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03 Nov, 2009

A Guest + A Host = A Ghost – Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection at DESTE Foundation in Athens

Posted by: admin In: We make money not art

A few days ago i was in Athens and found less time than i had hoped to visit galleries. I nevertheless managed to see a fantastic exhibition at theDESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art.

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`Photo: © Panos Kokkinias

Established as a nonprofit foundation by art collector Dakis Joannou, DESTE is located in a former socks factory building, in the lovely Nea Ionia suburb, north of Athens.

See? Lovely area, even under the rain:

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The old factory has been completely re-vamped. The main entrance to the gallery, designed by the architects of divercity, is particularly spectacular. You enter the building through a wooden crate that evokes the ones used for the transportation of art pieces.

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Photo: © Charalambos Louizidis & Katerina Glinou

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Detail of the entrance

Each year, a show at DESTE focuses on the collection of Dakis Joannou, the industrialist who established the foundation in 1983. New acquisitions are standing side by side with older pieces, making emerge new meanings and relationships between the artworks.

This years’ exhibition A Guest + A Host = A Ghost borrows its title from one of Marcel Duchamp’s mixed-media works. The play on words was inscribed on candy wrappers that were handed out during an opening in Paris in 1953.

The show is conceived as a series of solo exhibitions by some of today’s most popular artists: Pawel Althamer, Maurizio Cattelan, Paul Chan, Nathalie Djurberg, Urs Fischer, Robert Gober, Jeff Koons, Paul McCarthy, Seth Price, Kiki Smith, Kara Walker, Andro Wekua, etc. You might know all the names and you might even like some of them but that won’t prevent you from being surprised by the exhibition. It’s an exciting show. Both provocative and satisfying.

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Installation View, A Guest + A Host = A Ghost – Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection

“Over the past few years, the exhibitions displayed at DESTE have been the result of many people getting together. They are not thematic in the traditional sense. But one could say that the latest exhibition looks like a compilation of solo displays by the specific artists who are represented in the collection by many works. Creations by other artists have been placed within these ‘sub-groups,’ hence creating parasitic relations between the exhibits,” explained curator Massimiliano Gioni.

I’m just going to highlight a couple of works:

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Installation Views, A Guest + A Host = A Ghost – Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection. Photo: Stefan Altenburger

One of the most eye-catching pieces on the ground floor is a sinister structure that cuts through the ceiling. Once you walk upstairs, you discover that the cast aluminum structure is actually a grave being dug up. Urs Fischer’s overwhelming Untitled (Hole) takes the whole room, leaving only little space to walk around and admire Kara Walker‘s gouache on paper works.

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Installation Views, A Guest + A Host = A Ghost – Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection. Photo: Stefan Altenburger

Now i almost got knocked down the stairs on my way to the first floor. As i raised my head i was unsettled by Maurizio Cattelan‘s Ave Maria. Translated as Hail Mary, the title refers to the catholic tradition of revering the Virgin Mary. The right-armed salute is nowadays synonymous with right-wing or extremist political movements. The image brought to my mind the little plastic statues of Benito Mussolini one can sometimes find in Italian highway shops and the content face of Gaetano Saya. And then there’s the ‘legendary’ grip that the Catholic church is said to have on the whole country. So, yes, i smiled broadly when i saw Ave Maria then i remembered that Europe is not always that open-minded, democratic, cultivated place that i love so much. Anyway, I’m probably seeing way more politics here in there than i should.

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Maurizio Cattelan, Ave Maria, 2007

In the adjacent room, Paweł Althamer (people in Milan might remember the inflatable giant that floated above the Parco Sempione) had some stunning dolls, spineless leather-clad mannequins and a self-portrait as an old man.

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Installation Views, A Guest + A Host = A Ghost – Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection. Photo: Stefan Altenburger

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Cattelan followed in the next room, this time with a self-portrait sticking his head through a hole in the floor (yes, another one). The figure is staring at Paul Chan‘s charcoal portraits of the members of the U.S. Supreme Court, My Laws Are My Whores that hints at the relationship between sex and law.

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Paul Chan’s portraits of the members of the U.S. Supreme Court, “My Laws Are My Whores” (2008)

The best part for me was on the top floor. A fantastic series of sculptures by Urs Fischer, including a Ghost Chair:

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Installation Views, A Guest + A Host = A Ghost – Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection, DESTE Foundation. Photo: Stefan Altenburger

I took pictures for you!

A Guest + A Host = A Ghost – Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection is on view at DESTE Foundation until December 31st 2009. New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni acted as curatorial advisor with the collaboration of Maurizio Cattelan, Urs Fischer and Cecilia Alemani.

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