We spoke with the founder of und. Athens guide about how to catch the pulse of Athens and make the most of its galleries, bookstores, art spaces and more.
Thanks to crisis-related news, more eyes have been on Athens of late than in quite some time. For those living outside of Greece, the city is becoming more than a quick stop-over before heading to an island for summer holidays. Projects like Documenta 14 have brought the attention of the international art community to the city. Thanks to a combination of civil unrest, economic austerity, and the city’s own “fuck you” swagger since, well, the creation of western thought, now is a riper time than ever for discovering Athens’ alternative art scene.
Enter und. Athens. The meticulously researched contemporary art guide, which comes in the form of an easy to tote map, promotes Athens’ alternative art scene. In a city where many people don’t even know a contemporary art museum exists, this first-of-its-kind undertaking was sorely needed. Athens’ myriad bookstores, record shops, galleries, etc can finally receive their due attention.
DR was lucky to speak with Kiriakos Spirou, the founder of und. Athens. This is one of my favorite interviews to date, as it features the kind of insight any curious, culture-craving human might desire upon moving to or visiting a large city… Where are THOSE bookstores (hint, one of them is intentionally hidden)? Where is culture brewing? Is this a viable place to be a creative?
Read our exclusive conversation with und. Athens below, and click here for a full list of stockists so you can start discovering Athens’ alternative art scene. P.S. many of these are spaces in Athens you ought to check out anyways.
Do you think Athens has fallen under the radar as an art destination? Is that changing?
On the contrary, I believe that Athens has received considerable attention the past year because of art events happening in the city. The organization of half of the Documenta quinquennial in Athens has played a big part in turning the spotlight on the city, and large institutions have put this momentum to good use to help promote local creativity. There has been an overwhelmingly large number of exhibitions in the past few months because of Documenta, and several new art spaces have opened in the past year. We’re now counting over 50 alternative and non-profit art spaces, and some 65 contemporary art galleries! What remains to be seen is whether the artistic community will be able to sustain this pace and scale of activity, or whether it will shrink again to its previous size and scope.
What about this city makes it a fertile place for artists?
It’s a very comfortable place to live, meaning that when the weather and the food is good, everyone feels better about themselves. It’s also very cheap to rent property here, which means artists can afford studios and workspaces to create. The fact that we don’t have large commercial art fairs in Athens also means that artists are not pressed to be productive, which gives them time to be more inventive and evolve their practice at their own pace. Lastly, there’s a particular aesthetic in the way Athens is aging as a city, which is a combination of decay, achievement, and livability.
This city is so, so old. And has always been a breeding ground for ideas. What spaces (bookstores, galleries, music venues etc) stand out to you in 2017?
My favourite bookstore is OMMU in Kolonaki, both for its minimalist space and amazing collection of rare art publications and magazines. Another interesting bookshop is Fotagogos, which means ‘light well’ in Greek. It’s hidden inside a stoa and sells books as well as organizing interesting exhibitions. There’s also a new project space called VOID which opened just last year but has been doing some amazing things with indy publishing and experimental photography. From the commercial galleries, I appreciate the quality found at The Breeder, and it’s been a very interesting year so far for Christina Androulidaki Gallery as well. A swarm of other new project spaces and galleries has opened last year, the most promising being the new showroom of Serapis collective in the area of Thisseio, Grace project space near the railway station, and [float] gallery in Koukaki. There’s also an amazing new skating bowl in Metaxourgeio called Latraac, which also has a garden and a small café and organizes music events and other happenings.
How has the crisis affected the art community?
The severe austerity imposed on Greece by its lenders has drained the country of its resources, and this has, of course, affected the cultural sector. There is austerity in the way artists work, events are organized and museums operate. At the same time, private mega-institutions and collectors have replaced the state in producing culture and defining cultural policy. As a result, art and culture happening in Greece at the moment is mostly a private-led affair presented as public benefaction. I’m not saying that private institutions should stop spending on art, but I think that the policy making should be more open, grassroots and public. This would change the priorities completely. And I guess this is why so many independent art spaces have popped up everywhere and emerging artists like to open their studios more often.
What do you wish visitors to Athens knew about the city’s art?
It’s important to know that, although this is a very hospitable and friendly city, Athens doesn’t really care what anyone thinks about her, and this shows in the art. You won’t find many “international profile” artists in Greece, and this is not because their work is inferior to their foreign colleagues. The people who have chosen to remain in Greece in spite of austerity are very conscious people, who are sacrificing a lot and working under extremely hard conditions trying to remain creative and get their art out there. If you want to pick up the pulse of the local art scene, walk around the center to take photos of the street art, and visit as many non-commercial exhibitions and performances as you can.
Love this story? Read our interview with Athens-based artist Nefelia.
Is your guide geared more towards tourists, Greeks or both? Why?
My guide is addressed to the art professional, meaning the journalist, the curator, the dealer, the policy-maker visiting Greece and looking for new and fresh artists, events, spaces. So I guess it’s not a matter of nationality but of intention. und. Athens is very clearly designed and easy to use, so even the more art-curious members of the general public will find it useful, especially if they want to explore the alternative side of town. What makes this guide unique is that it provides the most comprehensive art directory of Athens to date, together with suggestions of where to eat and drink or which hill to climb for a picnic. My intention was to map the undocumented art scene (hence the name und.), the independent art spaces, the small artist studios—and present them in such an attractive way that they would be as visible and as legitimate as the big galleries.
Pick up your copy of und. Athens at one of its many stockists, which can be found here.
und. Athens also has a wonderful blog if you’re dying to know more about alternative creativity in Athens. Check it out here.
Select photos by Giorgos Vitsaropoulos