A new museum in Athens

Although we are spoilt for choice in Athens as far as antiquities and Byzantine icons are concerned, up to now there were no permanent exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. This hole has just been filled with the advent of a new museum hosting a wonderful collection of modern and contemporary paintings and sculpture.

 

 

After 26 years of planning and six years of construction, the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation has opened its new space in a totally renovated neoclassical building in the Pangrati neighborhood of Athens. The museum showcases the stunning private collection of the late Basil Goulandris and his wife Elise, and boasts around 180 paintings, sculptures, and artifacts.

 

Young man with bouquet, from Picasso’s rose period

 

A shipping magnate whose shrewd eye and passion for art was equaled by his wife’s, Basil Goulandris collected unique pieces over the years, starting with a wonderful El Greco, The Veil of San Veronica.

 

 

The couple lived with the paintings on the walls of their houses and, in 1979, when the works of art had become too numerous to be privately enjoyed, they inaugurated the Museum of Contemporary Art on the island of Basil’s birth, Andros; this was, at the time, the country’s first institution devoted to the art of the present.
However, they always nurtured a dream to establish another art space in the center of Athens, which would offer broader audiences an opportunity to see contemporary art.

 

Gauguin, Bowl of grapefruit

 

Now, 30 years after Basil’s death and 20 years after Elise’s, their vision has become reality. The original 1920s listed, three-floor building has been complemented by a modern extension hovering above the facade and now contains 11 stories (5 of which are underground to house the annex activities such as archives and storage) connected by a central stairwell made of white marble. The combination of the two styles on the outside is harmonious, and inside the different areas merge seamlessly into each other, giving an impression of spaciousness. In front of the building a little square, also renovated by the foundation, abuts the steps leading up to the church of Agios Spyridon, which was built in 1903 on designs by the noted German architect Ernst Ziller.

 

 

The museum boasts all the relevant amenities, such as a museum shop, a lovely restaurant, education spaces, and a library containing 4,500 volumes. There is also a 190-seat amphitheater, where screenings, concerts, and other events can take place. The foundation is headed by Elise Goulandris’ niece Fleurette Karadonti (President), and the museum’s director Kyriakos Koutsomallis, plus his daughter Marie Koutsomallis-Moreau (the collection’s chief curator). Their plan is to rotate the paintings of the collection on a regular basis, so that visitors can eventually get to see them all.

 

Giacometti, portrait of Yanaihara

 

The collection includes lovely pieces of sculpture, such as the Giacometti below

 

 

And a little dancer by Degas, which caused major controversy in its time, being presented in a glass case and with the addition of tulle, leather and ribbon.

 

 

There is a luminous room of works on paper, such as the Matisse below.

 

 

And a floor devoted to major and rising Greek artists. See below two beautiful works by Tsarouhis.

 


 

 

Like many diaspora Greeks, Basil and Elise had a deep love for their motherland, and always wanted to give something back to Greece. Having no children, they dedicated themselves to art, and their Paris home became a meeting place for many personalities of the art world, such as Callas, Baryshnikov, Balthus and Chagall, whose portrait of Elise graces the entrance.

 

Hauntingly misty Balthus landscape

 

However, finding a site for the museum took several years because its original location, a plot next to the Byzantine and Christian Museum, yielded an amazing archaeological find during construction: Aristotle’s Lyceum. After many setbacks, all obstacles were happily overcome, and the new museum is already teeming with visitors.

Van Gogh, olive grove

The collection is certainly unique, and I advise anyone planning to go to make time for lunch or at least a coffee and cake in the restaurant. The food is delicious and the waiters super friendly.

 

Francis Bacon

 

All photographs are mine, which is why they’re very moderate. The light in the museum was low, in order both to preserve the works but also to bring out their wonderful colors.

 

A small Jackson Pollock

More about Yayoi Kusama

Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. I’ve already done two posts about her (here and here) , because I find both her art and her personality fascinating. Despite now being ninety years old and living in a psychiatric facility, Yayoi Kusama is more prolific than ever. According to the New York Times, the show openings of the ‘Japanese mastermind of obsessively dotted paintings, hallucinatory pumpkins and sometimes blandly decorative installations, have become the art world’s equivalent of Star Wars premieres.’

