For Sale

In 2008, residential property prices in Greece were through the roof, boosted by the success of the Olympics, and the denial syndrome that made people refuse to acknowledge the approaching crisis. Today, they are down by 42% (-45.3% in real terms). And everybody wants to sell – or rather, needs to sell.
People can’t afford to keep the summer villa on the islands, or the large house in the suburbs which they built with such pride and is now costing them an arm and a leg.

To revive the housing market, the Greek government recently offered residence to non-EU investors purchasing or renting property worth over €250,000. This is known as the “Golden Visa” program and has resulted in a spike in the demand for property by foreigners – especially houses – according to research published  by “spitogatos.gr”,  a website focusing on property investment in Greece. The rise in interest has been particularly evident in January and February 2017 by nationals from Arab states, China, Germany and Turkey.

This might come as a welcome respite for some Greeks; it might also be the perfect opportunity for foreigners to acquire the house of their dreams on a Greek island. And we do want foreigners to keep coming, dont get me wrong – tourism is very important to us. But there is a very dark downside to be considered.

 

The ancient theatre at Argos

At the same time, the Greek government has been implementing a selling-out of public assets in an unprecedented scale and in ways that are mostly suspect, if not downright illegal.

Ports, airports, huge pieces of public real estate including beaches, land and wetlands, dozens of properties abroad, dozens of listed and non-listed monuments, Olympic facilities, national roads, military installations, natural gas, the defense and oil industries, railways, post offices, and profit-making enterprises – all have been sold, or are for sale.

The European Union has a hand – and, of course, an interest – in this (and some countries more than others!) Reading articles about it makes my head ache – the politics and shenanigans involved are surreal. The complications and different opinions are impossible to unravel.

 

Loutsa beach near Athens

History repeats itself – we are a small country coveted by many, because of our climate, natural beauty and geographical position. We are preyed upon, while being in some way complicit in our own destruction.

In twenty years, will Greece still belong to the Greeks? Or will we be the servants of higher powers, in a country where others live in our houses and profit from our natural wealth? Thinking about it makes me scared, and sad.

 

Haute Couture on the Acropolis

January 2017: The Central Archaeological Council (KAS) has turned down a request from Gucci to hold a fashion show in front of the Parthenon, the most famous monument of the Acropolis of Athens.

Gucci’s proposal for the fashion show included the setting up of a runway in front of the Parthenon, on the “Sacred Way”; seats for an audience of 300 selected guests, among them Hollywood stars and fashion editors; a huge tent next to Erechtheion for the models to change clothes and have their hair and make-up done and a place available for a music accompaniment.

However, and despite the fact that Gucci was prepared to pay a sum rumored to be around $2 million, the Directorate for Antiquities that oversees the archaeological site of the Acropolis was reluctant about the idea from the very first moment, and KAS unanimously voted against it. They announced that: “The particular cultural character of the Acropolis monuments is inconsistent with this event, as these are unique monuments, world heritage symbols and Unesco World Heritage sites.” KAS also pointed out that, according to the law, the Parthenon is not a leasable asset.

I do agree, although perhaps KAS could have done with the cash, but I was amused to see the following picture in the paper today:

 

Photo by Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini (source: Kathimerini)
Photo by Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini (source: Kathimerini)

 

December 1951: Eight models in Christian Dior evening gowns photographed before the Erechtheion Temple of the Acropolis of Athens by Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini for French magazine Paris Match. A moment when fashion climbed upon the sacred rock, at a nostalgic time when Greece, emerging from war and struggle, was ready to forge its way forwards. A very different time from now.

SNFCC’s handover and believing in Greek culture during the crisis

For everyone who is interested in the fate of the new park and cultural center in Athens that I wrote about in my post ‘A walk in the park’, it has been handed over, as planned, to the Greek state, in a ceremony described in the blog Art Scene Athens. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed about its fate.

