NEON organisation’s contemporary art show ‘Flying Over the Abyss’, is another example of how Athens is both exceedingly ancient and totally avant-garde. Comprising 41 works, by 34 international and Greek artists, but also including the original manuscript of Nikos Kazantzakis’ ‘Ascesis: Saviours of the Gods’, the show presents the diversity of the contemporary art scene in terms of mediums and expression. Impeccably curated by Dimitris Palaiocrassas and Maria Marangou, this exhibition is made up of works from the collection of Dimitris Daskalopoulos (the D.Daskalopoulos Collection). It makes for a unique art experience of international standards, and what’s more, entrance is free. Runs till January 29.
‘Flying Over the Abyss’ has been inspired by Kazantzakis’ description of life as a ‘luminous interval’ or an arena, over an abyss: “Within this arena, which grows more stable night after day, generations work and love and hope and vanish. New generations tread on the corpses of their fathers, continue the work above the abyss and struggle to tame the dreaded mystery. How? By cultivating a single field, by kissing a woman, by studying a stone, an animal, an idea.” In this exhibition, we see how contemporary artists’ original creative practices and methods, are another way of making the best out of this ‘luminous interval’; it makes you realise among other things, the complexity and fragility of human existence, counterbalanced by the constant evolution of human creativity. Because what is life if it isn’t creation.
Let’s set the scene of this atmospheric exhibition: the brick walls of the shady basement of the Athens Conservatoire, and 6 rooms filled with contemporaneity’s multifariousness, presenting the stages of life (from the trauma of birth, to the return to the abyss) via an altogether thought-provoking artistic experience. Be prepared to be moved, shocked and stimulated. Here are some of the highlights:
Gilbert & George’s work ‘Coming’, has to do with how life begins (from a spermicidal point of view); Ana Mendieta is filmed whilst drawing with blood on a wall, harking back to shamanic rituals; Marina Abramovic is filmed meticulously scrubbing a skeleton – an act which suggests both her attempt to ‘erase’ mortality, or to come to terms with it; Ioanna Pantazopoulou’s grand installation (‘RE Reconfigured Etiquette’), hangs from the ceiling like a gigantic chandelier, but with chairs, tables even forks attached too: a frozen moment in time after the ‘Big Bang’, when dining room objects have been catapulted into the air.
Gary Webb’s bizarre construction ‘The Creator Has a Master Plan’, is a surreal, tongue-in-cheek questioning of the existence of God, with aeronautical associations thrown in for good measure. Asta Groting creates a silicone mould out of the negative space between two people having sex, which for her encapsulates the distance between them in terms of their surreptitious side, or what emotions and secrets they have hidden from each other.
Maro Michalakakou’s work ‘Oh Les Beaux Jours’, comprises two gigantic mounds or mountains of felt shavings which took the artist years to gather. Mark Wallinger’s ‘The Underworld’ is made up of a circle created by 21 television sets, all of them playing scenes from a concert performance of Verdi’s Requiem. Only thing is, they are all playing upside down! On a different musical plane, you will find John Bock’s video installation ‘Astronaut’, in which The Cure’s punk rock music plays in the background while Bock strums the spindly legs of a dead spider caught in a web.
One room which was especially powerful, was Room 5 (which deals with the ‘Return to the Abyss’). Slap bang in the middle, is Jenny Holzer’s, paradoxical black granite grave, inscribed with words reflecting the joys of sex. This room is also pervaded by the ecclesiastical music emanating from Mark Wallinger’s tongue-in-cheek video installation ‘Threshold to the Kingdom’, which presents the doors of heaven as those of a busy airport’s International Arrivals terminal, constantly opening and closing, to allow travellers to pass through. On a more sensitive note, Doris Salcedo’s ‘Atrabiliarios’, presents pairs of old shoes that have been placed in rectangular recesses in the wall. Each recess has then been covered with a thin, semi-transparent film created from animal skin. They are like shoe graves, that speak of what remains after we pass away – our material possessions.
Room 6 is entirely made up of the sound installation ‘Passage through the Abyss’, which has been commissioned by NEON to the artists Giorgos Koumendakis and Stavros Gasparatos, and marks the collaboration between NEON and the Alternative Stage of the Greek National Opera, in the framework of the exhibition. Here, vistors are granted a feeling of ‘omnipresence’, seeing as they can listen to the sounds of the entire Athens Conservatoire by simply sitting here.
Dimitris Daskalopoulos’ growing artistic presence
Collector/entrepreneur Daskalopoulos transformed his father’s dairy business (Delta) into the largest food company in Greece – Vivartia. He then sold it for about 560 million dollars in 2007, and later founded the financial services and investment company Damma Holdings SA. Daskalopoulos’ NEON (non-profit cultural organization) has been fuelling and enhancing the Greek art scene since it was founded in 2013.
Daskalopoulos’ collection comprises around 500 works, by around 220 artists. The collection traces the aesthetic preoccupations and themes of art in the past few decades, but it is also inspired by the words of Kazantzakis: “We come from a dark abyss, we end in a dark abyss, and we call the luminous interval, life.” Works from the collection have been featured in shows at prestigious art museums and galleries around the world, such as Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
Important artists represented in depth in the collection include Matthew Barney, Lynda Benglis, John Bock, Louise Bourgeois, Paul Chan, Robert Gober, David Hammons, Mona Hatoum, Damien Hirst, Martin Kippenberger, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Bruce Nauman, Paul Pfeiffer and Kiki Smith.
Daskalopoulos is also an active member on many museum boards: eg a member of the Board of Trustees of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chairman of the Collections Council of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and an active member of the Tate International Council and the Leadership Council of the New Museum. Furthermore he is a founding partner of the Whitechapel’s Future Fund and a supporter of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
- The Athens Conservatoire is on the corner of Rigillis and Vas Georgiou sts (B17-19). Tel 210-724-0673. Runs till January 29. Open Wed, Thurs, Fri 12-8 and Sat-Sun 12-7. (Closed Mon, Tues). Free admission. See neon.grfor more info.
- During the Christmas break: from Dec 27-30, open 12-8. From Jan 3-5, open 12-8. Closed Dec 24-26 and Jan 1-2.
- Participating artists: Marina Abramović, Alexis Akrithakis, Matthew Barney, Hans Bellmer, Lynda Benglis, John Bock, Louise Bourgeois, Heidi Bucher, Vlassis Caniaris, Paul Chan, Savvas Christodoulides, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Stavros Gasparatos, Gilbert & George, Robert Gober, Asta Gröting, Jenny Holzer, Kostas Ioannidis, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Giorgos Koumendakis, Sherrie Levine, Stathis Logothetis, Ana Mendieta, Maro Michalakakos, Bruce Nauman, Aliki Palaska, Ioanna Pantazopoulou, Doris Salcedo, Kiki Smith, Paul Thek, Costas Tsoclis, Mark Wallinger, Gary Webb.