 

Yayoi Kusama infinity room at Zwirner Gallery, New York
Yayoi Kusama infinity room. Photo: from David Zwirner Gallery

 

Her new exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York is entitled ‘Every day I pray for love,’ and features one of her famous infinity rooms, a mirrored chamber filled with reflective steel orbs. The exhibition is free, but the public will have to wait for hours in line, and can expect to stay in the infinity room for a minute at most.

You can read an article about it on Artnet News (here)

For the Paris art fair FIAC 2019 in October, Kusama also had one her spotty pumpkins set at the Place de Vendôme. This was a gigantic, 10m high inflatable structure covered in black dots.

 

Mark Bradford’s CERBERUS paintings

Last, but not least, of my London outings, was the stunning exhibition of Mark Bradford’s work at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery.

 

 

Los Angeles artist Bradford is known for his large, grid-like paintings which combine paint with collage.

 

Photo: Wikipedia

 

The paintings have to be seen up close to be fully appreciated. He uses a complicated process of layering: the fabric of each painting is formed from strata of pigmented paper which are scored, lacerated and stripped away, along with lengths of rope which are stretched or coiled, sometimes painted over and sometimes ripped out to leave ruts in the surface of the work. See detail below.

 

 

Bradford worked as a hairdresser (his mother owned a beauty salon) and only went to study at the California Institute of the Arts in 1991 at the age of 30.
Throughout his career, he has collected ‘merchant posters’ which are printed sheets posted in neighborhoods, advertising services such as cheap transitional housing, foreclosure prevention, food assistance, debt relief, wigs, jobs, DNA-derived paternity testing, gun shows and quick cash, as well as legal advice for immigrants, child custody and divorce.

 

 

Bradford transforms the materials he scavenges from the street into wall-size collages and installations; he is inspired by subjects as diverse as civil riots, migrant communities, abandoned public spaces and, in this instance, mythology.

 

 

The exhibition is entitled Cerberus, a reference to the many headed dog guarding the entryway to Hades. It is a metaphor representing the ‘in-between’, places difficult and fissured. As he says himself, Cerberus is an “ambivalent character. Is he keeping people out or is he keeping people in?”

 

 

I’ve been fascinated by Bradford’s work for a while – the only other artist I know who uses texture to such effect is Anselm Kiefer. But I’ve seen Kiefer’s work live before – this was the first time I’ve been close to a Bradford painting. I was blown away by their sheer size and presence.

 

Magical Leonardo

During my London trip I managed to get a slot to see the Da Vinci drawings in the Queen’s Gallery.

Marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, this exhibition showed more than 200 of the Renaissance master’s greatest drawings in the Royal Collection. There was but one word to describe them: they were magical.

 

 

 

Loving works on paper as I do, I literally did not know where to look first: there were the most delicate flowers and plants, drawn with the precision of a botanist, yet filled with life in a unique way. It was a known fact that if Leonardo had to put a few flowers in the corner of a painting, he made dozens of studies before deciding which to use. Look at those acorns below, they seem to glow on the page.

 

 

 

Then there were maps which must have made the adventure-loving amongst his peers long to go off and explore.

 

 

The drawings in the Royal Collection used to be bound up in a book that was acquired by Charles II. The pages have now been separated so that the drawings can be shown in their full beauty. They provide an extraordinary insight into the workings of Leonardo’s mind and reflect the full range of his interests, including painting, sculpture, architecture, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany.

See below his scheme on how to breach a fortress’s walls.

 

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Inktober 2019


Two years ago I wrote about Inktober, an Instagram challenge where people have to post a daily ink drawing. There is a list of daily prompts, which are in no way obligatory, and any ink medium goes: fountain pen, biro, brush, micro liner, dip pen. You can add watercolor, collage or anything else. There are no rules and no prizes – it’s a fun thing.

I have never yet managed to post something on all the days, and I’m only intermittently inspired by the prompts, but I always determine to take part, because I enjoy the whole camaraderie going on. It pushes me to experiment, and I always feel I’ll do better next year. At the end of the month I’ll share some of my masterpieces with you, but meanwhile, I would like to present some exceptional artists and illustrators, who mostly follow the prompts with humor and imagination. I’ve noted the particular prompt for each drawing.
So, without further delay, here are:
The incomparable Nina and her stripey men. Prompt: Enchanted.
Simon Curd whose small monsters come with a little poem each day. Prompt:Swing
Kate Richardson with more monsters, happy ones. Prompt: Swing
Monica Rathke at Whosebirthdayisit. Prompt: Husky
David Bülow at bulow_ink with his architectural perspectives. Prompt: Bait
And for something a little more gothic, Aleks Klepnev. No prompt. 

