International Art Exhibition in Athens

International Art Exhibition in Athens
Untitled, by Nikos Markou
With over 200 works and 85 artists from all over the world, Outlook is the largest international art exhibition that has ever been held in Greece. The sculptures by British artists Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas, together with Franz Ackerman’s paintings, spill out of the exhibition’s three sites and onto the historic Athens-Piraeus road, fighting with the post-industrial mayhem for the attention of the drivers, bus passengers and commercial traffic.

The 11,000 visitors who have ventured inside so far (the exhibition opened on the 25th October) have seen “an exhibition dominated by strong images,” according to artistic director, Christos M. Joachimides, where the monumental size of many of the works “is the outcome of an organic connection and cohesion between the size and the concept of the work, aiming at the immediacy of experience.” Outlook has no single predominant theory to unify the works displayed and as such could be criticized for lacking coherence with its often strong works pulling visitors in different directions.

Although it is host to a variety of expressive media and techniques and a range of works of painting, sculpture, video art, photography, and installations, the exhibition focuses mainly on the interconnections between the works and the overlapping areas between them. These extensions become one of the key components of the exhibition: everyday objects are transformed into sculptures, paintings turn into environments, photography becomes painting, video becomes an installation. The exhibition includes a major installation by German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) together with a labyrinth of steel and coal by Jannis Kounellis (b.1936) alongside new works by last year’s Turner Prize winner Keith Tyson, Jan Fabre, William Kentridge and Raymond Pettibon amongst many other well-known contemporary artists.
International Art Exhibition in Athens
Jan Fabre, ‘Searching for utopia’
A number of artists have used “the particularities of Athens, its anarchic cityscape with its bustling life, its diversity and its multi-layered history” as a starting point for works created either in situ or specifically for the exhibition. Mexican artist, Francis Alÿs, for example, created a video performance that involved setting-off fire works along one the city’s main traffic arteries and making the video of this explosive cartographic exercise part of his installation. More traditionally perhaps, Barthelemy Toguo, a Cameroonian sculptor based in Paris, brought African wood sculptures, industrial products and olive trees together to create an intense mise en scene alluding to the movement of people and global trade.

The project has been criticised, not least because of its cost (2.3million Euros), which is an unprecedented sum for an art exhibition in Athens. But moving aside from the not unjustified criticism of grand projets in general a further criticism is its perceived Western focus. Alekos Fasianos, a Greek painter not showing in the exhibition says, “I would prefer Outlook to be truly global, in other words, to have more artists from China, Japan, India, Africa and Latin America. As it mainly contains artists from the Western world, it is like an imposition of a particular style of art, the supposedly avant-guarde. I believe it to be unjust for artists from countries on the periphery not to be represented in big exhibitions. Looking at a few of the works in Outlook I ask myself whether visitors will understand them.”
International Art Exhibition in Athens
Installation 2003 by Maria Papadimitriou
Of the artists taking part, eleven are Greek or of Greek origin and a further eight or nine could be loosely described as coming from countries in the Mediterranean, Africa, Latin America and Asia, and as such peripheral to the main centers of economic and art production in the West. On the other hand, Mr. Joachimides contends that the particularities of Athens “could well be turned into a cultural particularity through its participation in the constellation of ‘bright young stars’ from the periphery. Testimony to such a prospect is the strong interest displayed by many of the artists who have come to Athens and been inspired by its contradictions. The dynamic and extent of this interest have left their imprint on almost half the works exhibited in Outlook.”

Some works have indeed left visitors baffled or disappointed, often as a result of their failure to live up to expectations of what a work of art should be. The artistic director’s aim, however, is more ambitious, “the wager is the unreserved involvement of the visitor in a different world, both poetic and unpredictable. An ideal prospect for art and life is to feel and see – not to have what you see explained to you.”

As part of the Cultural Olympiad programme the exhibition is meant to showcase the output of the world’s leading contemporary artists in a city that has no history of large-scale projects of this kind. Indeed, as the southerly point of a cultural triangle between the enormous Venice Biennale and the more modest but regular Istanbul show, Outlook could be seen as hesitant but ambitious attempt to draw the international art circuit into the clear waters of the Aegean. Leonidas Liambey

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