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An Artistic Agora

Athen’s renewed art scene is alive and kicking.


(c) Museum of Cycladic Art

Athens has completely transformed its cultural offering in a short space of time. With new institutions, stunning venues and rare exhibitions, the Greek capital is reconnecting with its historical origins.

Originally built in the mid-1960s, the National Gallery began major renovations in 2013 to effectively double its size. Reopened last May, the monumental glass-planed site is a luminous addition to the city centre. Inside, the largest-single collection of Greek modern art and sculpture welcomes 20,000 works dating back to the post-Byzantine era.

The SNFCC designed by Renzo Piano (c) Yiorgis Yerolymbos

Another iconic building designed by Renzo Piano is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, home to the Greek National Opera, the National Library of Greece, as well as the Stavros Niarchos Park. It is also one of the largest green areas in Athens (21 hectares).

The architecture was designed to restore the natural and conceptual connection between the land and the sea. On his first visit to the site, Piano talked about lifting a piece of land to design a sloping park, a hill under which he would place the building facilities from the top of which we would regain the lost view of the sea and the Acropolis. All of which he did. Until 7 November, the cultural centre welcomes 46 emblematic sculptures of internationally acclaimed artist Takis (Panayiotis Vassilakis, 1925-2019). Two years after his passing, the exhibition entitled Τakis: Cosmos in Motion showcases an impressive body of kinetic masterpieces.

The EMST in the former FIX brewery (c) Stephie Grape

Twenty years in the making, the Greek capital finally has its Museum of Contemporary Art. Named EMST, the institution is housed in the former FIX brewery, an emblematic, Athenian landmark designed by renowned architect Takis Zenetos back in 1957. Today, after extensive renovations, the exhibition spaces run over 18,000 square metres, featuring installations, paintings, photography, film and new media. Works by Arte Povera master Jannis Kounellis and neon sculptures by Greco-American artist Chryssa are highlights. The collections are well worth exploring.


Inside the Museum of Cycladic Art (c) Museum of Cycladic Art

Another world-class institution is the Museum of Cycladic Art. It houses one of the most complete private collections of Cycladic art worldwide, with representative examples of figurines and vases, tools, weapons, and pottery that flourished in the central Aegean during the Early Bronze Age (third millennium BC). The minimal figurines have influenced countless modern artists such as Constantin Brancusi, Amedeo Modigliani, Alberto Giacometti, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Ai Weiwei. The museum regularly welcomes international artists to create a dynamic confrontation between historical pieces and their art. Downstairs, in a small light-filled space, the Cycladic Café is well worth a stop with Stelios Kois’s architectural installation and Eleftheria Deko’s creative light design.

In the Carwan Gallery's new space in Piraeus

Galleries, artists and curators are leading the charge with some wonderful initiatives. Founded and first based in Beirut, Carwan Gallery moved to Piraeus this spring, establishing itself in a district of old warehouses, rapidly turning into a creative hub. The new space is set in a former 19th century commercial warehouse with high ceilings and original features such as a timber roof truss and multi-layered brick walls. Under the direction of Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte and Quentin Moyse, the design gallery promotes and produces cutting-edge collectible design from the Eastern Mediterranean region and beyond. “Athens is going through a total Renaissance; in a way this location is the starting point from where Ancient Greek civilisation spread all over the Mediterranean,” Bellavance-Lecompte explains.

An exhibition at Mon Coin Studio, curated by Éléonore Trenado

A curator in her own right, Frenchwoman Éléonore Trenado has become a ceramics expert. In a new contemporary space named Mon Coin Studio, she exhibits more than 100 pieces designed by contemporary artists around the Aegean Sea. “Pottery has been an integral part of Greek culture for millennia. Greeks have been using ceramic vessels to store, transport and drink essentials such as oil, wine and water since the Bronze Age. More than just utilitarian objects, ceramic vessels have always been a medium for artistic expression,” Trenado explains.

An image from Asphodel Songs, a book comprising Greek mythology, modern-day human stories, songs and a sense of migration’s collective memory

Asphodel Songs by photographer Mathias Benguigui and writer Agathe Kalfas is a four-handed work mixing text and photography. Set on the island of Lesbos, which the couple explored between 2016 and 2020, the project navigates between documentary and fiction, looking at migrants and the refugee crisis with new eyes. Poems and beautiful photography cast a new light on the mediatic issues. Published after several exhibitions, the book Asphodel Songs brings together traces of the past, Greek mythology, modern-day human stories, songs and a sense of migration’s collective memory. 

This article originally appeared in Billionaire's Culture Issue, Autumn 2021. To subscribe contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.