Highlights From the First Fair to Showcase Contemporary Greek Design in a Historical Context
Despite a canonical place in the annals of art and architecture history, Greece has been quiet on the contemporary design scene. Earlier this month, though, the inaugural Athens Design Forum offered a confident counter-narrative — one that asserts the country’s creative relevancy. Conceived and helmed entirely by the young Greek-American curator and writer Katerina Papanikolopoulos, the Forum seeks to “mark Athens as both an emerging and historically established center of creative production.” To do so, she brought together a diverse cast of creators and programmed various activations spanning generations, disciplines, and neighborhoods — all with the type of warm hospitality that, one afternoon, found me enjoying a slice of carrot cake in the famed 85-year-old Greek artist Alekos Fassianos’s living room. Forgoing the oft-detached formality of conventional design fairs, Papanikolopoulos sought to produce an event that embraced the experimental as well as the personal: “I wanted to showcase the process and interiority of designers more than the final products,” she says.
With the Perianth Hotel as my home base for the week — a sleek design hotel in a 1930s Bauhaus building, with Neo-Modernist interiors by the local firm K-Studio — I had the pleasure of touring the Athens Design Forum’s full schedule of happenings, fueled by more feta and Koulouri than I might care to admit. Below are five of my highlights.
Alekos Fassianos Estate
A high point of my week and a half in Greece, visiting the private home and studio of the celebrated Greek painter Alekos Fassianos was an exhilarating experience. The artist’s insatiable creativity was on full display: His self-designed family home in the Athens suburb of Papagos is bursting with paintings and prints as well as furniture, textiles, ceramics, sculptural light fixtures, and cast metal flourishes — all created over the years by the octogenarian. Photos by Paris Tavitian and Dana Covit
Stucco may cause some American readers to shudder, but for experimental design studios Tellurico and Neostandard, it was the perfect technique to play with a collision of ancient and new-world archaeologies. Staged as a live performance during which the designers worked from a makeshift studio in an abandoned building and created artifact-like objects using their own take on stucco (polystyrene covered by a resin-based material), Dissonant Classicism was all about the process. Still, the resulting designs were some of the best we saw all week. Photos by Petros Toufexis
Volax at Carwan Gallery
Named for a small village on the island of Tinos in the Cyclades, this exhibition by Objects of Common Interest at Carwan’s Athens gallery space was meant to evoke the strangely bulbous granite formations for which the village is known. The Greek husband-and-wife duo translated those shapes into smooth lighting and seating sculptures made from linden wood, plus one standout piece in inflated plastic — both of which presented the perfect contrast to the weathered stone walls of the gallery, which was an old ship-repair depot before Carwan took it over last year. Photos by Giorgos Svakianakis
Part of Something
Outside Athens, on the grounds of the Vorres contemporary art museum, local architecture firm KN Group and artist/designer Stamos Michael joined forces to create a site-specific installation that was just a little bit Turrellian. Investigating the human relationship to nature through a built lens, Part of Something offers a peaceful pavilion comprising a marble platform and S-curve walls made from straw-insulated volcanic pigment — a nod to traditional Greek building methods — that serve to frame a tree’s canopy. Possible future iterations of the installation in different locations would all begin around the selection of a new tree, with the project’s materiality, coatings, and color varying “according to the site characteristics, the environmental conditions, and the aging process of each tree,” the designers note. Photos by Chris Kontos
Units of Infrastructure
The original seed for the Athens Design Forum, Units of Infrastructure was curated by Papanikolopoulos herself and features the collected work of several artists, designers, and ceramicists engaging with ideas around mobility, migration, and reclaimed materials. We particularly liked these tables and benches made from reclaimed marble, a balancing act between immoveability and delicacy produced by artist Theodore Psychoyos — and backdropped nicely by a colorful Zoë Paul painting. Photos by Chris Kontos ◆