Challenging Greek Art: Anathena

                    The commercial Greek art scene has always been traditionalist.  One only needs to look at the notorious entry requirements for the Athens College of Art to understand this. Every year, a select few pass the entrance exams to attain a good degree with a weighty reputation after a five-year time-honoured education in ‘Fine Art’ and Art History.  On the other hand, students who choose to study ‘applied arts’ at one of the private art colleges in Greece that offer U.K. accredited degrees, graduate to find that their qualifications are often not recognised in the very country where they attained them.

                     This is why the Deste Foundation’s recent exhibition ‘Anathena,’ curated by Marina Fokidis and Marina Gioti, has been such a refreshing exhibition in a country where art that is not deemed ‘fine’ or ‘classical’, is under-valued by the mainstream public.  This is despite the fact that Athens is home to a dynamic graffiti and graphic arts scene; with intelligent artists who are aware of their place in the hierarchy of a traditional art world.  These artists simultaneously reflect their relationship with and rebellion against the traditional arts in their style and composition.  This sensitivity is becoming the trademark of a new breed of artists who contribute to the urban gallery; graffiti collectives, designers, illustrators and the like.  These voices are gaining volume, proving to be more expressive, more textural, more humanist and above all, more socially aware than many big name painters who stick defiantly to a rigid theme of chiaroscuro, surrealism, expressionism, classical allusions and hermaphroditic forms.       


                      Anathena has therefore made a very bold statement.  The quality of the work and the exhibition format serves to elevate a new generation of artists to the contemporary platform they deserve.  And it’s about time.  The playful works of participating artists such as Alexandros Dimitriadis, Panos Koutrouboussis, Natasha Poulantza, Lo-Fi, and Ioakim Sidiropoulos, merrily dance together hand in hand as they celebrate, lament and analyse urban life in all its paradoxical glory.  A variety of media has been exploited, from ink drawings to paper collages, to a black room installation isolating sound.  Although this experimentation is common in the U.K., this is a shocking sight for a Greek audience that has grown accustomed to the expressive oil, acrylic and water-colour paintings featured in most galleries.  The invigorating and controversial presentation therefore encourages a dramatic dialogue between artist and viewer, effectively giving the finger to the traditional establishment, albeit a very graceful finger indeed.      

                   Though the exhibition will soon come to an end, the Deste foundation has proved itself to be a force to be reckoned with; a contemporary gallery and a platform for emerging contemporary artists both from Greece and abroad.  In fact, the director of Deste, Xenia Kalpaktsoglou, will be curating the upcoming Biennial ‘Destroy Athens,’ that is set to begin on September 10.   This Biennial is concentrating on the paradoxes of Greek life and in particular, the unhealthy obsession Greeks seem to have with ancient history and classical ‘high’ art.   For many people, this is an overdue and much needed overview that aims to alleviate the stale and high-minded bigotry confronting the younger generations.  Happily, this protest does not reflect the overly anarchistic protestations of impractical and unreasonable fascists who attempt to dominate youth culture.  Instead, the battle cry has become an undertone, and with silent movements and stealthy execution, small corners of the Greek art scene are slowly leading a most liberating revolution that seeks to put old habits to rest.