a bridge between two different generations in search of the kind of introspection that is needed at this particular point. Generally speaking, during such periods fairs present a more conservative choice of works – paintings, for instance. We have created our own mark, however, and we are not planning on changing things.» One of the fair’s pioneers, gallery owner Ileana Tounta, is keeping her cool: «I took part in the Armory Show in March, where the economy seems to be picking up again. The markets are interested in established names and no one seems willing to experiment. As far as Art Athina is concerned, I think we will get some buyers who have yet to be affected by the crisis, which up to now has affected the middle and lower classes. In any case, life goes on and that’s precisely the kind of dynamic that art reflects. Though it might be for the wrong reasons, the world is watching right now and there are always opportunities for professionals who have shown credibility and consistency. I hope the recession will make us focus on art and not the stock exchange of works.» Qbox’s Myrtia Nikolakopoulou, who participated in the Berlin fair last October, reports that the Germans showed great interest and curiosity as regards the Greek visual arts scene. She remains unfazed by the current difficulties. «Even a fruit and vegetable shop situated just below the gallery on Armodiou Street closed its doors. No matter what the mood is locally or internationally, however, I maintain some kind of reserved optimism given the circumstances and I believe that art always carries positive energy. Galleries may be showcasing more conservative works during times of crises, yet, personally, I’m not influenced by all this when making my selections. We have developed a certain profile and will carry on defending our choices.» Alexandros Stanas, general director of this year’s Art Athina, firmly believes that the event will make an impression, due to the large number of institutions that will be coming together for the first time. «From the Greek National Gallery to Deree College and from Dimitris Antonitsis’s Hydra School Project to the galleries, they will all be present. At the same time, we are bringing over a select group of private collectors and personalities from abroad, people who will be visiting not only the fair but a number of Greek museums as well,» the Art Athina general director said. This year’s edition of Art Athina is hosting a variety of events, including the parallel exhibition «Greek Artists’ Books: Contemporary Artworks and Editions,» curated by Maria A. Angeli. The show will offer visitors a chance to view artists’ books at close hand, each a work of art in itself. Among the artists participating in the exhibition are Alexis Akrithakis, Dimitris Alithinos, Stephen Antonakos, Dimitris Antonitsis, Antonis Vathis, Alexandros Georgiou, Eleni Theofylaktou, Zoe Keramea, Dimitris Kontos, Nikos Kryonidis, Margarita Lypiridou, Katherina Mano-lessou, Despina Meimaroglou, MSAZ, Kyrillos Sarris, Panayiotis Terzis, Giorgos Tserionis, Dimitris Tsoublekas, Manolis Charos and Giorgos Hatzimichalis. The invitation-only opening takes place tomorrow at 8 p.m. while the event runs from Friday to Sunday, from noon to 9 p.m. Admittance is 10 euros or 5 euros for students and members of the Chamber of Fine Arts of Greece. Awards Among the various institutions that will be present at Art Athina this year is the Jannis & Zoe Spyropoulos Foundation. The foundation is currently celebrating its 20-year anniversary and will once again bestow the Spyropoulos Awards to students under 30 years old. Works by all eight winners since 2006 will go on display, along with photographic material on all other previous winners. Also, the foundation this year will present a new distinction, the Vassilis J. Valambous Award, which will be bestowed every other year on artists under 35 doing postgraduate work. The award is funded by the collector’s children in his memory. Another Art Athina participant this year is Switzerland’s Motto Distribution, a company specializing in the distribution of visual arts publications from around the world. Among the publications going on display are artists’ books, along with magazines and artistic publications featuring advanced aesthetics.