In a timely pre Art Basel odyssey, famed Greek industrialist, collector and philanthropist Dakis Joannou hosted artists, designers and thinkers at 2015's Deste Foundation summer show in Athens and the site-specific installation at the Slaughterhouse Project, a satellite of the foundation located on the tranquil island of Hydra. 'The Slaughterhouse Project began in 2009 in a completely organic way,' explains Joannou, 'with the idea of inviting artists who are in the middle of their careers to create a site specific work.'
This year's invited artist – the American Paul Chan (winner of the Hugo Boss Prize 2014) – staged a symposium, Hippias Minor, in the tradition of the debating platforms that were an integral part of Ancient Greek life. In Chan’s version, candidates duked it out on 'The Art of Cunning', which recapitulated one of Plato's most controversial dialogues. Rhetoric and heckling was in force in the idyllic, vine canopied taverna setting. Guests included Maurizio Cattelan, Urs Fischer, Jeffrey Deitch and designer Sophia Kokosalaki, plus curators and friends of the Foundation. The Chan debate closed three days of openings and events that mark out Deste (which means 'look' in Greek) as a unique and much cherished institution.
The not-for-profit Foundation – which boasts a bold and provocative contemporary art collection and public programme – invited musician/artist Kim Gordon to create a performance at the Benaki Museum entitled Noise Name Paintings and Sculptures of Rock Bands that are broken up, on the opening night. The performer hammered out her riffs against a visual background of Ancient Greek art and daubed rock-and-roll name paintings.
This year also saw the unveiling of candidates for the 2015 Deste Foundation Prize, awarded every two years to a young Greek artist. One of six nominees, Socratis Socratous, created a beguiling work of natural detritus (pine cones, branches, leaves) from the National Garden of Athens. The artifacts were exquisitely recast in bronze and scattered over the tiled floor of the Cycladic Art Museum. The work, both political and poetic, spoke of the threat to beauty in a modern Greece suffering under the current economic crisis.
The unveiling of 'Ametria', a joint show between the Benaki Museum, the Foundation and architect Alessandro Pasini, proved a mind-boggling highlight and the concept of Ametria – the rejection of an overall vision – was reflected in the smart curation. The Museum's ground floor space was transformed into a labyrinth, with no signposting or labelling of the diverse artworks that zig-zagged between historical maps, statues and Deste’s contemporary treasure trove. Exploration and discovery was underlined – all agreed it was a stimulating journey – topped off with a joyous dinner and dance at Dakis and Lietta Joannou’s private home, itself boasting provocative artwork at every turn.