Interview: Ilektra Limniou

With an impressive professional experience and knowledge, Katerina Koskina, Director of the Greek National Museum of Contemporary Art, talks about art and her vision of the Museum.

The role of the Balkans, the young artists and the “confidential dialogue” for her and the Museum are all analysed by Mrs. Koskina, during an interesting discussion, inside the state-of-the-art building of the Museum.

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As an Art Historian with a great professional experience, how would you define “modern art”?

The definition of the term modern in the arts is a difficult task, simply because it could be easily defined in a narrow sense, the one related to timeliness and era. However, several things occur simultaneously -we do not pay attention to all of them- and many different trends and facts are involved. So, by the term “modern” we do not refer to its literal meaning. The term refers to content. In other words, it refers to whether an artwork is related to issues, truly contemporary ones, whether contemporary techniques are used and also to the way perceptions of the world treat it as something new and contemporary at the same time, in a way that it would allow it to be ahead of its time and to exceed what is already there. It is like planting a seed for something that is about to happen. We want this museum to operate effectively.

What’s your own vision of the museum? Do you aim for innovation?

To be honest, our primal goal is not so much about innovation as it is about the museum’s operation. Our intention is for the museum to start working again, as it has suspended its operation since late 2014, due to our transfer to the new building and also due to many more outstanding issues. But, like Odysseus, we are already in the process of making it work through various tricks. For example, we utilized the mandatory testing of space in order to accomplish what we have named as “Prologue”, a programme that will bring us closer to the opening and to the operation of the museum. Not a simple test after all, however, one with an artistic content. An artwork that will leave its mark on the museum.

It proves that the museum is not a place for the visual arts exclusively. It is a place for dancing, music, performance, accessible to vulnerable groups. It is a very large space with limited staff, people who put so much effort, they are passionate and willing to make something not feasible under certain circumstances work. Therefore, innovation is not what we aim at.

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Photography: George Alexandrakis, Art direction: Amarildo Topalis, Styling: Nayo P, Make up & Hair: Vasia Wolf

How could the National Museum of Contemporary Art benefit from an artistic dialogue with Museums as Tate Modern and MOMA?

The museums you mention are colossuses, not just any museums. Our goals are in accordance with our abilities and vision. Therefore, we are a 16-year-old museum, with a limited activity by necessity, due to the absence of accommodation and space. What we wish now is to establish our presence, to lay our cards on the table and declare our intentions and vision. The first thing we desire is to communicate with the public, the audience of the town, country, neighborhood and any type of audience. Consequently, we desire communication with the equivalent audience from other countries.

For that reason, we have already formed a programme that we hope will last for many years, called “The National Museum of Contemporary Art in the World”, a programme we are going to use as a “vehicle” to tighten our relations and, effectively, to establish the membership of the Museum in the wider family of the world’s Museums. Our target is to communicate with corresponding museums, the ones that share the same concerns and have the same problems as we do. The ones that hope for a more approachable museum, a less “mainstream” one. Since you’ve mentioned it, no doubt we are interested in a collaboration with the Tate Modern, however Tate is a museum of totally different potential. Hence, what we need is organizations, institutes, museums, centres -non-profit ones- to do research, to keep up with world events, to search for new artists, to be in contact with and interested in the Balkans and the Mediterranean, that is, our physical space. In fact, it’s an area that can actually combine everything: the West, East, North and South.

Why did you choose Antwerp’s Museum as your first collaboration?

Our first collaboration is with the Antwerp’s Museum. First of all, it is a very active museum and, secondly, it spends a lot in research and is not open to renowned artists exclusively. The museum owns a huge collection of important artists, but it is also open to foreign ones, especially European.

Also, we are interested in a relationship with Belgium, firstly, because Belgium is institutionally the heart of Europe -we have also similarities such as our size & population- and secondly, it is a country that has played a significant role in the history of art.

Is it possible to solidify the identity of a boat whose helmsman may change someday? Is it necessary to do so?

It’s the National Museum of Contemporary Art consequently, as such, it ought to have a national identity, in the sense of a common national target or a common national vision. At the same time, it has every reason to be occupied with modern art in general, because, in this way, it reinforces the artistic production of the country.

It’s very normal for the helmsman of a National Museum to be replaced. It’s a good thing that is happening. If he wasn’t replaced, it would be very tiring and boring. For example, at the moment, I’m working and bearing down a lot, in order to catch up with something. If I had been in this position for twenty years, I don’t know if my co-workers and I would have had the same efficiency, or the same enthusiasm, as we have now.

Is the National Museum of Contemporary Art an impossible dream for unknown but promising artists?

Our goal is not an impossible dream for anyone. First of all we have a long way to go until the museum’s opening to the public. It depends. If the question is whether an artist will be able to get in to present a retrospective, then yes, it is an impossible dream. If the museum opens its doors, both to the public and to young artists who want to show their work, either in groups, in thematic exhibitions, or along with the Fine Arts senior students, then it isn’t. There is though, as in every sector, a hierarchy of priorities in combination with strategy, the objectives, the rationale and the perspective of the organization. Are you aware of the number of young artists out there? If eight hundred people graduate from the Fine Arts annually, how can they all be absorbed? In our country, a “young artist” is usually is someone around fifty. If every new artist’s goal is a solo exhibition, then yes, this is probably an impossible dream.

What’s the selection process for the permanent collection of the Museum?

A proposition has already been approved by the Council of Museums and also the museological and museographical study, that is, how it will be displayed, has been completed. This is something we will see the day the part of the permanent collection of the museum will be displayed and will, initially, constitute the first exhibition of the permanent collection. It goes without saying that not everything can be displayed from the beginning. A permanent collection has its own title or topic as well.

Work of artists who are considered modern in 2017 is included, but not of the ones who were considered modern in the 60s’. Besides, contemporary art is a very general term: “Art after World War II.” Since then, up to now, Art includes exceptional artists. We are not National Gallery’s opponent, but its historical continuity; we approach common art issues in different ways, with different concerns and in different ways. Therefore, it is reasonably unlikely to see Tsarouhis’ or Moralis’ work – both are exceptional artists- here. You can possibly find them here, in case the Gallery and the Museum organise a comparative presentation of the artists who brought the change.

From our side we are less safe in terms of our choices and our subject. A gallery or a museum which is more concerned with the past and more stable, traditional values ​​are more secure in terms of their content. Works of contemporary art, or every period of change, meet with success over time. That doesn’t mean, of course, that everything we currently support will become classic in the future. Nor that Picasso’s and Marcel Duchamp’s future continuity, commercial value etc was guaranteed. Time in the Arts is all-conquering, the same applies to humans.

On a personal level, what do you see as your profit from this great and successful bet, while steering the ship of the National Museum of Contemporary Art?

We are going to talk about its success in 2017. Its greatness, however, is certain. I think all this is beyond me. It is a very big challenge and I am fully aware of the immense difficulty and the great effort I have to make, with the help of my colleagues, in order for us to achieve our ambition. At the same time, I am fully aware of what a great opportunity and privilege this is, regardless of the outcome, entering such a battle to come out either a winner or a loser. It is a great opportunity! I feel exhausted, terrified, but it’s a great privilege and honor and I am in full awareness of the chance I was offered.

The interview is in printed issue of CITY CODE