As an artist, it is not often that I have the opportunity to be the one asking the questions and so, when invited by Marek Bartelik to participate in this special issue of the Brooklyn Rail, in which artists get the chance to “interrogate” those who write about our art and ask us questions about it, I jumped at the opportunity.
As a historian, critic, and curator working in the eye of the European Crisis storm, I was keen to ask Kosmadaki about the effect of the crisis on Greek art and artists, about her views on the Greek art scene more generally, and, perhaps most importantly, about her own practice.
Danae Stratou: Has the economic crisis influenced the artwork produced in Greece during the last two to three years, either conceptually or with respect to media?
Polyna Kosmadaki: Yes it has, especially with regard to the media. Large scale or expensive productions have become very rare, both in terms of artworks and exhibitions. However, a lack of means has encouraged the artists to work more and more conceptually and to produce works that are less spectacular in form but more reflexive in content.
Stratou: Are the artists and their art more politically or socially engaged in Greece today? If so, has this improved the quality of art?
Kosmadaki: I do not believe that political engagement is linked to the quality of a work of art, in any period or culture. Certainly many artists, like many other Greeks, have become more politically aware during recent years, but not necessarily more socially engaged. However I do not view the art produced in Greece or by Greek artists to be a direct result of the crisis but an extension of a global artistic orientation towards the “political” or the “social.” In a time where the concepts of power, “the political,” and resistance are questioned and theorized anew, there are some artists in Greece, as all over the world, who reflect on art’s ability to address critical, “current” issues, such as democracy, participation, solidarity, economic resilience, and working conditions and relations.
Stratou: Are Greek artists migrating from Greece more than before? And if yes, where to, mostly?
Kosmadaki: Greeks in general are migrating from Greece more than before, to Germany, the U.K., the Netherlands, Italy, France, the States, etc. However many of them also remain active in Greece, participating in the current formations of the art field here. What is interesting is that the climate of unrest has created a creative edge generated by the current situation, and artists from other countries are starting to settle in Greece as well.
Stratou: In your work as curator, how do you discover new artists? What moves you to engage with them as a critic/curator?
Kosmadaki: Mainly by working as a museum curator. I meet a lot of artists who propose projects to be presented at the Benaki Museum. I also visit exhibitions and student shows, write reviews, and meet and visit the studios of artists I find most interesting. At the same time, I focus more on artists whose work touches upon themes I am working on or corresponds to projects I am preparing, and engage with them in a mutual relationship, regularly discussing ideas and concepts as well as practical and theoretical approaches.
Stratou: Have you ever “discovered” an artist through their website, Facebook page, etc., or is it only through other “analogue” means?
Kosmadaki: I find myself turning more and more toward online sources and social media to view artworks, to read artists’ statements, or to trace an artist’s activities. After that however, personal contact is always necessary.
Stratou: Do you feel you are more inclined to collaborate with artists whose personality you like?
Kosmadaki: Yes, I frequently work with artists whose personality I admire and/or like, as the personal exchange of ideas, projects, and the circumstances of their realization is based on communication and mutual trust, and is therefore an important factor of curatorial work.
Stratou: As critic and curator do you form long-lasting collaborations with artists? If yes, how much space does this leave for new collaborations?
Kosmadaki: Yes I do, because I feel it is important to follow an artist’s work while it is evolving, and to allow time in order to form a substantial dialogue and understanding. At the same time, there is always space for new relationships of that kind to arise or other collaborations to happen. I find that my practice is most interesting when I simultaneously work with artists I have been following for a long time and newly discovered artists who intrigue me.
Stratou: How do you judge the quality of art criticism in Greece today?
Kosmadaki: I am afraid that effective and substantial art criticism is very rare in Greece today. There are many critics I respect and whose opinions I value, but there is no systematic way, nor a permanent space for critical reviews to be published and discussed. A couple of recent magazines of art critics (AICA Greece’s Kritiki kai Techni) and art historians (Istoria tis technis [History of Art]) have been a very good step towards filling that gap.
Stratou: Is there a significant difference, these days, between a curator and a critic?
Kosmadaki: In principle, they are completely different practices. Nevertheless they are informed by the same ideas and debates. Moreover, many curators write reviews and many critics curate shows, and, in my opinion, the lines between the two have been blurred for a long time now.
Stratou: Would you agree that curators have gradually been superseding artists as the “real” creators, even the “stars” of art shows, while artists are being relegated to subcontractors?
Kosmadaki: No. Of course, we have in recent years witnessed very creative curatorial approaches. Many practices and positions have focused on redefining the role of curators and artists as well as the role of the viewers in the production and reception of artworks by eliminating all traditional boundaries between these “roles.”
Stratou: What is your view of the Greek art system (artists, galleries, museums, directors, collectors) and how well is it connected to the international art system?
Kosmadaki: Five years ago, I co-authored an article entitled “Reading the Greek contemporary art scene: From multicultural critique to local meta-theory” in Kritiki kai Techni, showing that the concealed use of multicultural and post-colonial discourse in conjunction with the antinomy of its regular proscription in the contemporary art scene leads, mainly, to what I describe as a politically correct local “meta-theory,” rather than to radical proposals and practices. I think this is beginning to change and that we are now witnessing the emergence of a new art field considered, in Bourdieu’s terms, as an autonomous and independent space of social play structured by power relations, that interacts with other fields and social positions, and defines the relations between systems of thought, social structures, and material and symbolic capital.
Stratou: Do you prefer to show works that are cheaper and simpler to produce as opposed to installations that are harder and more complicated to install?
Kosmadaki: It is not a matter of magnitude, although, pragmatically speaking one has to consider restrictions of budget.
Stratou: There is a tendency these days for artists to acquire Ph.D.s. Do you think this is a useful or a problematic trend?
Kosmadaki: Research, in any context and for any purpose, is always useful.
Stratou: What would your advice be to a young artist starting her or his career now in Greece?
Kosmadaki: Read. Listen. Talk. Share. See exhibitions and visit museums. Travel. Show your work. Be patient, open, and professional.
Polina Kosmadaki is an art historian living and working in Athens. She studied art history and archaeology in Strasbourg and Paris and holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Paris-IV-Sorbonne. She is currently the Head Curator of the Department of Painting, Prints, and Drawings of the Benaki Museum, Athens and a lecturer of art in the European studies program of the Hellenic Open University. She has organized and curated a number of exhibitions, edited catalogues, and contributed articles and papers in a number of volumes on modern and contemporary Greek art.Danae Stratou
Danae Stratou is an artist whose work consists of large-scale installations and audio-visual environments. She has exhibited widely including the 48th Venice Biennale, Italy (1999), the 1st Valencia Biennale, Spain (2001), the 1st Thessaloniki Biennale, Greece (2007), La Verrire (Fondation D’ Enterprise Hermes), Belgium (2010), the Adelaide International Festival: Restless, Australia (2012). She initiated and co-founded Vital Space, a global, interdisciplinary, cross-media art platform addressing the pressing issues of our time. She is one of the three-members of D.A.S.T Arteam, who created “Desert Breath,” one of the largest Land Art projects worldwide, covering 100,000m2 (1997), in the Egyptian Sahara.