Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Conservative Tastes in the Greek Art World

The Economist's recent special report on the art market affirmed my suspicions about the international market of Greek art (see, "Suspended Animation," Nov. 28, 2009). I have, on occasion, blogged on the sale of Greek art and noted that, although seemingly international, Greek art circulates primarily in Greek hands. Essay "A Whole New World," focuses on the effects of globalization in contemporary art and comments on the success of Bonhams and Sotheby's in capturing the demand for Greek works. I quote the entire paragraph:

"The Greek shipowners who fled political turmoil at home for the calm squares of London in the 1960s had the money to compete for Greek art. They had conservative tastes, seeking out paintings of the Acropolis and large seascapes. The London auction houses were happy to supply what they wanted, and the sales of Greek art from the 19th and 20th centuries at Sotheby's and Bonhams have been highly successful." (p. 15)

The conservative tastes expressed in the international market of Greek art is hence a rigged game, expressing the tastes of a particular class with international distinctions. Whether the taste of Greek shipowners matches the taste of the ordinary Greek remains an open question. In contrast to this older generation of artistic commerce (and I don't mean old in age alone), globalization has brought about new artistic players. Most prominent among them is Dakis Joannou, the Cypriot industrialist, whose Deste museum (in Nea Ionia, Athens) has received international acclaim. "I am not interested in power but engagement. I like to put the work in dialogue with other art, to give it the opportunity to speak, to see whether it can stand on its own feet," explains Joannou to the Economist (p. 9). Joannou started collecting in 1985 with Jeff Koons' Equilibrium. I was intrigued with the repetition of the term "engagement" also in Koons assessment of his own productions. Also quoted in the Economist, Koons states "It's not a critique but an acceptance of our own cultural history. I guess the people who are involved with my work feel physically and intellectually engaged." (p. 11). I suspect that "engagement" is the new code word to distinguish a type of art making and collecting that is differentiated from the market. During the 1990s, as we all know, the art market was inflated by collectors who bought as an economic gamble rather than as a personal love for the objects.

Finally, to situate Greece in the contemporary international market, we must highlight the opening of a Gagosian branch, in Athens on September 15. Adding to three galleries in New York, one in Beverly Hills, one in Rome, two in London and an office in Hong Gong, Larry Gagosian has expanded his international venues to Athens. Gagosian in Athens opened with an exhibition of Cy Twombly. The Athens Biennial, whose theme this last summer was "Heaven," has received little attention in contrast to the Istanbul Biennial, which is becoming almost as important as the biennials at Venice and Sao Paulo.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But we can be grateful that at least some collectors in Greece recognize the value and necessity of acquiring and displaying Greek art — much of which is wonderfully expressive of Balkan and eastern Mediterranean cultural traditions. What a relief it was to visit the recent exhibition at the New Benaki Museum on Pireos street: "The Perspective of Time." See

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States