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Click on the URLs if you want to see more of each – definitely worth it, and a fun way to pass the time on a Sunday afternoon. There are many others to be found, some follow prompts and some not, but it’s always fascinating to see the different reactions people have to the same prompt.

More Gormley

The British sculptor Anthony Gormley seems to be everywhere these days. Sadly, I never managed to get to Delos to see his fantastic installation (for those who missed my post on this, you can find it here), because Delos is not easy to access. However, I took the opportunity to see his lovely exhibition at the Royal Academy  in London.

 

 

There were many of his ubiquitous depictions of the human body in various forms:

 

 

Some upside down

 

 

Walking on the ceiling.

 

 

But also some large and impressive installations:

 

Visitors were invited to walk through this one.

The one below looked like an alien vessel – an impressive 6 tons of steel rods suspended from the ceiling, dwarfing the people  beneath.

 

 

 

You could also walk through this next one, via the rectangular opening leading into a narrow steel tunnel, in almost total darkness – if you weren’t claustrophobic, that is.

 

 

But I mostly loved its architectural shapes, framed by the arched doorway.

 

 

 

Another installation featured a room flooded with Atlantic seawater on a bed of clay from Buckinghamshire. In general, the installations were  site-specific, fitting beautifully into the shape of each room.

 

 

Wall art included the work below, made with clay on a blanket, which had a fleeting, haunting aura.

 

 

The one below was not one of my favorites, but intriguing nonetheless, since it was made out of slices of bread dipped in wax:

 

 

 

Finally, for someone like me who loves works on paper, there was an abundance of treasures on offer, including a multitude of small spiral notebooks where Gormley recorded his ideas (these proved impossible to photograph, since they were presented in glass cases).

 

 

 

These drawings were made with charcoal and casein.

 

 

Deceptively simple,

 

 

But very evocative.

 

 

And there was a whole, luminous series made with earth mixed with linseed oil.

 

 

I came away most inspired.

 

 

Highly recommended, if you’re anywhere nearby.

 

SIGHT: Anthony Gormley on Delos

In the centre of the Cyclades archipelago, near the famous island of Mykonos, a small, uninhabited island rises out of the turquoise sea. This is Delos, barely 5km long by 1.5km wide, treeless and bare, and so small that in the heat of summer it almost vanishes in the haze. Amazingly, it is one of the most important mythological, historical, and archaeological sites in Greece.

 

It was on this island that, according to myth, Apollo, the god of light, and his twin sister Artemis, the moon goddess, were born. And it was here that, in the 9th century BC, one of the greatest sanctuaries evolved. Later still, the Cycladic island became a commercial centre, teeming with merchants and slaves.

Because the island is frequented only by archaeologists and guards, the magnificent ruins have not had to bear the brunt of millions of visitors’ feet. This summer, this idyllic site has become the setting for an ambitious and exciting project, connecting the ancient with the contemporary. Besides the Greek authorities, the main players in this experiment are NEON, a nonprofit organization that works to bring contemporary culture closer to the public, and the British sculptor Sir Anthony Gormley.

 

 

Anthony Gormley, born in 1950, has won the Turner prize amongst many other awards, and is best know for his statue Angel of the North.

For Delos, the artist created 29 iron “bodyforms”, several cast from his own body, that are the first artworks to be installed on Delos since the outpost was inhabited more than 5,000 years ago.

 

 

 

One of these sculptures  greets visitors before they even alight from the ferries that shuttle daily from Mykonos—a lone, eerie figure, standing on a rock at the water’s edge, gazing at the horizon.

 

 

 

I hope I can manage to visit the installation sometime this summer but, since I cannot yet report on it personally, I include a small extract from the NEON catalogue:

Two more works from the same series – also looking towards the distant horizon – stand on Plakes Peak and on Mount Kynthos, and another similar work stands in the waters of the harbour. Further sculptures are integrated with archaeological sites across the island, from the Stadium to the Τheatre district and from the merchant stores to the Museum site.
Visitors to Delos are invited to connect with time, space and nature, which inevitably link to our shared future.
SIGHT is organized and commissioned by NEON and presented in collaboration with the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades.’

 

 

 

Definitely worth a visit, if anyone is near the area.

Photos: Google