BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors

Poka-Yio

Founding Director of the Athens Biennale

Poka-Yio. Photo: Nysos Vasilopoulos
Poka-Yio. Photo: Nysos Vasilopoulos

Tell us a little bit about the history of the Athens Biennale.

The Athens Biennale is a private initiative. It started 16 years ago as a crazy dream, almost a joke, when a friend curator, an art critic and me, an artist, were questioning ourselves: should we stay in Athens or migrate as there were no opportunities for young artists here? We chose to follow the beaten path of the Biennial format but do it in a slightly twisted, controversial way. Since its inception, Athens Biennale’s scope has been to narrate our era from the vantage point of Athens, a rising Metropolis at the friction point of the edge of Europe. The aim was to help place Athens in the contemporary art map by connecting the Athenian art scene to the international scene.

How do you, as Founding Director, ensure that the event stays contemporary and current in the fast-paced world, influenced by the art market and now the pandemic?

One of the things that differentiate the Athens Biennale in the international Biennial circuit is that each iteration is not conceived from scratch but is echoing the past editions in an unfolding continuum that struggles to be in a synchronicity with the spirit of our times. It’s like divination. If you contemplate feverishly on the future, you may bring it to the present. That is how AB1: DESTROY ATHENS was born, before the break of the Greek crisis and that is how AB7: ECLIPSE was conceived before the break of the pandemic and the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Have you witnessed a shift in artistic production in Athens and Greece to react specifically to the pandemic?

There is a rising element of performativity, of the fleeting and elusive. A need for agility. It transcends disciplines. Not just performative arts but even painting, installations, or filmmaking have become testimonials of the artist’s presence. An affirmation. Maybe it is existence itself that struggles to stay afloat and in the foreground.

Nektarios Pappas, The Last Judgement, 2019. Performance/Installation, 20'. Courtesy of the artist. Photography: Yannis Gaitanidis.
Nektarios Pappas, The Last Judgement, 2019. Performance/Installation, 20'. Courtesy of the artist. Photography: Yannis Gaitanidis.

Is there something as part of this year’s Biennale program, ECLIPSE, that you are particularly looking forward to?

ECLIPSE speaks about transition through an ominous and unsettling era. The strong presence of diasporic voices and the way they may catalyze a shift against the intolerance, evident in parts of Greek society, is part of its working assumption. How can we mobilize a large part of society that remains mostly marginalised? A vibrant human, social and cultural energy that may bring vital solutions to an aging and demoralized culture. Will this have an effect? Let’s see.

What do the artworks being presented at the 7th Athens Biennale reveal about the current trends and market?

They reveal a strong tendency towards multicultural co-existence and towards a radical reconfiguration of the essence of identity, gendered or racial. The last decade was focusing on the collective while the recent disillusionment has led to a retract to the individual Subject. If one wants to explore and invest in a niche, then I suggest trying to explore the endless multiplicities that have exploded while zooming-in the Self.

Ndayé Kouagou, Are you always?, 2020. Printed vinyl, metallic plates, 250 x 250 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Nir Altman Gallery, Munich.
Ndayé Kouagou, Are you always?, 2020. Printed vinyl, metallic plates, 250 x 250 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Nir Altman Gallery, Munich.
Judy Chicago, Immolation from Women and Smoke, 1972. Fireworks performance in the California Desert. © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo courtesy of Through the Flower Archives. Courtesy of the artist, Salon 94, New York and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco.
Judy Chicago, Immolation from Women and Smoke, 1972. Fireworks performance in the California Desert. © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo courtesy of Through the Flower Archives. Courtesy of the artist, Salon 94, New York and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco.

How do you perceive the position of collectors at an event like the Athens Biennale?

Collectors are a special breed. Exploring, savouring, digesting. The Athens Biennale and similar Biennales, such as Berlin and Istanbul, offer the opportunity to discover a blend of highly renown and less exposed or upcoming artists but under a contextual framework that resonates highly, at least with European audiences. Collectors are becoming more and more performative themselves. Same as curators, or museum directors their actions are in the spotlight, they are acknowledged as public figures and/or auteurs. Athens is one of the most fascinating spots for contemporary art in Europe and globally. Explore its scene and build ties with it.

In addition to the Athens Biennale, what exhibition or event is a “must-see”?

NEON’s exhibition Portals at a spectacular new cultural center. Ubuntu, the collection of Harry and Lana David at EMST. DESTE’s Anti-Structure. All three initiated by some of the major Athenian collectors. State of Concept is exhibiting the amazing Metahaven. Smaller independent art spaces are buzzing with shows and of course the galleries and studio visits will fill the most demanding itinerary with exciting options.

