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Athens Art Trek: 10 best art museums/galleries to visit this Xmas (and beyond…)

GET your sneakers on, and go for a long walk around town, to see some of the amazing art works that are gracing Athens with their presence these days! From the very ancient to the ultra-contemporary, there’s something for everyone: Here are some suggestions (not necessarily in the right order, because we all have different tastes!):

  • If you haven’t been yet, then don’t miss the last chance to go to ‘Portals’, organized by NEON organization and the Hellenic Parliament, at the former Public Tobacco Factory (runs till December 31). The 6,500 square metres of this awesome building have been turned into a cultural space, hosting the works of 59 artists from 27 countries. The inspiration for the exhibition originates from an article by author Arundhati Roy in the Financial Times which states that “the pandemic is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” Top names from the international contemporary art scene but also from the Greek art scene have been placed together in a thought-provoking show that has been impecably curated by Elina Kountouri. What’s more, theatre director Dimitris Papaioannou will be presenting his work ‘Sysiphus/Trans/Form’ there (27, 28, 29, 30 December, at 15.30). Entrance is free, but reservations have to be made.
  • The National Gallery of Greece, revamped and extended, with a grand display of Greek art (the best place to learn about its history and movements, going right up to the contemporary period), is also hosting a portrait exhibition with works from the Louvre. Spanning over 3000 years of history, ‘In Search of Immortality – the Art of the Portrait in the Collections of the Louvre’, starts from antiquity, and includes the Greco-Roman period,  baroque and more. Among the wonders you will see here is ‘The Death of Marat’, painted by Jacques-Louis David. Works by Gros, Ingre, Botticelli, Veronese, El Greco, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Goya, Delacroix are among the heavyweights you will admire here.
  • Not far from the National Gallery, is the Goulandris Museum of Modern Art, where you will get a chance to ogle at the marvelous masterpieces by international names (from Picasso and Van Gogh to Niki de Saintphalle and Giacometti), that comprise the Goulandris collection. However, now also on show is an exceptional temporary exhibition of works by acclaimed Greek artist Sotiris Sorongas (runs till April 3, 2022), who manages to capture the beauty of decay in such a delicate, respectful and mesmerising manner, through his depictions of the abandoned ‘carcasses’ of old boats (kaiki), among other things. His depictions of horses and weathered stones are impeccable. Other great Greek artists’ works can also be seen here, giving the viewer a valuable perspective on both Greek modernist and contemporary art.
  • The Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art is hosting an exhibition dedicated to ancient Greek beauty, entitled ‘Kallos: The Ultimate Beauty’, at the Stathatos Mansion. Here’s a chance to see both this exhibition of over 300 antiquities and also to see the wonderful Cycladic figurines (and more), in the museum’s permanent exhibition. The Stathatos Mansion over the years has also been known to host some wonderful contemporary art exhibions, presenting the works of Mike Kelley, Lynda Benglis, Sterling Ruby and Mike Condo (among others), to the Athenian public.
  • The Benaki Museum is hosting an outstanding temporary exhibition of works by philhellene artists. ‘Treasures of Philhellenic Painting From the Anthony E. Comninos Foundation’, presents the mastery of 19th century artists such as Peder-Mork Monsted, Harald Adolf Nikolaj Jerichau, Ludwig Lange, Carl Rottmann, Henry Nelson O’Neil, Ferdinand-Joseph Bernard Marinus, and Ludovico Lipparini. Set in a dark blue hall, the rich colours of the works, together with their intricately carved gold frames, are enhanced all the more. Not only does one get a chance here to see the greatness of traditional masterpieces, but also the heartfelt admiration and respect that these artists had for Greece, and the Greeks’ fight for freedom.
  • If contemporary art is more your thing, then head to the National Museum of Contemporary Art (or EMST, as it is known from its Greek initials). Here, you get a chance to see the works of internationally-renowned contemporary artists (from Jannis Kounellis to Bill Viola, but also many Greek contemporary artists) in the museum’s permanent display. Currently on show in the foyer (until May 22), is the work ‘Arbre a Palabres’, by Stephan Goldrajch: a giant tree comprised of pieces of knitting/crochet etc made by people who live in the vicinity of the museum. A tree that connects cultures and communities, is common in many countries: from the palaver tree of Africa, to the platanos (plane tree) of Greece, often found in the centre of Greek villages.
  • Another centrally-located cultural space that hosts wonderful exhibitions, is the B & M Theocharakis Foundation. This season, it is offering viewers an impressive tour de force of works by Theophilos. The retrospective exhibition of this acclaimed and praised self-taught artist, is entitled ‘Theophilos: The Evzone of Painting’, and that is because part of Theophilos’s artistic eccentricity led him to wear the evzone costume in public. Takis Mavrotas, the curator of the exhibition states that “Almost the entire work of our acclaimed folk artist radiates with aesthetic and spiritual emotion”. Theophilos (1870-1934) had a unique style of painting which influenced many a modernist Greek painter. Despite the fact that this artist was mocked and ridiculed during his lifetime, his works fetch a pretty penny these days (one work recently sold for over 350,000 euros at a Parisian auction), and his artistic worth has now been realized (but sadly posthumously). It was his grandfather (an iconographer), who taught him something about the art of painting, and certainly the influence of iconography can be traced in his work, although ancient frescoes also come to mind. All in all, Theophilos managed to create his own unique aesthetic.   In 1961, the Louvre paid homage to his talent, via an exhibition. (free entrance)
  • Let’s leave central Athens and go further afield, to the Benaki Pireos, where a major Sean Scully retrospective has been organized. Comprising 103 works, the exhibition follows the course of this internationally-renowned abstract painter: from his ‘Supergrids’ series (influenced by patterned Moroccan textiles but also by the work of Mondrian), to his oils of the 1980s and beyond. Also on show at the Benaki Pireos, is an exhibition dedicated to the history of the Papadopoulou biscuit company (the McVities of Greece, let’s say).
  • The Melina Cultural Centre of the Municipality of Athens (in the Thission/Kerameikos district),  is hosting an exhibition of the work of Charles Howard these days (runs till January 23). Curated by Christoforos Marinos, this exhibition presents the works of a contemporary philhellene’s love of Greece, where the female figure predominates, set in typically Greek scenes. There is eroticism and there is a unique form of abstraction in Howard’s work which seduces the viewer into his take on life in Greece. (free entrance)
  • Down at the Athens School of Fine Arts, at the Nikos Kessanlis Hall (256 Pireos St), the Chamber of Fine Arts of Greece is organizing an exhibition of great historical worth, seeing as it will be presenting the history of Greek engraving, entitled ‘Greek Engraving: From Prehistoric times to the Present Day’. The exhibition opens to the public on December 29 (runs till February 18). A visit to the Athens School of Fine Arts is interesting in itself, seeing as it gives visitors a chance to experience the unique atmosphere of this most revered art school. The exhibition will gather engravings from 20 different establishments/art institutions et. al., including among them museums of China, the archives of the French Ministry of Culture, but also Aghion Oros. (Free entrance). Open Mon-Fr 10.00-21.00, Sat 11.00-20.00, Sun 10.00-16.00.

  • This article has been written by artist/journalist Stella Sevastopoulos, who moved to Athens from London, in 1994. Since then, she has been following the Greek art scene, writing about it, but also exploring her own artistic practice. For examples of her art you can also visit her online portfolio


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