If anyone wants an overdose of the arts, Athens is the city one should visit. Athens has more theatres per capita than any other city in the world. This past winter there was over 60 theatre productions happening and not only of the commercial variety. Athens, for many years now, puts on cutting edge performances. Some of them are a cross between happenings and theatre: audience on stage, actors with audience in the seats and long plays that last three or more hours. Come summer, there is the Athens Summer Festival which takes in all sorts of happenings.
The outdoor theatres are in full force, Irodou Atticus under the Acropolis, Lykavittus, and the old quarries in Athens that are now open air venues. From a stage called trohospito (caravan) which has a caravan for a stage the Athens summer festival is launched and it is free, just go along and you can find a seat if you’re there early, or stand on the pezodromio where the majority of the onlookers are.
While shopping in the commercial part of Ermou Street I came across a puppet show where the puppeteers became performers along with the puppets. I wished I had my family with me at that moment, especially the little ones, this being part of the Fringe Festival. Poetry readings. A long love for poetry in Greece makes this art form mainstream, after all, the two Greek Nobel Prize winners in the 20th century were George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis, both poets. I saw a performance at the Hamam (an old Turkish Hamam turned into a small venue), for the launch of a book set in Istanbul. We were treated to great music from that era of pre-rembetiko, intermittent with readings of extracts from a book by well known Greek actors.
In the visual arts category, Athens is one of the most outstanding cities in Europe. I have seen some of the most extraordinary post-modern arts projects in Athens. One in particular, it was hard to decide where the theatre stopped and the visual art began, as it was in an old train; people framed by the windows becoming canvases, and then climbing on to the roof of the train and performing.
Crafts are truly spectacular and so advanced in concept that they are visual art crossing the boundary of craft. Dakis Ioannou set up the DESTE Foundation. The foundation’s philosophy is to promote post-modern art. Ioannou is said to be the biggest collector of post-modern art in the world.
There are also the old standards: The Archaeological Museum of Athens, The Cycladic Museum, the Byzantine Museum, The Museum of Islamic Art, The Jewish Museum, The Lalaounis Museum, The War Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, Benaki Museum, The Museum of Children’s Art, now there is a new addition, The Benaki Modern. The Athens Archaeological Museum is a must as it’s considered one of the world’s most important museums. It is a reflection of Greece’s history through the millennium and one does come away a lot more knowledgeable.
It is housed in a spectacular neoclassical building in Pattision Street. Compared to the Louvre and the British museums, the Greek museums are small, but keep in mind that there is a decentralisation of archeological finds in Greece, Delphi, Olympia, Mycenae, Corinth, along with all other famous digs that have the finds on site. Museums are also categorised, therefore very individual.
There are a plethora of art galleries with permanent exhibits classified as museums as they are private, donated to the state from families of particular artists and some are in the outer suburbs. For example, The Yiannis Tsarouhis Museum in Marousi just to mention one. It is a given, that every time you are in Greece you have to go to the Parthenon and thank Pericles for building this world heritage site now accompanied by the Acropolis Museum across the street, which this year was voted one of the most important modern buildings in the world.
One of the latest additions is the Michael Cacoyiannis Foundation that the great man left Greece with, to honour all the arts. As for the music scene, take time out to discover all the artists that one does not hear about in Australia. It’s not an accident that people of other nations have made substantial careers in Greece. To mention two, the Irishman Ross Daly and the American saxophonist David Lynch. Greece has one of the worlds richest musical heritages. It saddens me that we in Australia are embedded only in the rembetiko (which I love by the way), or the Greek pop scene: which I prefer not to comment on!