Various Venues

How does one go about organizing the first big international art exhibition in Athens, a city that still does not possess a full-fledged contemporary art museum? How does one confront the fact that modern Greek society is still in many ways quite traditional and, further, that religious sentiments still run deep? Using what parameters might one create a show that adequately reflects its time while remaining comprehensible to an audience that, while demonstrating a genuine curiosity about contemporary art, has had little exposure to it—despite the fact that Greece boasts a number of serious, knowledgeable collectors? Greek curator Christos M. Joachimides, now based in Berlin, opted to evade these questions by mounting a very conventional exhibition.

Installed in three sympathetic venues (Technopolis, the city’s old gasworks; the new annex of the Benaki Museum; and the Ergostasio, at the School of Fine Arts), “Outlook” broke no new ground, nor was there a governing theoretical concept. The eighty-five participating artists were mainly from the United States and Europe, with a large percentage from (surprise?) Germany. The selections—especially those from Greece (Thanassis Totsikas, Maria Papadimitriou, Apostolos Georgiou, DeAnna Maganias, Panos Kokkinias)—were the obvious ones. By including six pivotal artists of the ’60s who continue to exert a significant influence—Kounellis, Nauman, Ruscha, Beuys, Polke, and Byars—Joachimides gave “Outlook” a vague historical slant. However, the installation failed to articulate the links between generations. Instead, we found sometimes baffling juxtapositions, like that of Beuys’s Richtkräfte (Directional Forces), 1974–77, a blackboard installation, with paintings by Neo Rauch and Beat Streuli’s blandly literal mural-size photo installation of people on the streets of Athens. There is no connection among these three artists except that they’re all from the German-speaking part of Europe. And Julie Mehretu’s A Renegade Excavation, 2001, is worlds apart from Nauman’s Mapping the Studio II With Color Shift, Flip, Flop & Flip/Flop (Fat Chance John Cage) All Action Edit, 2001. Where Nauman’s work is based on repetition ad infinitum, the fragmentation of space, and the elimination of narrative, Mehretu’s painting is traditional to the core.

Many of the works were made in situ, such as Tobias Rehberger’s terse Pont du Blin, 2003, which created a conceptual link between two cities: Electronically regulated by weather conditions in Ireland, “rain” appeared, ironically, under a bridge in Athens whenever it rained in Dublin. This was one of several works that evolved out of the artists’ involvement with the city or with Greece, among them Martin Kippenberger’s 1994 project for the imaginary Museum of Modern Art on Syros and Christian Jankowski’s Talk Athens, 2003, a humorous and disconcerting video based on a Greek TV program. With regards to the other work included, there were “greats”—like William Kentridge’s Journey to the Moon, 2003, and Carsten Höller’s Black Sphere, 2003, as well as “not so greats,” like Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s The Wind, 2002, which was just too labored, or Jan Fabre’s Searching for Utopia, 2003, an absurd amount of bronze wasted on the representation of an oversized tortoise. That “Outlook” took place at all was a positive event for Athens, but it’s regrettable that the exhibition turned out to be too daring for the uninitiated yet too familiar for the cognoscenti.

Catherine Cafopoulos