Christoph Draeger, Dead Hostage (Black September), 2002. Snapshot from the production, inkjet file print, 110 x 150 cm. Edition of 5. Courtesy of Lokal_30, Warsaw. Photo by Christoph Draeger.
Christoph Draeger, Dead Hostage (Black September), 2002. Snapshot from the production, inkjet file print, 110 x 150 cm. Edition of 5. Courtesy of Lokal_30, Warsaw. Photo by Christoph Draeger.
Zuzanna Czebatul, Their New Power (Head), 2020. Polyethylene, acrylic and sand, 150 x 240 x 170 cm. View from the exhibition "The Singing Dunes of Zuzanna Czebatul", CAC-La synagogue de Delme, 2020.
Zuzanna Czebatul, Their New Power (Head), 2020. Polyethylene, acrylic and sand, 150 x 240 x 170 cm. View from the exhibition "The Singing Dunes of Zuzanna Czebatul", CAC-La synagogue de Delme, 2020.

Poka-Yio is an artist and curator. He is the Founding Director of the Athens Biennale, Head of Onassis Culture Visual Culture and Associate Professor at the Athens School of Fine Arts

More Information on AB 7: ECLIPSE

Insiders (59)

Boris Ondreička

Artistic Director of viennacontemporary

Maribel Lopez

Director of ARCO

David Gryn

Founder and Director of Daata

Fondation Beyeler Audiovisual Broadcast

Fondation Beyeler and Nordstern Basel present Dixon x Transmoderna

Gary Yeh

Founder of ArtDrunk and Young Collector

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Maike Cruse

2020 Gallery Weekend Berlin

Touria El Glaoui

Founding Director of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

Johann König

Messe in St. Agnes

PArt - Producers Art Platform

A crisis initiative to help artists directly affected by the pandemic

Barbara Moore

CEO of Biennale of Sydney

Unique Collector’s Item

by Independent Collectors

Alix Dana

Fair Director at Independent

When Collectors are Able to Commission

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Juliet Kothe and Julia Rust

Initiators of Collection Night, Berlin

Marie-Anne McQuay

Curator of Wales in Venice, 58th Venice Biennale 2019

Dorothy and Herb Vogel

Two extraordinary art collectors

Heather Hubbs

Director at NADA

Every Art Collection Needs Space

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Collecting Art with François Pinault

Rudolf Stingel at Palazzo Grassi

A Common Ground

by Silvia Anna Barrilà

Caroline Vos

Director at Amsterdam Art Weekend

Hidden Collections

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Nicole Berry

Executive Director of The Armory Show

Daniel Hug

Fair Director at Art Cologne

The Role of the Art Fair

by Silvia Anna Barrilà

Peter Bläuer

Director at LISTE

A Brush Against Nature

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Ilaria Bonacossa

Director of Artissima

Excessiveness, the Latent Danger of Collecting Art

by Independent Collectors

Jo Stella-Sawicka

Artistic Director at Frieze

Florence Bourgeois

Director at Paris Photo

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by Christiane Meixner

Specifically Commissioned

by Silvia Anna Barrilà

Manuela Mozo

Executive Director of UNTITLED, ART Miami and San Francisco

Important Museums and Private Collections

by Christiane Meixner

Susanna Corchia

Director of the Barcelona Gallery Weekend

Emilia van Lynden

Artistic Director at Unseen, Amsterdam

Carlos Urroz

Director at ARCOmadrid

Shoe Smudges Streaked Across the White Walls

by Christiane Meixner

Amanda Coulson

Director at VOLTA Basel

Douwe Cramer

Director at Singapore Contemporary

Art and Architecture – Attractive Allies

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Jo Baring

Curator of Sculpture Series, Masterpiece London

Bidders and Buyers

by Christiane Meixner

Anne Vierstraete

Managing Director at Art Brussels

Nanna Hjortenberg

Director at CHART

The Crucial Role of the New

by Independent Collectors

Makers and Believers

On Art History’s Most Famous Patrons

The Past is Back

And collectors are buying it up

Are Artists the Better Curators?

On the diminishing boundary between professions in the art world

The Digital Museum

On the importance of the museum’s web presence

The Man in the Middle

On the curator’s private and public engagements

A Private Matter?

On the importance of physical space for the value of art

Off the Wall

How museums contribute to the worth of artworks

Where to Go Next?

The fragmentation of Manhattan’s gallery scene

To Buy or Not to Buy

Collectors on their experiences of letting an artwork slip away

How to Pass On a Passion

On long-term challenges for new private museums