Art Collecting

Behind the “Greek” art for tomorrow | Pro Club Bd

Jeff Koons’ stunning sun sculpture is on display in front of the DESTE Foundation’s art space on Hydra Island. [Eftychia Vlachou]

Jeff Koons, currently the world’s most expensive artist, was in the audience at the opening of his Lost in America retrospective in Doha when Art for Tomorrow conference president Achilles Tsaltas picked up the microphone and asked, “Will you come?” and find you in Greece?” “Why not?” replied the American artist. Just a few months later he was on the stage of the Onassis Stegi cultural center in the Greek capital and speaking at the conference. Seven years after its inception by The New York Times, the event made its debut in Greece last month.

Tsaltas’ Greek-Australian background played an important role in this development. “The Greek DNA is in my blood, from my parents, from far away Australia, where I grew up. My heart pounds every time I hear the word ‘Greece’ and I always wonder what I can bring to the country,” Tsaltas, former vice president for international conferences at The New York Times, tells Kathimerini.

Art for Tomorrow is an initiative that grew out of the Athens Democracy Forum, which has been held annually in the Greek capital since 2011. It inspired the Democracy & Culture Foundation, of which Tsaltas is President, which was established in 2019 in agreement with the NYT. The foundation, in turn, took the Athens Democracy Forum and the Art for Tomorrow conference under its wing, which gave rise to the idea of ​​holding the event in Athens as well.

The second reason why the conference/festival took place in Athens has to do with the city itself and the boom in its art scene in recent years. “The Art for Tomorrow theme fits really well with what is happening in Greece today, because it is not only about investing in and collecting art, but also about the social impact of art and culture, about art as a catalyst for social and community engagement to see economic development,” says Tsaltas.

For several years there has been a lot of talk about whether Athens is the new Berlin or even the new Bilbao, which became an important art destination with the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997 and triggered the so-called “Bilbao Effect”. Is there actually a ” Athens Effect”? The question was the focus of this year’s Art for Tomorrow — and was actually the title of a panel discussion at Greece’s National Gallery, co-ordinated by NYT culture writer Roslyn Sulcas.

“Of course there is an ‘Athens effect’. Just like pressure from a press to produce more olive oil, the crisis brought a surge of creativity that blends Athens’ ancient heritage with something very modern, be it street art or something like the “Plasmata” exhibition at Pedion tou Areos Park”, says Tsaltas.

The “Athens effect”, this “marriage” of different elements, is exactly what has made Greece an alternative to Paris, London or New York. “People get a little tired of something so conventional. We’re all looking for something authentic, and if Athens isn’t full of surprises, I don’t know who is,” he adds.

“We’re all looking for something authentic, and if Athens isn’t full of surprises, I don’t know who is.”

One of the things that the conference wanted to establish as an experience – regardless of whether next year’s event takes place somewhere else – is the “cultural walk”.

“Athens’ greatest treasures aren’t just the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the Onassis Foundation or the National Gallery – amazing as they are – or the myriad of beautiful galleries that have opened across the city. It’s also the walk around Monastiraki or Exarchia, amid graffiti and street art, to end up at the farmers’ market on Kalidromiou Street – and that’s culture too,” explains Tsaltas.

The key component to translating the Athenian “moment” into an enduring reality is respect, says Tsaltas. “Respect for the past but also curiosity about the future,” he says, referring to the idea of ​​creating a new legacy. “It will require work and, above all, a spirit of collaboration that we Greeks do not have in abundance. It takes a leap of faith to help each other create something that lasts.”

The third reason the conference came to Athens has to do with Jeff Koons. Artist and respected Greek Cypriot collector Dakis Joannou has spoken at previous editions of Art for Tomorrow, but this year Joannou is hosting an exhibition of Koons – his 36-year-old friend – at the DESTE Foundation Project space Slaughterhouse on the island of Hydra. When the artist agreed to speak at the Athens conference, Tsaltas decided to hold it after the end of the Art Basel fair in Switzerland and before the Hydra opening.

Koons points to a photo with Joannou taken in Hydra in 1986 and tells Kathimerini that he chose the small island in the Saronic Gulf for this new project because he wanted to celebrate freedom.

“Freedom as a concept and the freedom I now have as an artist to do what I want,” he says, adding that “the foundation of Hydra’s culture is based on the pursuit of freedom.”

For Tsaltas, there is a related concept that connects the two conferences organized by the Democracy & Culture Foundation: Democracy.

“Culture can exist without democracy, but democracy cannot exist without culture,” he tells Kathimerini.

He also believes that Greece has a lot to offer in both areas. “It has that certain something,” he says. “It’s about connecting the dots and going back to basics and being authentic – and that’s what people in Greece can feel intuitively and that’s the ‘Athens Effect’.”

Jeff Koons’ Apollo solo exhibition at DESTE Foundation’s Project Space in Hydra’s Slaughterhouse will run until October 31st.

“Of course there is an ‘Athens effect’. The crisis triggered a surge in creativity,” says Achilles Tsaltas.
“The foundation of Hydra culture is based on the pursuit of freedom,” says US artist Jeff Koons. [DIMITRIS KYRIAKOPOULOS]

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