NEON was founded in 2013 by the collector Dimitris Daskalopoulos. The organisation puts on exhibitions in various spaces in Athens. In doing so, artists are invited to explore the relationship between modern Athens and its rich past. One recent exhibition saw the takeover of a neoclassical building in Kolonaki. The former residence of the Greek Prime Minister, the building was repurposed for students during the 1970s revolution. In his exhibition, which was entitled A Puppet Sun, Kostis Velonis created sculptures that responded to the nuances of each room. The effect was powerful and evocative, re-imagining the venue’s history in a new light.
Alongside organisations that have roaming venues are new permanent spaces. Enterprise Projects is one such example. Co-founders of the project Danai Giannoglou and Vasilis Papageorgiou moved into the space after graduating from the main art school in Athens. The organisation was ‘created out of our need to express and share our point of view concerning the contemporary artistic creation’, the pair explains on their website. A self-funded space, Enterprise Projects enjoys the freedom to experiment with formats and curatorial stances. One exhibition, Car Service II, examined the car as a symbol rather than a functional object. The exhibition asked questions such as ‘does the car owner gradually start to look like the car itself?’ Art is a serious business in Athens, but having control of the space allows for more room to play.
Subrosa Space is another example of local innovation. Centrally located near Monastiraki, the space regularly hosts evenings that welcome a diverse range of international talent. Previous shows have seen frenetic live performances from the likes of Peter Max Lawrence and Andrew Robinson Champlin. Venues such as these provide a platform for emerging talent to reach new audiences. They also foster a strong sense of community. The energy and dynamism of the young creatives are palpable.
This dynamic approach to abandoned spaces can also be seen in the prolific presence of street art in Athens. Graffiti is most prominent in the Exarchia area, but murals can be found throughout the city. These Greek artists use public space not only to criticise the political landscape but also to celebrate the Athenian community. Artists such as Thisisopium and Cacaco Rocks have made international names for themselves, and increasing numbers of street artists are coming from abroad to work in the city.
Inside traditional gallery spaces, local Greek artists are working across hugely diverse mediums. And while some are directly engaging with the effects of the crisis in their work, many are focussing on more universal themes. It makes for a vibrant new landscape. Being able to live and work as an artist in a major European city is rare, and the communal creative atmosphere at the heart of the city is energising. Alongside the diversity of topics being investigated, the mediums used to explore themes are hugely varied. As a flavour, recent exhibitions include Athens-based collective Arbit City Group, who exhibited marble sculptures of broken ships, neon installations and prints. Their works focussed on challenging the shipping industry in Greece. Meanwhile, a recent opening at the State of Concept saw a virtual reality installation from Loukia Alavanou.
While the prolific output is hugely exciting, such diversity comes with challenges too. In a recent interview, emerging artist Aristeidis Lappas commented that there was a need ‘to figure out a common place, a common line, between the artists working in Athens right now.’
Financially, the Greek art scene is yet to reflect the value of talent within the city. However, there are a handful of commercial galleries making an international impact and bringing fiscal stimulus. One such place is The Breeder, a privately owned gallery that has been operating in its current home since 2008. In a previous interview with Culture Trip, the director of The Breeder explained that ‘Athens is rapidly becoming a hub for artists, curators and creative people from all around the world, and the result is that the Greek scene is becoming truly international.’ The gallery, alongside a small set of others, finds itself in an exciting position for representing Greek talent abroad. Meanwhile, it also nurtures the burgeoning art scene from within the city. The mass attendance at Breeder openings speaks for its success.
The lack of a huge Greek art market presents an exciting opportunity to invest and encourage new work. Commercial spaces with dynamic programmes are also creating a community where buyers and artists can form lasting relationships.
Cheap rent and unused spaces have also proved attractive to artists from abroad. Since the crisis, there has been an increase in creative immigration, with people from other major European cities coming to develop their practice in Athens; this reached a new level in 2017 when the city co-hosted Documenta 14. The art fair brought international artists and curators to the city over a six-month period from April to September. For better or, some would argue, for worse, the impact is still being felt six months later as many new creatives arrive, and Athens wrestles with the title of ‘The New Berlin’.
While the art scene is certainly thriving, Athens has in no way recovered from the impact of the economic crisis. As such, there is already the beginnings of disparity between the buzz about creativity and the daily realities of Athenian life. Where this is best reconciled is when exhibitions by international artists actively feed back into the community. A recent exhibition by Navine G. Khan-Dossos donated a third of the money made from sales of her work to the Transgender Support Association in Athens. The organisation works to ensure safety amongst the Trans community in the area around The Breeder, where Navine’s exhibition took place.
With opportunity comes responsibility, and where the two align often proves to be the most impactful both creatively and for the community at large.