Just off one the main shopping streets of Kolonaki, the lively centre of Athens, you will find Eleftheria Tseliou Gallery. Run by a young and motivated Athenian, the gallery showcases the cream of the crop when it comes to Greek contemporary art. Quality, it is clear, is of the utmost importance to Tseliou, gallery owner and curator, whose carefully curated shows have drawn in the kind of crowds upcoming galleries can only dream off. Think people spilling out on the street on opening night kind of thing!
From the 26 – 29th May, Art Athina, The International Contemporary Arts Fair of Athens will take place. In its 20th edition, it is the perfect place to get a proper understanding of an art scene finally beginning to get the attention it deserves. We speak to Tseliou about her upcoming showcase at Art Athina, and ask her what it means to be a young gallery owner and curator in Greece today.
Firstly, can tell us what it is like to own a gallery in Athens today? Are there still people who are interested in buying art in the current climate?
Eleftheria: So far its been a very creative, energetic, fun process – thanks to the people I work with, and often like with everything that starts from scratch a very challenging, consuming one too. Starting a contemporary gallery in Athens right in the middle of a severe crisis could be seen as a bold move, and sometimes it feels like it too, yet mostly it is actually a very rewarding, liberating and often very relevant one! The current climate doesn’t exactly encourage people to buy art, that’s true but there are always these people that love art and set their relationship to it as a priority, or those that can successfully recognize the opportunities that appear in buying art here today. I believe it is our job as galleries to always look for ways to get more and more people interested in what we do. I very much believe in the power of those who will start by being interested today and eventually become passionate about it, especially if that happens in the right context.
Ilias Koen, Untitled, graphite on paper, 50 x 75 cm , 2015, courtesy of the artist and Eleftheria Tseliou gallery.
“The current climate doesn’t exactly encourage people to buy art, that’s true but there are always these people that love art and set their relationship to it as a priority, or those that can successfully recognize the opportunities that appear in buying art here today.”
How do the artists you work with react to the current conditions in Greece? History has shown that hardship can sometimes result in the most powerful of artistic outputs!
Eleftheria: For many, like anywhere else in the world, the financial reality of being an artist and especially in today’s Greece can be hard, and like any of us really, I think artists also can’t help but get affected one way or another by the political, social, economic circumstances around them. The thing is, when it comes to the result of their artistic production, and as far as the artists I work with are concerned, I feel not much has changed, not at least since the beginning of the financial crisis. As biased as this may sound every single one of the artists we work with are artists whose integrity and deep commitment to their work has been proven and never been actually shaped by the market, irrespective of any market success they may have enjoyed or not at times till now. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying the market is not decisive in certain ways but not necessarily as far as the work itself is concerned.
Vasilis Zografos, Sol Non Balaye, oil on canvas, 140 x 140 cm , 2014, courtesy of the artist and Eleftheria Tseliou gallery.
Margarita Myrogianni, Rb 37, lambda c- print, 37 x 37 cm, 2015, edition of 3.
What it is about each of the six artists that you are showing at Art Athina this year that you find the most interesting?
Eleftheria: That’s almost impossible to put in a few words! If I were to try though I would concentrate on Antonakis‘ incredible natural ability to paint as he does and to always successfully push the boundaries of his own work, whilst maintaining a very distinct style, on Apostolos’ (Karastergiou) unbelievable skill and capacity for detail which he is so effortlessly placed within a very minimal context creating whole new worlds, on David’s (Sampethai) most original talent and inherent ability to never stop taking the extra step and to always keep us surprised, on Ilias’ (Koen) artistic integrity and his amazing understanding of the mechanics of vision, as well as his great potential to reinvent the notion of perfection in his works, on Margarita’s (Myrogianni) admirable inventiveness and most great talent and authentic approach to photography, on Vasilis’ (Zografos) very skillful ability to examine the traditional – both thematically and technically- and to place it so successfully within a very contemporary frame.
“…on Ilias’ (Koen) artistic integrity and his amazing understanding of the mechanics of vision, as well as his great potential to reinvent the notion of perfection in his works.”
David Sampethai, Untitled, oil on canvas , 120 x 100 cm, 2016, courtesy of the artist and Eleftheria Tseliou gallery.
Wow! Have you chosen to put these artists together for any reason in particular?
Eleftheria: Our presentation at this year’s Art Athina, apart from the focus on contemporary Greek painting, is also a presentation or a summary to a small extent, a reminder of our recent gallery program. All the six artists whose work is to be shown at the booth have all recently had shows with the gallery. The works at Art Athina will be new works of course!
Apostolos Karastergiou, Untitled, watercolour on parchment, 10 x 12 cm, 2015 courtesy of the artist and Eleftheria Tseliou gallery.
Can you tell us a bit about your current exhibition Modular modules mode.
Eleftheria: Modular modules mode is a show / tribute to the Greek sculptress Ioanna Spiteri – Veropoulou, and is curated by Alexios Papazacharias. The show is the first of a series of curatorials, hopefully to be presented once a year at the gallery, with interest in memory. There has been a significant number of artists like Spiteri – Veropoulou whose exceptional work inside and outside of Greece has made an impact in their time, but, for various unfortunate reasons, their legacy hasn’t found its place in our time. We are not a museum, neither do we want to be, but we believe it is important for all of us to know, understand and honor where we come from. Alexios (Papazacharias) took this idea we had a step further and invited eight contemporary artists whose artistic production is very relevant to Ioanna Spiteri – Veropoulou’s to present their work alongside hers. The result is very lively and interesting both in terms of reminding people of her great work of the 60s and 70s, so contemporary today, but also in underlining the connections and the continuity in art even when that does not happen consciously. Alongside the works of Ioanna Spiteri – Veropoulou are works by artists: Antonakis, Marc Charpentier, Dora Economou (courtesy of The Breeder ), Ilias Koen, Nana Sachini ( Courtesy of A. Antonopoulou gallery) , Sofia Simaki, Petros Touloudis, Kostis Velonis (courtesy of Kalfayan galleries).
“There has been a significant number of artists like Spiteri – Veropoulou whose exceptional work inside and outside of Greece has made an impact in their time, but, for various unfortunate reasons, their legacy hasn’t found its place in our time.”
Antonakis, Study of Ivy’s mom living room, oil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm, 2016, courtesy of the artist and Eleftheria Tseliou gallery.
And lastly, what’s next for Eleftheria Tseliou Gallery?
Eleftheria: Our current show Modular modules mode will be on display at the gallery till the 11th of June. Right after that starting on the 16th June, we will be presenting our summer show Multiples for which we have invited a number of artists to experiment with what they understand as unique today and with how important that notion is for artistic production today. All of the artists have been asked to produce a work in an edition of 3, except from the artists whose work usually comes in editions and who are expected to produce only a single work for this show. Multiples will be on till mid September, and after that the new season will begin with our second dual show after Two Johns, this time a collaboration between artists Margarita Myrogianni and George Hadjimichalis, for which I am very excited!