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Sculpture December1998 Vol.17 No. 10

Dossier: Sculpture in Athens

By Zoe Kosmidou

Athens hosts 2500-year-old sculptures, temples, and monuments, but below the Acropolis and in nearby areas, contemporary art galleries also show the works of Praxiteles's descendants. Not that there is any connection, other than location, between past and present Athenian artists. On the contrary, contemporary Greek artists were until very recently trying to diverge from their artistic past and define their own profile and style. Despite their efforts, little is known of their work outside of Greece; it remains under the shadow of the past. Limited government and private support, as well as the lack of a museum of contemporary art, keep the profile of contemporary Greek art low within the international art world. Jannis Kounellis, Lucas Samaras, Steven Antonakos, Chryssa, Cristos Giannakos, and Takis are examples of Greek artists who have achieved international fame, though they had to leave their country in order to receive general recognition and to consider themselves citizens of the world. The new generation of Greek contemporary artists is nonetheless alive and dynamic.

Nikos Charalambidis, "The Washerwoman", 1997. Video installation.

During the past decade, emerging artists have shown very interesting works in the Athenian galleries and have participated in major international events, such as the Venice, Alexandria, Istanbul, and São Paulo Biennials, as well as Manifesta and Documenta. Recently opened exhibition spaces such as the School of Fine Arts' Factory, the Municipality of Athens's Gazi, and DESTE Foundation, are actively presenting current trends in the arts. Cheap Art and Art Athina Fair are two recently established events that take place in Athens, the first in the spring and the other in the fall. A brief and selective reference to this year's Athenian shows gives at least a sense of ongoing artistic activities in contemporary Greek art.

Gallery Ileana Tounda recently gave Maro Michalakakos her first solo exhibition. A young, bright artist, she puts a fresh touch on a classical color and material: deep red velvet, evocative of past times of excessive luxury or simply of a theatrical stage. Her tool is a surgical one: the razor. Shaving the fabric's pile, the razor ritualistically reveals new images-solely of hands. Their gestures hide or reveal the untold story of their unknown owners. Folding hands suggest calmness, while open, nearly touching ones, reveal the void of a triangle. A Victorian-style love seat of quite peculiar shape, discovered in her father's antique store, has been redressed in the artist's favorite medium and shaved to accommodate two pairs of hands belonging to absent, seated people. The passage of time and the state of mind are not directly disclosed, but always implied.

Gunther Uecker, Untitled from "The Tormented Man" series, 1992. Wood, nails, ash, bandages, and linen.

Gunther Uecker, a German artist, is a member of the art team Zero, whose works were exhibited in one of the biggest exhibition spaces in Athens-a renovated factory that belongs to the School of Fine Arts. Uecker showed part of his series, "The Tormented Man," with 14 "redeemed constructions" that refer to internal passions and horrifying experiences. He uses raw or partially painted wood, occasionally wrapped with bandages and nails. Ashes and glue, iron, soil, and rope are media of antithesis between life and death, positive and negative. These primitive machines of torture extinguish the human presence while the ephemeral matter tames and is tamed by the lived experience.

Gallery Kappatos, a brand new space in the old market area of Athens, recently showed Socrates Socratous's works in plastic. These pieces refer to the artificial production of nature, the replacement of nature with man-made materials for decorative purposes. The freshness and aroma of traditional gardening artistry has been trapped in the artificial transparency of plastic suitcases with the help of neon lights, symbolizing the transfer from the open air to the walls of the gallery space. The misty morning has been confined with technical precision in a peculiar environment. Mystical, pragmatic, and false, this environment is metaphysical with a mood of irony and sarcasm. Man's intervention in nature and human lives filled with substitutes have been transferred in a very natural way through Socratous's plastic "Suitcases".

Socrates Socratous, "Suitcases", 1998. Plexiglas, plastic, neon, and artificial skin. Installation view.

Another event, Art Athina (supported by the Greek Ministry of Culture), showcases Athenian galleries and the artists they represent. Galleries from other parts of the world also exhibit work. Art Athina focuses on a different country each year with an exhibition and special events that take place at the same time. (Art Athina '98 featured contemporary Italian art.) Now in its sixth year, gallery participation is expected to reach 50 while the exhibition space covers 4,000 square meters. An art shop, video art, and international art periodicals are also part of the event.

Zoe Kosmidou is a writer and frequent contributor to Sculpture.

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