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Critic's Guide: Athens

A round-up of the best current shows in the Greek capital

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Ai Weiwei, Tyre, 2016, installation view, Museum of Cycladic Art, Athen. Courtesy: 
© Museum of Cycladic Art; 
photograph: Paris Tavitian

Ai Weiwei, Tyre, 2016, installation view, Museum of Cycladic Art, Athen. Courtesy: 
© Museum of Cycladic Art; 
photograph: Paris Tavitian

Ai Weiwei, 'Ai at Cycladic'
Museum of Cycladic Art
20 May – 30 October

Hosted at the opulent Museum of Cycladic Art, 'Ai at Cycladic' is the culmination of an especially active period for the notorious activist-artist. Ai's preparation for the exhibition show began in 2015 when he relocated to the island of Lesbos, establishing a studio in order to document the plight of refugees as they arrived on the island. This project led to the ill judged and now infamous photograph of the artist re-enacting the iconic image of dead Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi lying face down on a beach, but also to a host of new works that are displayed here in a retrospective of sorts. The muted works are the most affective: marble casts of rubber rings typically used by refugees on the dangerous crossing from Turkey to Lesbos, or the photographic series by four Greek photographers whom the artist commissioned to document the different stages of the various refugees’ journeys – from their arrival on shore to their new lives in an internment camp.

This show will do nothing to win over those who believe Ai’s artist’s activism to be heavy-handed and self-promotional, but his decadently manufactured, history-laden sculptures somehow work in this regal setting and, if nothing else, the photography project on Lesbos makes the trip worthwhile.

'The Equilibrists', 2016, exhibition view, Benaki Museum, Athens. Courtesy: Benaki Museum, Athens; photograph: © Fanis Vlastaras and Rebecca Constantopoulou

'The Equilibrists', 2016, exhibition view, Benaki Museum, Athens. Courtesy: Benaki Museum, Athens; photograph: © Fanis Vlastaras and Rebecca Constantopoulou

'The Equilibrists', 2016, exhibition view, Benaki Museum, Athens. Background: Yannis Karpouzis, ‘Parallel Crisis: the Immobilized Time Itself’, 2010–16; foreground: Malvina Panagiotidi, Ghost Relief I-V, 2016. Courtesy: Benaki Museum, Athens; photograph: © Fanis Vlastaras and Rebecca Constantopoulou

The Equilibrists
Benaki Museum, Pireos Street
17 June – 9 October (closed in August)

Hosted by the Benaki Museum and organized in collaboration with the New Museum, New York, the large-scale group show ‘The Equilibrists’ marks the 33rd anniversary of the DESTE Foundation in Athens. Although it features 33 young Greek or Cypriot artists or artist groups, the decision to invite New Museum curators Gary Carrion-Murayari and Helga Christoffersen to put the show together raised eyebrows among some Athenians. However, having worked alongside a network of locally-based curators and artists and undertaken numerous research trips and studio visits, the pair have arranged an ambitious and varied show of young artists, all in their 20s and 30s, many of whom are without gallery representation. A greedy and imaginative squirreling of materials is a running thread, with elaborate assemblages and unusual material combinations. Highlights were Zoë Paul’s intricate hand-woven ‘paintings’ (more on her later) and Eva Papamargariti’s itchy screen-printed and banner-hung digital collages.

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Zoë Paul, 'Solitude and Village', 2016, exhibition view, The Breeder, Athens. Courtesy: The Breeder, Athens

Zoë Paul, 'Solitude and Village', 2016, exhibition view, The Breeder, Athens. Courtesy: The Breeder, Athens

Zoë Paul, ‘Solitude and Village’
The Breeder
28 May – 31 August 2016

The sheer range of work included in Zoë Paul’s first solo show at The Breeder attests to her restless fascination with material. Here you find a low, bath tub-like mosaic sink filled with mist, rusting found fridge grills threaded with wool, pink light fittings installed at ground level, and ceramic bead curtains forming nude figures, all of which illustrates both a sculptural approach to media and a painter’s courteousness to art history. Wall-painted nudes with mournful faces and bulbous bellies haunt the perimeters, gazing at the open-mouthed clay heads that are balanced on assorted tiled plinths.

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Jonas Staal, ‘After Europe’, 2016, exhibition view, State of Concept, Athens. Courtesy: State of Concept, Athens

Jonas Staal, ‘After Europe’, 2016, exhibition view, State of Concept, Athens. Courtesy: State of Concept, Athens

Jonas Staal, ‘After Europe’
State of Concept
June 21 - October 7

Dutch artist Jonas Staal’s solo show at the project space State of Concept focuses on ‘the current political, economic, and humanitarian crises in Europe’. With current events within the continent (Brexit) and along its borders (the refugee crisis), it seems nothing could be more urgent – especially here in Greece. Conceived in two sections, the first presents documentation of New World Summit, Staal’s artistic and political organization to which he has invited representatives of stateless political organizations to discuss their own political realities and to propose and discuss alternative world orders. The second part of the exhibition consists of documentation and blueprints for Staal’s new long-term campaign, New Unions. Using Athens and the recent Greek debt crisis as its point of departure, the project is an artistic campaign to establish a new ‘transdemocratic’ union through the creation of new models of political assembly.

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David Hammons, The Wine Leading  the Wine, c.1969, body print, 1 × 1.2 m. Courtesy: The George Economou Collection, Athens; photograph: Bill Orcutt

David Hammons, The Wine Leading  the Wine, c.1969, body print, 1 × 1.2 m. Courtesy: The George Economou Collection, Athens; photograph: Bill Orcutt

David Hammons, ‘Give Me a Moment’
The George Economou Collection
13 June – 30 September 2016

David Hammons’s first solo show in Greece – and his first retrospective in Europe –  draws forward some of the most well-known works from the artist’s long and storied career. Curated by Mark Godfrey, ‘Give Me a Moment’ includes one of the best examples of Hammons’s body print works, The Wine Leading the Wine, (c. 1969), his darkly funny appropriation of a hoodie, In the Hood (1993), and his iconic UNIA Flag, in which the red, white and blue of the US flag are re-interpreted in Marcus Garvey’s infamous red, black and green. It’s a collection of beautiful, difficult objects, all of which share the cool detachment and sly wit of their maker. In its varied and deft arrangements, this show is a reminder that, as of yet, no one has bettered Hammons in activating such a sustained and varied critique of black American life.

Main image: David Hammons, Roman Homeless, 1990, mixed media, 97 × 114 × 30 cm. Courtesy: The George Economou Collection, Athens © David Hammons; photograph: Natalia Tsoukala

Paul Teasdale is editor of frieze.com. He is based in London.

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