A special chapter in the history of the J. F. Costopoulos Foundation, and a decisive activity for its identity, is that of its own exhibitions and publications. It all started in 1994, with the exhibition of the internationally renowned Jannis Kounellis, and continues to this day. Focusing mainly on contemporary art exhibitions and their accompanying catalogues, this activity sometimes goes into other areas such as the production of self-contained publications, documentary films of artistic and cultural character, and conferences. Nevertheless, it is the field of art exhibitions which has established the Foundation in the minds of the art-loving public as one of the major institutions, whether private or public, which support and promote the visual arts in Greece and abroad.
Even when the Foundation embarked on organising its own exhibitions, it never ceased to support exhibitions organised by other institutions at a time when few venues, private or public, promoted contemporary art; in the early 1990s the state museums of contemporary art had not been founded yet nor had the private or regional museums, collections and foundations acquired their own spaces. The Greek art scene in the 1980s and 1990s was a lot different than the current one; if not actually barren, it was still inhospitable when it came to contemporary art. Even in the field of commercial artistic activity, very few galleries dealt exclusively in contemporary art and even fewer in international contemporary art. The concerted efforts to promote domestic art and link it to the European scene
did not start until the second half of the 1990s, with the establishment of the Hellenic Art Galleries Association. This means that Art Athina did not exist yet, while the auctions by Greek and international Houses which were beginning to be held in Greece did not encompass contemporary art. Under these circumstances, the Board of Trustees of the Foundation, wishing to support contemporary artistic expression in addition to other aspects of culture, decided to collaborate with other supporters of contemporary art in promoting the oeuvre of Greek or Greek-born artists who had gained international acclaim, particularly in the second half of
the twentieth century and specifically after the 1960s. The fact that the Foundation did not have its own exhibition venue proved in fact to be beneficial. On the one hand, it enabled us to organise exhibitions in unconventional venues, as we can see in the list and the accompanying photographs in this chapter, boosting the impact of the shows and underscoring the alternative, versatile nature of contemporary art; on the other hand, it led to collaborations with many other institutions in the country, as befits the Foundation’s benevolent and flexible orientation. Many of these collaborations grew over the years and
expanded into other areas, often providing excellent results and helping to change the landscape with regard to the reception and appreciation of contemporary art in our country. Among these collaborations, it is worth noting in particular those with the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, the Benaki Museum, the National Gallery-Alexandros Soutzos Museum and the Athens School of Fine Arts; in 1994, the latter was supported by the Foundation in opening and inaugurating with an exhibition of the sculptor Takis the exhibition space named The Factory which remained for several years as the only venue for large and important contemporary art
exhibitions in Athens.
Since 1994 and on an almost annual basis, the Foundation has had a constant presence on the modern and contemporary art scene, organising, co-organising or supporting major exhibitions which promote in Greece and abroad the work and the personality of Greek or Greek-born artists and their role in the domestic or international arena. This activity of the Foundation has been repeatedly recognised, most notably by the OMEPO (Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts) in the years 1994-1999.
Among the exhibitions of the Foundation, a major milestone is that of Jannis Kounellis aboard the M/V IONION in Piraeus, given the importance of the artist, the fact that it was the very first exhibition of the Foundation and the choice of a cargo vessel as the venue. This is a good opportunity to thank the artist and the Bernier/Eliades Gallery for the idea of organising a major exhibition of the artist in his home country and for applying to the Foundation, which undertook the initiative for staging this significant cultural event. As a result of the unique character of this exhibition and its success within and beyond the borders, our communication and collaboration with the artist grew into a warm and productive relationship, and led to the creation of an archive in Greece of Kounellis’s exhibitions and bibliography which is regularly enriched and updated. A more extensive reference to this particular show—although understandable, as it marked the beginning, in 1994, of what is widely acknowledged as a successful The activities of the Foundation have gone beyond Greece and Greek artists. Indicative examples include the 1997 exhibition of Ellie Souyoultzoglou-Seraidari, the photographer known as Nelly’s, at the International Center of Photography in New York in collaboration with the Benaki Museum’s Photographic Archives; the exhibition of contemporary Italian artists in Athens (Gazi) in 1998 as part of Art Athina; or the
2007 show in Thessaloniki of the American artist Eve Sussman and her associates of the Rufus Corporation, from various fields of contemporary
expression, in collaboration with the State Museum of Contemporary Art and as part of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. In addition to organising exhibitions, mostly retrospective, the Foundation has also published or co-published exhibition catalogues and other visualart-related publications. A smaller-scale but not negligible activity is that of publishing in the broader field of our cultural heritage; one example is Roger Tourte’s album on Sifnos, a limited edition for the Foundation’s twentieth anniversary.
More recently, the Foundation embarked on a major new activity in the area of art education, in collaboration with universities and other recognised educational institutions, part of which was the Conference/tribute to Stratis Eleftheriades (Tériade), organised in November, 2008 in collaboration with the University of the Aegean.
One other area of joint projects is that of documentary films, mainly on subjects associated with the exhibitions organised by the Foundation or linked with issues of cultural heritage. We can cite as indicative examples the film by Hans Peter Schwerfel on Jannis Kounellis, co-produced with the German company Artcore, the films by Yorgos Dambassis on Pavlos or the one for the exhibition The Glory of Byzantium, which was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York in 1997.
In closing this succinct reference to the Foundation’s activities in relation to promoting the contemporary art scene and the artistic events
in our country, we wish, before presenting the lists of exhibitions and publications we have undertaken alone or in collaboration with others, to thank the artists for their confidence in the Foundation as it took its first steps in this demanding but challenging and interesting field. We wish to thank all our associates—external and internal—without whose unstinting participation this difficult venture could not have been achieved by a Greek Foundation with limited technical and human resources. It is to them that we owe our reputation as an organisation whose name is a guarantee for noteworthy artistic events in Greece and abroad.