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Spring Collection
by Katerina Gregos

Christina Dimitriadis, 1995
Johanna Mirka, video still from "Hair Salon," 1995

Inspired by the fashion industry's custom of presenting new designs each season, "Spring Collection" brings together the work of 13 young Greek contemporary artists. The exhibition, curated by Helena Papadopoulos, attempts to act as a showcase for young art that has emerged here in the last few years. This is achieved via individual artistic statement rather than a collective conceptual discourse. What the artists do share in common is a concern with contemporaneity: their work reflects the epoch in which it is made, one in which culture and education are increasingly shaped by the media (TV, video, and magazine culture). This, in turn, signals a departure from Helleno-centric culture and local folklore. Of prime importance is the idea that tradition and the past need not be reiterated or safeguarded. As a result, and due to the deliberate absence of given historical referents, it is a sense of cultural rather than national identity that emerges through the works. In addition, the artists seemed disillusioned by politics, consciously distanced from any socioeconomic and political discourse. Instead, the positive power of art is asserted (the title does, after all, evoke ideas of regeneration and freshness) as the artists attempt to deconstruct neither reality nor art, but rather celebrate the practice of art within life itself and vice versa.

The current practice of experimenting in a variety of media such as photography, painting, video, installation, and interactive work to reinvent visual language is evident. As a testimony to its pluralist approach, the exhibition also demonstrates, at the same time, the increasing involvement of artists with technology, as well as the more "traditional" practice of figurative painting. The viewer is thus confronted with the apparently non-conflicting coexistence of art with technology, popular culture, fashion, as well as art historical discourse. In demonstrating such diversity of approach and multiplicity of styles, the exhibition is a testimony to a veritable post-modern condition no different from any other cultural metropolis.

As is common in group shows, the quality of the works differs--inevitably some artists have more to say than others--such as Christina Dimitriadis' piercing photographic self-portraits which examine personal identity and the habitation of private space with remarkable insight. Also noteworthy was Sophia Kosmaoglou's wall installation comprising painted fuel-tank lids. Here, the artist intelligently combines the evocation of particular feelings through color and language (as text in the catalog) with a formal, minimal aesthetic elegance. Joanna Mirka, on the other hand, uses video to examine such bourgeois microcosms as hairdressing salons, thus, commenting on Athenian suburbia with wit and sarcasm.

It is true that survey shows with geographic or national slants do not make the most interesting of exhibitions. As there is an absence of any specific curatorial thesis, "Spring Collection" is limited to functioning merely on the level of stimulating, if partial, preview, which is precisely its intention. However, the lack of a curatorial conceptual framework means that the artists are forced to assert themselves autonomously within the wider context of the exhibition. As a result the works are not permitted to enter into a dialogue with each other, and this is normally the most challenging aspect of a group show, something which "Spring Collection" fails to satisfy. What the exhibition does achieve, however, is to raise interesting questions about the nature and development of contemporary art in a country with a hitherto distinct taste for modernist ideals, and to examine the tensions generated between issues of periphery and center. In addition, it testifies to the growing diversity, renewed interest and optimism in contemporary art, and demonstrates that the possibilities for cultural exchange and internationalism in Greece are greater than ever before.

Katerina Gregos

Athens, Greece
1996

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