Three decades after his death, Alexandros Iolas finally gets his wish granted – to see his home turned into an art museum and cultural hub.
The building has been left to rot since the legendary art collector and gallery owner died of AIDS complications in June 1987. His collection, worth millions, comprised more than 10,000 works of art – among them works of Picasso, De Chiricco, Miro, Warhol and 2,500 ancient artifacts – was looted overnight, and his mansion, which he had been slowly turning into a museum, each room devoted to a different art period (from ancient, to byzantine, to pop art), was brutally vandalised. Even doorknobs and plaster rosettes were torn apart and stolen.
The only thing that remained intact were the Byzantine columns scattered in the seven-acre estate and the paveway, designed by groundbreaking architect Dimitris Pikionis.
Even without all the artworks that it contained, the 1600-square metre mansion remains a landmark for the Agia Paraskevi suburb of Athens and the city’s council decided to buy it, repair the damage and turn it into a cultural centre. Part of the mansion will host an arts museum and another will be devoted to the memory and legacy of the legendary collector.
In his heyday, Alexandros Iolas represented artists of the calibre of Max Ernst and Rene Magritte and he boasted of being one of the first people to discover Andy Warhol. But he was never made welcome in his homeland. When he first repatriated to Greece, he gave an interview severely criticising the political establishment, from the President of Democracy Kostantinos Karamanlis to his friend and Minister of Culture, Melina Merkouri. She was the one who denied his offer to donate his art collection to the state, for fear of being associated with the man who the press was waging a war against, labelling him as an antique looter who hosted orgies in his mansion.
Instead, Iolas donated 47 works to the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, which is now part of the State Museum of Modern Art in Thessaloniki.