Art Athina 2017: revolution is a substantial change in structure

Stefano Pirovano

Art Athina’s new deal officially started in Athens yesterday at 2.00 pm, when the Faliro Sports Pavilion, aka the TaekWonDo stadium, opened its doors to a compact delegation of international collectors invited by the fair. We were among them, therefore we had the chance of visiting the 61 galleries’ stands with no pressure and that put us in the best mood for enquiring about the artworks, getting information, and sharing impressions. We quickly discovered how easy and relaxing dealing with a small number of galleries is, and what a rare opportunity we were having of finding out more about artists we couldn’t have met otherwise. The main strength of art fairs of this scale is that they immediately make you feel comfortable, and this is a main condition for good thinking, exploring and, in case, risk taking. While at the main art fairs you may feel lost and constantly looking for ‘anchors’ – that is to say the names and people you already know -, small fairs may turn your visiting into a profitable researching session, no matter if sometimes the quality of the pieces drops down, or some dealers may not look as professional as required by today’s art market.

We don’t want to seem naïve, so we must say that there is still much work to be done for turning Art Athina into a top quality ‘light’ art fair. But we think that this edition number 22 have put the boat on the right track. As stated by Yianna Gramatopoulou, president of the board of the Hellenic Art Galleries Association, ‘the history of the institution has shown that it continues its course by often renewing its content and its associates and always remaining faithful to its goals. However, this year, there is a substantial change in the structure of Art Athina’. We fully agree with her on that; the formula for a sustainable progress in the Eurozone countries’ artistic culture is a well balanced mix of tradition and innovation, in order to keep contemporary art and the art from the past centuries well connected. Probably Raymond Loewy’ most known rule also applies to cultural institutions. It says, Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. So we congratulate with Art Athina’s new artistic director, Stamatia Dimitrakopoulos, and with her small but very efficient young team for their bright understanding of the nature of this ‘substantial change’.

Back to the galleries. Our researching session, or we may call it mushroom hunting trip, started brilliantly with the Rod Bianco gallery’s solo booth by 1983-born artist Charlie Roberts. Based between Oslo, New York and Los Angeles he works in a similar creative area as Nicolas Party, including the wall surface in his large scale watercolour and pencil papers. But different from the iconic images characterizing Party’s works, Roberts has a more direct way to figuration and is not afraid of explicit contents. Next week Bianco, which is representing talented artists such as Bjarne Melgaard and Yves Scherer, is going to open an artist-solo exhibition in Olso.

The stand behind Bianco is that of Alpha Delta (AD), an Athens-based gallery with a roaster of Greek artists sharing a common interest in high quality materials and refined pieces of art. We were initially attracted by two drawings by Anastasis Stratakis, then fell in love with the two small paintings by the only not Greek artist in the stand. His name is Steven C. Harvey, he is British, yet he lives and works in Athens. The two paintings derive from porn images, but the feelings that they inspire are not vulgar at all. If these images are something you may like and you are into painting virtuosity, we would recommend to have a look at the artist’s drawings on the gallery web site.

The third discovery that we made – or, better, the third art entity we were discovered by –, is Club Pro, a Los Angels-based gallery which brought to Athens four interesting artists such as Darryl Westly, Brandon Landers, Sarah Ann Weber, and the Institute for New Feelings, an art collective that is having a solo presentation at the gallery next January. For those interested in the post internet aesthetics or art branding related matters this could be a very interesting project.

Shana Moulton’s solo presentation at Gregor Steiger, and Sofia Stevi at The Breeder gallery set the standard for how the fair should look like in the future, while the stand of Eleni Koroneou gallery – which is exhibiting works by Liam Everett, Nick Mauss and Helmut Middendorf – is proving that being based in Athens is to be regarded as an opportunity and that it is only partly true that you can’t set a good art fair if the environment is not ready for that. Perhaps Athens is not as sophisticated as Vienna or Brussels in terms of art collecting, and as a matter of fact Greece is still fighting against its economic crisis and social problems. But it also must be said that this city can count on very deep cultural roots and on jewels such as the new Acropolis Museum, which inspires the art community as only few other museums in the world can do. The same goes for the Cycladic Art Museum, that these days is hosting a nice exhibition setting a dialogue between a group of paper works by Cy Twombly and classic sculptures. And now we may wonder why Gagosian has venues in Athens and Rome, but not in Lisbon or Brussels yet.

May 26, 2017