Art Scene Athens

THE STAVROS Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC), has witnessed around 25,000 visitors per week since August. On February 23, the 620 million euro centre which was solely funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), was officially handed over to the Greek state. The SNFCC is the new home of the Greek National Opera (GNO) and the Greek National Library (GNL) and also boasts a fantastic park land, used for open air concerts, comprising sports facilities and more. The signing ceremony included speeches by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos and SNF Co-President and Director Andreas Dracopoulos. A spectacular performance with artists from various fields followed, the highlight of which was world-renowned soprano Sumi Jo’s performance of the aria ‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s ‘Norma’; An apt choice, considering that another famous interpretation of this aria was rendered by the great Greek diva of opera, Maria Callas.

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President…

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Kites and art

In Greece, this is the last weekend of Carnival, and little kids are roaming the streets dressed in those ghastly plastic Superman costumes with fake abs. This year, trending among little girls is ‘Policewoman’, complete with holster and gun (I found this vaguely disconcerting), closely followed by ‘Pocahontas’ and ‘Skeleton’.
The end of Carnival heralds Clean Monday, a day of flying kites and feasting on delicious seafood and other delicacies to mark the beginning of Lent. For those of you who missed it, I wrote about this holiday last year, and you can read the post here.

 

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Since I’ve been on a roll regarding Greek artists, I realized that the iconic images about Clean Monday and other holidays are often by Spyros Vassiliou ( Σπύρος Βασιλείου; 1903-1985), a Greek painter, printmaker, illustrator, and stage designer.

Vassiliou painted the objects that define special moments: the May wreath, the little table by the sea with its glasses of ouzo and plate of olives. And landscapes with fishing boats, and little white chapels, and the blue of the sky and sea.

 

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The townsmen of Galaxidi, where Vassiliou was born, collected money to send him to Athens in 1921, to study at the Athens School of Fine Arts under the famous painter Nikolaos Lytras.

Vassiliou started becoming recognized for his work in the 1930s, when he received the Benaki Prize from the Athens Academy. The recipient of a Guggenheim Prize for Greece (in 1960), his works have been exhibited in galleries throughout Europe, in the United States and in Canada.

 

 

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Spyros Vassiliou became recognized as a painter of the transformation of the modern urban environment, depicting with an unwavering eye the sprawl of urban development that surrounded his home in Athens, under the walls of the Parthenon. He combined monochrome backgrounds with the unorthodox positioning of objects, and paid homage to the Byzantine icon by floating symbols of everyday Greek life on washes of gold or sea-blue color, very much like the religious symbols that float on gold in religious art.

For many years, Vassiliou taught theatre, and designed sets and costumes for the stage. He also worked in film. During the years of the German occupation of Greece (1941-1945), when painting supplies were scarce, Vassiliou turned to engraving and woodcuts.

 

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I once visited Vassiliou in his studio, for a ‘lesson’; this was organized by a well-meaning friend of my parents who knew I loved to paint. Vassiliou was a tiny, rotund old man, and I was a hulking, awkward teenager who literally towered over him. He let me paint on one of his monochrome backgrounds – I had never painted in oils and produced an indifferent fish – but, although he was very amiable, I was too shy to pick his brains or even snoop around amongst his canvases and we did not establish a rapport. But he did ask me to visit a theatre where he was making the scenery for a play, and I have fond memories of both occasions.  I still have that small canvas with a boring fish on it somewhere.

 

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In dialogue with Zoi Pappa: ‘Artwork is an idea, a feeling, a knowledge’

After my last post on ‘classic’ Greek artists Tsarouchis and Bokoros, here is a young, cutting-edge artist, Zoi Pappa, whom I discovered just now on the blog Art Scene Athens. I encourage those of you interested in art to browse through this blog, it has lovely articles including, lately, on Kounelis and Mytaras, two major Greek artists.

