While writing my piece on Documenta 14, many critics and exhibition goers referred to Athens as the ‘new’ Berlin in terms of art scene. Modern Athens has never been an art capital, but that seems to be changing with the attention brought from the major German art exhibition as well as increased independent artistic production; ranging from the myriad of street art to galleries around the city.
Documenta 14, otherwise called the “museum of 100 days”, has put a spotlight on Greece as an international contemporary art hub, without giving Greek artists the recognition they were expecting.
Documenta has never moved outside its hometown of Kassel, Germany until now. Occurring every five years, it has historically been a place for socio-political discussion and commentary since its start in 1955.
Helena Papadopoulos, founder of Radio Athènes, an institute for the advancement of contemporary visual art, sat down for an interview with me in the center. She said that while there are a higher percentage of Greek artists represented in this Documenta than previous years, many feel excluded from the major contemporary art event.
“There are disheartened Greek artists, and negativity about that,” Papadopoulos said. “They thought that [since] Documenta is here, there would be studio visits and personal interaction [with the local scene].”
However, many critics chastise these complaints. For those already within the contemporary art circle, exclusivity isn’t an issue worth complaining about.
Our Anatolia College professor Yvonne Kosma, who led the group tour around the National Museum of Contemporary Art, said to me that contemporary art, especially at the scale of Documenta, is inherently institutional and elitist. The issue with art commenting on the problems of institution is the fact that contemporary artists are part of the institution, and are addressing the privileged.
The international attention brought to Athens seems shallow and unjustified. It is unclear that the massive influx of tourists and international artists will have any real effect on the local artists who aren’t part of Documenta, which is only a fraction of what is happening artistically in Athens.
An exhibition in the Diplarios School by Michael Landy embraces the Greek public and outsiders of the art world. Landy’s show, “Breaking News-Athens”, invites the Greek public to submit images that encapsulate their experiences within the city.
The images range from graffiti to street signs to logos and cover the walls, floor and ceiling of the exhibition space. Walking from room to room, one is surrounded by the blue oil-stick drawings created in an on-site studio.
The work’s content ranges from criticism of capitalism to criticism of Documenta. “Crapumenta 14” and “Earning from Athens” are two examples I found pasted to the wall. “Athens is the new Athens” was another piece I took note of.
In an interview for BBC, Landy was quoted saying that Athens was the perfect place for an emerging art capital because of the empty buildings and industrial spaces that offer cheap studios and potential exhibition spaces.
A Documenta worker I spoke with mentioned something similar, he thought that independent artists should take advantage of the empty spaces and buildings around Athens for exhibition space. Graffiti and street artists have already taken advantage of the outdoors, it is only a matter of time until contemporary artists claim the interiors.
I think Athens has the potential to be a European art capital. Even walking through the streets is a colorful experience of its own. I have only experienced a fraction of the organized contemporary art exhibits within the city and was impressed by each one and their diverse content and mediums. The other gallery we walked through in the Diplarios School was a student exhibition with some of the most distinct mediums I’ve ever seen. In one room, there was a mirrored slow motion video of a dog reflected onto a pool of black tar. And in another there was an AI cat video complete with floating politicians’ heads.
And while some might discount contemporary art as being too abstract and eclectic to convey meaning, the entire point of contemporary art is its lack of uniformity. Contemporary art is integral to the current cultural dialogue concerning larger ideas like identity and community. Art has a whole is necessary for expression and instills empathetic understanding of other people’s, or artists’, viewpoints and experiences.
Art is only transformative if you allow it to be.