From an artistic point of view, how would you describe Berlin back in 1990, in 2000, as well as today, in terms of artistic evolution?
I personally believe that the first 5-6 years of the 90’s were Berlin’s most creative period. The art market’s potential was limited but there were many government grants, alternative spaces, rents were really cheap and there was an atmosphere of enthusiasm, after the city’s reunification and the end of Cold War.
The centre of East Berlin (Mitte), in particular, was transformed in a cultural goods production machine. This period was suddenly interrupted around 1995, when the government grants policy was replaced by privatizations. State museums and theatres like Staatliche Kunsthalle and Schiller Theater were shut down, scholarships were limited, and the Alternative Spaces were turned into private galleries.
This dramatic change brought a lot of reshuffling in the artistic domain, both positive and negative. One of the positive aspects was the fact that in early 2000, the city became a cosmopolitan destination. Collectors, artists and galleries from other cities moved to Berlin. On the negative side, it affected local artistic production by estimable artists, since there were no alternative structures apart from the established art market.
The financial crisis of 2007-8 devastated the art market, not just in Berlin, but in a worldwide level. Only this time, as we said above, there was no longer an alternative scene to maintain the balance.
Today, Berlin is a magnet mainly for new artists and it is true that it remains an international metropolis. However, the centre, which was once the city’s artistic soul, has become an overpriced touristic attraction, filled with boutiques and restaurants. Rents are beyond reach and artists have moved to the city’s outskirts, living on limited incomes.
Right now, you are part of a group exhibition at the National Museum of Contemporary Art (NMCA). What do you think of the Museum’s work ever since it opened the gates of its new space?
During the end of the 80’s, I was a fine arts student in the University of Thessaloniki. I still remember the never-ending conversations with my fellow students about the lack of a Contemporary Art Museum in Greece. We essentially produced art without neither the access to modern visual arts nor the knowledge required, on an international level and even locally. Three decades later, the NMCA is now a reality!
It is true that the presentation of the museum’s collection in Documenta 14’s ‘Antidoron’ exhibition in Kassel, was a pleasant surprise. The museum’s director, Katerina Koskina, along with her partners, conducted an outstanding museological study, free of dogmatism and ready to discuss the worries and concerns of our times. I wish that the museum managers will manage to overcome the remaining problems and continue with their important work.
Do you think the artists and their share of responsibility to bring us closer to their art has lost its power, due to the commercialization or the moral crisis in a multi-speed Europe?
I should start by stressing that most artists can’t be held responsible for the economic and political circumstances of our time.
As far as the moral and cultural crisis in Europe is concerned, I believe that this is not a problem of just our time, but it stems from the First World War, culminating in the Second World War and the Cold War that followed.
In the Haus der Kulturen der Welt museum in Berlin, there is a very important exhibition going on until 08.01.2018, titled ‘Parapolitik: kulturelle Freiheit und kalter Krieg’. It is the first ever scientific effort to understand the evolution of contemporary art in Europe and the eastern world during the Cold War period. The role of the CIA, the role of the congress of cultural freedom (founded by the CIA in Berlin in 1949, with annexes in 30 countries), as well as the role of the Rockfeller family’s private museum, the so-called MOMA in New York, were all very decisive for the prevalence of modernism and its movements during the Cold War.
During this period, art essentially loses its drastic material which is its content, and it is deconstructed. This way, the audience’s contact with traditional European iconography and the culture of the gaze are destroyed. Mysticism prevailed and the fetishism of the expensive object dominated the scene, rendering the emotional approach of a work of art impossible. For example, one of Pollock’s paintings, which represents nothing more than a canvas splashed with dye, was recently sold at an auction for 100 million dollars.
This development in the domain of art took place in the name of artistic freedom and democracy. The questions remain; what should artists be freed from? How free artistic production was when it was controlled by a secret organisation?
How democratic are our societies today? In the 6th century B.C. when the Athenians banished the tyrant Peisistratus and his sons from the city and they established democracy, it had three main laws; 1-abolition of slavery due to debt, 2- abolition of usury, 3- representatives from all 4 social classes would be selected by ballot and would be sent to the Parliament every 6 months, so as not to leave any room for corruption and misuse of authority.
If we could just call Solon to the European parliament today he would tell us that our political system is Tyranny!
Also, let’s not forget that around 510 B.C. (the very beginning of the democratic political system), something outstanding starts to occur in the streets of Athens; sculptures are no longer motionless and faceless in their style, but they start to have human characteristics! This happens once again after 1000 years of obscurantism, during the Renaissance. Let’s hope today’s obscurantism will not last another thousand years.
A trash bag or sunflower seeds on the floor of an expensive room in one of London’s most renowned museums is called contemporary art. Could a landfill site or a sunflower field be considered art? Should we draw a line somewhere and if so, what are your limits?
This reminds me of a scandalous but true story that took place many years ago in Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, when a ‘sculpture’ of J. Beuys was thrown in the trash by the museum’s cleaning lady. This story would have been nothing but a funny fact, if the lady hadn’t lost her job just for being meticulous.
Ai Weiwei’s ‘work of art’ is made of thousands of porcelain sunflower seeds, demanded by the artist and constructed by tens of tragically underpaid Chinese workers. It is obviously a multi-million worth trophy, intended for the ‘global elite’s’ nouveau riche, whose knowledge is limited to making stupidly earned money and spending it in an equally moronic way, just to showcase their wealth.
Personally, I don’t need to draw a line about something that doesn’t interest me. I prefer irony and sarcasm.
The line has been drawn a long time ago, by the audience. I recently read a statistic analysis from the Artistic Association of Germany, a country with a vast network of museums and galleries, etc. Only 2% of the population visit a contemporary art exhibition each year. If you count the artists, art curators, journalists and other experts, the number of common people that maintain a relationship with art is even smaller. This is the result of the iconoclasm imposed during the Cold War period. Most museum directors in Europe, as well as the art curators of our time, are more fanatic in their iconoclastic beliefs than the most fanatic islamist-jihadist.
Art has a future as long as people exist. What do you think this future will be like?
The bond between human existence and creativity is unbreakable. We have some extraordinary cave paintings, dating back to the Neolithic era, we have the man-centred art of the classic period and the Renaissance, which are imprinted upon the human consciousness, as Karl Jung said.
Art’s future can’t come about out of parthenogenesis or because invisible masters command so. There can be a vision of the future, by knowing the past.
Your grandfather was a religious iconographer, your father a painter, it seems your are ‘carrying’ their heritage in your work. Is there an heir?
My daughter, Electra, is studying painting in the fine arts school in Halle, Germany.