Art Scene Athens

zoipappaportrait

ZOI PAPPA has achieved what many young Greek artists are striving for these days: the growing appreciation and successful exhibiting of her work abroad. She just found out that she will be participating in the Arte Art Prize Laguna, taking place at the Arsenale of Venice (March 25 to April 9), about a month before the 57th Venice Biennale kicks off. A good time to be in Venice! Pappa’s Duchampian spirit also led her last year to be selected for the show ‘Bicycle Wheels – Homage to Duchamp’, in Italy’s Ortigia. Furthermore, this artist (whose work also features in the ‘Saatchi art’ online gallery), is a winner of international art prizes, a curator of controversial shows, and an artist with a dual identity. She is also an art teacher, and a mum.

In recent years, Pappa has managed to spread her wings and to exhibit her works in exciting shows…

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Two Greek artists at the Benaki Museum

The Benaki Museum in downtown Athens was an interesting destination last week since it concurrently held exhibitions of two major Greek artists.

 

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Yannis Tsarouchis was born Piraeus in 1910; he died in 1989 in Athens. The exhibition was curated on the occasion of the publication of a book on his life.

Tsarouchis studied at the Athens Academy of Fine Arts under the painters Vikatos and Parthenis and was initiated into Byzantine art by the famous hagiographist Kontoglou (1931-1934). Between the wars he travelled to Izmir, Istanbul, and Paris, where he became familiar with impressionism, cubism, and surrealism. He returned to Greece in 1940 and fought on the Albanian front.
Going into self-imposed exile with the advent of the Dictatorship in Greece, Tsarouchis lived in a small studio in Paris from 1967 to 1980. He met many artists, such as Giacometti, and was inspired by Courbet, Manet, Matisse, and cubism. He combined these influences with the teaching of his Greek masters, Parthenis and Kontoglou, the Karagiozi shadow theatre, the Fayum portraits, and the work of the primitive painter Theofilos. The result is a richness of form and colour, with a focus on the human figure, and especially the male nude.

 

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Tsarouchis liked to paint men in uniform, especially sailors. He liked to paint them naked, and sometimes he gave them angels’ wings. He also liked to paint the neoclassical buildings of Athens, which are frequently portrayed as an autonomous presence, rather than as subsidiary narrative elements.

 

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Tsarouchis had a long collaboration with the well known gallery owner Iolas. He designed stage sets and costumes for the National Theatre, the Art Theatre, La Scala in Milan, the Dallas Opera, the Olimpico Theatre in Vicenza, and Covent Garden in London; and designed sets and costumes for films by Dassin and Kakoyannis. He also turned his attention to weaving, and illustrated a number of books (collections of poetry by Seferis, Elytis, and others). His style has influenced many Greek artists.

 

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Although much younger than Tsarouchis – he was born in 1956 – Christos Bokoros is perhaps the less modern of the two.

Bokoros studied law at the Democritus University of Thrace (1974-1979) and later he joined the Athens School of Fine Arts (1983-1989), where he studied painting under D. Mytaras.
At the beginning of his career he employed traditional painting techniques, and drew his subjects from everyday life. The most striking feature of his early works was the extremely accurate and persuasive depiction of the visible world, a characteristic that governs his entire oeuvre. With time, he introduced allegorical or symbolic content to the depiction of simple things, contemplating their connotations; he began to integrate miscellaneous materials in his work (mainly old pieces of wood), and to combine his paintings with three-dimensional constructions and installations.

 

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Bokoros loved the Greek countryside. He grew up far from the sea, in the tobacco fields of Agrinio, and was inspired by the earth and its produce: almond blossom, loaves of bread straight from the oven, rustling leaves and wild flowers.
He felt unable to identify with the major artworks he saw in foreign museums, and turned instead to the simple inspirations of provincial Greece.

 

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The key feature of his later oeuvre, i.e. the ritualistic repetition of certain motifs such as the flame, plays upon the correlation of the tangible with the intangible, the individual with the universal and the past with the present, sometimes interacting poetically and sometimes semantically.

