East meets west
We met Theodora outside CAN Christina Androulidaki Gallery in Kolonaki. Dressed in a stylish black suit and a neat ponytail, Theodora cheerfully led us inside to see a solo show by Marianna Ignataki—a Greek artist based in Berlin, who previously spent many years in China. Her anthropomorphic sculptures are tall, elegant totems made of black hair that look like elaborate headpieces or masks. “Ignataki's work has been greatly influenced by Chinese culture,” Theodora explained. “Having very long hair or growing one's fingernails long was considered a sign of status and wealth in China. The hair Ignataki uses in her sculptures is artificial hair used to make wigs in traditional Chinese opera.” The sculptures were accompanied by drawings depicting bearded women and other female “freaks”, mixing facts about these women with imaginary narratives. Gallerist Christina Androulidaki joined us half way through the tour and provided her personal insights about the artist’s work.
To get to Efi Haliori’s photography studio, you have to go through an underground parking lot. The photographer ushered us into a softly lit workspace with a view of a garden. Large, impressive prints of unpublished work hung all around the studio showing natural landscapes captured in an abstract way—a typical trait of Haliori's work. One of her series is about her fear of dark forests and includes images shot during a nightly expedition in a forest in an attempt to face her fears. One of the walls was dedicated to a work in progress: a series of unpublished images shot in operating marble quarries around Greece. “I'm fascinated by quarries”, Haliori told us, “because they are like dangerous, massive and industrial places that at the same time are so close to nature and the earth.” The artist shared these images with us as a preview, since all of these photos are unpublished. She then pulled a box from her archive with another recent series she shot on the island of Lesvos, which includes chilling seascapes of places where immigrants have made a crossing to Greece. “I have intentionally excluded any sign of human presence from these images,” she told us, “because I believe the sea carries the stories of the people who have attempted to cross these straits”.
“There is a very promising young generation of Greek artists based in Athens who deserve more international attention,” Theodora said, as we walked to our next stop. “Their work is on a par with their international peers, but their prices are lower. This makes an attractive opportunity for foreign collectors to acquire work by emerging artists.” I asked Theodora how the Arthens project (which is pronounced art-thens, not art-hens!) came about. “I decided to create a service that brings visitors interested in contemporary art in touch with galleries in a more focused, tailor-made way, and help them find something they would like to buy. It’s a concept unique to Greece that seems to be working well so far.”
Time for the big guns
Our next stop was one of the most respected art spaces in Athens, the Zoumboulakis Gallery. A high-ceilinged space right on Kolonaki Square, the recently-renovated gallery, also houses an architecture practice; we could see people in meetings through a glass wall. Natural light floods the gallery through floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to the garden with an outdoor sculpture by Greek artist, Yannis Moralis. We explored a solo exhibition by painter Philippos Theodorides, an artist who works with abstraction to create nuanced, layered paintings often inspired by musical compositions.
Boats and basements
In a narrow but bright Illisia corner shop, Ileana Arnaoutou and Lily Hassioti have set up Athens Open Studio, a multi-disciplinary creative space. The ground floor doubles as their workshop and a space for art classes. The mezzanine is used for meetings, but the basement is where the magic happens. It’s the site of experiments, special projects and installations. Ileana works mostly in painting and drawing, focussing on dreamlike situations and hybrid figures that are part-human, part-animal. Lily makes site-specific, ephemeral installations that she often destroys afterwards. We watched Lily work on a study for a large sculpture inspired by sailing. Through a system of pulleys, ropes and weights, the sculpture adapts to its location, inviting the viewer to reflect on issues of space and time through the metaphor of the sailing boat.
Top tip: Theodora is very well-informed about the Athenian art community, especially artists of her generation. Happy to answer any questions, she can also recommend lunch or dinner options to combine with your tour. A complimentary car service will be arranged if your itinerary includes galleries that are not within walking distance.
What’s the verdict?
Our tour with Arthens was delightful and very thoroughly prepared. Art lovers will enjoy Theodora’s expert knowledge of local galleries. But if you’re not an art buff, fear not: Theodora will go as “light” (or as academic) as you want. Professionals and art collectors might opt for a full-day tour to cover more ground and spend more time networking and previewing unseen work.
- Duration: 4 hours
- Cost: From €150 per tour, for groups up to six people.