History of Contemporary Art in Greece
“Art is art-as-art and everything else is everything else” – Ad Reinhardt
Contemporary art is defined as the art movements that emerged in the post-WWII era, c. post-1945. From expressionism to performance art, installations and video art, to NFTs; from the Venice Biennale of 1895 to a plethora of offshoots around the globe in the 2020s; from the legitimation of street art as a gallery-worthy form of art to popup and guerilla shows; from national collections to art fairs and an omnipotent market for contemporary art around the globe.
At first, contemporary art in Greece was foremost produced by Greek ex-pats who came into contact with the international avant-garde of their time, especially in France, Italy and the USA. The picture changed radically in the 1980s, when the domestic contemporary art production caught up, an audience was established and galleries started emerging, which culminated institutionally in the 1990s with the establishment of the Syndemos Aithouson—an art gallery association and the subsequent launch of the first commercial art fair in Greece, ART ATHINA, still hosted to this day by the same initiative. While focus is specifically on Greece, contemporary art and its material manifestations did not emerge or develop in Greece; thus, parallel to the Greek stage, we will study global or regional (i.e. France; USA) developments, depending on the era, and form thus a solid idea about the overall history of contemporary art.
Students acquire a first-hand knowledge of the contemporary art scene in Greece, in a course combining class lectures that explore the history and theory of contemporary art, with scheduled site visits of a diverse nature. The latter range from the iconic EMST (National Museum of Contemporary Art) and the National Gallery, to Foundations, such as the Takis Foundation, DESTE and NEON, and Onassis Foundations, private commercial galleries, including but not limited to legends, such as Citronne and The Breeder, temporary exhibitions, in expected, but also in surprising unconventional venues; field walks to discuss the public presence of contemporary art (mostly sculpture) in Athens, including a unique example of landscape sculpture of the grand scale and street art; and contemporary art archives. In addition, visits to artists’ studios and the art ‘laboratory’ that is the Athens School of Fine Arts (the annual graduates show) facilitate an interaction with the producers of contemporary art today, and help the students familiarize themselves with the artistic process, contextualizing the artistic production spatially and culturally. Last but not least, the work of the professor as an independent contemporary art curator is discussed critically and students have the opportunity to watch a show coming to life, depending on the professor’s curating commitments each semester.
In lieu of a conclusion, contemporary art is in a state of flow: this is its basic tenet and the key to understanding and interpreting its many faces. The emerging Greek artists of today will be the established stars in the histories of contemporary art of tomorrow and names of significant market value today will be forgotten by the history of the longue durée.