 

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Like Tsarouchis, Bokoros also worked as stage designer, in theatrical productions of Greek plays (1995-2007).

He has presented his work in solo and group exhibitions in Greece and abroad, participating in international events, and he has been awarded many prizes.

 

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The visit ended with lunch in the museum’s cosy bar.

 

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More art, on the way to the car.

 

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A walk in the park

On a chilly, overcast morning we set out to visit the new jewel in the crown of Athens: the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Park and Cultural Centre. Athens, having grown exponentially and without proper planning in the last decades (a plan was made, but was ignored by successive governments for reasons I shall not go into here) is a city with the lowest per capita green space in Europe. The only relief is the easy access to the sea on all sides – otherwise it is drowning in urban concrete.
When the racecourse was moved from the bay of Phaliron to the town of Markopoulo on the occasion of the Athens Olympics, a large area was liberated. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation stepped in with a project, designed by the architectural firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), that includes the new facilities of the National Library of Greece, and of the Greek National Opera, as well as the Stavros Niarchos Park.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (www.SNF.org) is one of the world’s leading private international philanthropic organizations, making grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and sports, and social welfare.The SNF Cultural Center is the Foundation’s largest single gift, for a total budget of $867mil (€630mil). This huge investment is a testament and a commitment to the country’s future, and also hopes to be an engine of economic stimulus in the short and middle term.

 

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Although this is not the best season to visit gardens, it was immediately apparent that the whole park has been beautifully planted in a way that celebrates Greece’s horticultural tradition: the open, sunlit Mediterranean Garden.

 

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Each month is meant to bring a new color, and each season to introduce a different combination of flowers or foliage. Each visit should be a sensual pleasure, with the proliferation of evergreen and other endemic plants such as boxwood, coronilla, cistus, and lentisc, salvia, oregano, thyme, lavender, rosemary, roses and euphorbias.

 

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From the Mediterranean Garden, curving landscaped pathways wend their way up a gentle grade to the 32 m high summit of an artificial hill.  Beneath the earth is the building that houses the Library and Opera House, making the hill the green roof for the structure. One of the largest in Europe, the green roof significantly reduces air-conditioning requirements.

 

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Architect Renzo Piano envisaged the SNFCC rising out of the ground like a dislodged piece of the earth’s crust. Soaring 14 m above the summit, a 100m x 100m photovoltaic canopy extends outward from its perimeter. A marvel of engineering and construction, supported by 40 sinewy metal pillars, it will meet the buildings’ energetic needs, as well as making a fascinating addition to the city skyline.

 

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The summit offers spectacular 360-degree views of the sea to the west, the Acropolis to the east, and the cultural and educational park below. It certainly is breathtaking, although it did strike me how loud the traffic noise was, even up here!

 

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Berneath the green roof is the enormous Library, built on several levels around an open atrium.

 

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The shelves are still empty of books, but imagine when they are full! I loved the mobile suspended from the vertiginous ceiling.

 

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Cosy reading corners abound, and there are stands stacked with daily papers and magazines in different languages.

 

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Enormous windows flood the library with light.

 

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Walking out of the library, one comes out into the Agora, with its impressive water feature.

 

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This is a huge space, where a multitude of events can be staged.

 

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We did not visit the National Opera, because you can only go in if you join the guided tour, and they were fully booked. It is not totally operational, and has only staged a few experimental performances so far.

This is a huge undertaking and it is not entirely completed yet. One can only imagine how impressive it will be when it is functioning on all levels – mature gardens, well-stocked library shelves, a program of performances of all types. The only thing that worries me is that there is a plan for the complex to be donated to the Greek state in 2017 – in the present climate of disintegration, i wonder if it will be upkept and used to its full potential?

It remains to be seen. Meanwhile, for any of you planning a trip to Athens, be sure to add it to your list, together with the Acropolis Museum. Well worth a visit.