One of Athens’ architectural emblems – the old Public Tobacco Factory – is to be reborn in 2021 with a new cultural identity and well-timed artistic purpose.
Pioneering Greek art foundation NEON, backed by the billionaire Greek art philanthropist Dimitris Daskalopoulos, will renovate one half of the listed monument on Lenorman Street in order to stage an international exhibition called “Portals” from June to December, before giving the landmark space back to the Greek state as a new culture hub. The other half of the sprawling site, which spans an entire block, is home to the Hellenic Parliament Library and Printing House.
Completed in 1930, the Tobacco Factory, with its distinctive bright façade, was forged in the spirit of modernism to serve the country’s booming cigarette manufacturing industry. Once a symbol of Greece’s industrialisation and progress, the historic venue will now provide a “profoundly resonant” incubator for Greek contemporary art, according to Madeleine Grynsztejn, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, who will co-curate Portals with NEON director Elina Kountouri. The Tobacco Factory exhibition and €1 million conversion project is prompted by this year’s bicentennial celebrations of Greece’s War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821 which led to the creation of the Modern Greek State.
Portals, in partnership with the Hellenic Parliament, will address today’s international political and societal upheavals with works by 40 influential Greek artists and global heavy hitters including Michael Rakowitz, Glenn Ligon and Danh Vo.
Says Grynsztejn: “Art is crucial in times like these; illuminating who we are, giving shape to our experiences, broadening our perspectives, and guiding us towards the society we wish to be.”
Adds Kountouri: “This particular moment in history takes us through a ‘portal’. When we emerge on the other side, we will need to reaffirm - for the sake of future generations - our commitment to certain values: the rule of law, human rights and democracy.”
The full artist programme will be announced in coming months. Following the six-month exhibition, the restored former Public Tobacco Factory will be used as a contemporary culture and social centre, says NEON, offering a dynamic space for meeting and exchanging ideas. You can read more about the project here.