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In new exhibition, Alpha Bank on modern Greek art December 6, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Arts Exhibitions Greece.

Thessaloniki show draws from extensive collection
“Portrait of a woman” (180×200 cm) painted by Chronis Botsoglou in 1982 among the exhibits

It is a wall that is a work of art: In one of Alpha Bank’s central branches, a large, cement construction spreads across one side of the interior. The work dates from the mid-1970s and was a commission made by Credit Bank, now Alpha Bank, to artist Froso Michalea. Since then, each of the bank’s branches, not just in Athens but all over Greece, has been matched with a work of art, either large in-situ works that, once placed, cannot be removed or works that belong to the bank’s collection of Greek art. It is a rich collection of 5,000 works that includes paintings, sculptures, installations and prints.

Among the most impressive works to view while waiting in line at various branches of the bank are a 6-meter-long, mixed-media work by artist Nikos Kessanlis; Pavlos’s “Forest”,  an elegant composition of towering, slim tree trunks made out of wire; or a 5-meter-high wall woodcut by Tassos. They express an artistic aspect to Alpha Bank’s profile, the bank is also a major sponsor of cultural events, and the bank’s use of art as a refined tool of communication.

“The Alpha Bank Art Collection: Greek Art from 1920 to the Present,” an exhibition that draws from the bank’s art holdings and is now on show at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, reflects yet one more aspect of the bank’s extroverted cultural policy and expresses its support of the visual arts. Alpha Bank also owns a rare, by international standards, collection of ancient Greek coins.

The exhibition is a follow-up to the large anniversary exhibition on the bank’s collection which was held last year at the Benaki Museum. Irini Orati, the curator of the Alpha Bank collection, who together with Denys Zacharopoulos has curated the show, has included around 200 works that go through the main stages of 20th century Greek art’s history. What distinguishes this exhibition from the former presentation at the Benaki is its focus on the evolution of a modern style in Greek art and its emphasis on the contemporary period. Most of the works have been temporarily removed from the various branches for the purposes of the exhibition.

A iron construction by artist Giorgos Lappas, paintings by Achilleas Christidis and Kyriakos Mortarakos or prints by Lizzie Calliga are among the most recent works. Since 2000, when Alpha Credit Bank merged with Ionian Bank into Alpha Bank, acquisitions have focused on Greek art that dates from the postwar period to the present. Alpha Bank began to build on the existing Greek art collection that came to its ownership after the merger, the Ionian Bank was known for its important collection of Greek prints, enriching those areas that were empty or sparse.

Presently, Alpha Bank’s art collection is, according to Orati, particularly strong in the art of the interwar period and, thanks to recent acquisitions, in modern and contemporary art.

“Since we are not a museum, our primary purpose is not to make an exhaustive documentation of the history of Greek art,” Orati said. “Of course, this is still a collection that traces the course of Greek art. People often ask why we don’t open our own museum. Our objective is to build a collection that can be presented to the public in our branches. This also explains why the collection lacks in works like videos or installations that are hard to display.”

Risk of theft or damage has also excluded several of the smaller, interwar period works. The exhibition in Thessaloniki includes a number of gems of the period by some of the most important artists of the time. They are the artists who gradually helped pave the way for modern art and whose work is amply represented in the collection. Examples in the exhibition include the landscapes of Constantinos Maleas and the views of Mount Athos that Spyros Papaloukas painted in a style known for its distinctive use of light and color. There are also the symbolist-inspired, elongated forms in the art of Constantinos Parthenis and his contemporary Nikolaos Lytras “Red Boat in the Sea,” painted by Michalis Oikonomou, a recent acquisition of the Alpha Bank collection, is a small, atmospheric painting in which dabs of red animate the earthy tones of the painting.

In general, the Thessaloniki exhibition highlights the modern streak in Greek art. The classic works of late 19th century and early 20th century art, for example, those of the School of Munich, have been left out. Although the bank’s collection owns several of them, including many by Constantinos Volanakis, for example, Orati says that these works are also the hardest to find, at least with reasonable prices. “The market value of those works has escalated largely because of the Greek sale auctions that have been held in recent years,” she said.

In the Alpha Bank collection, one will also find that several artists are represented by entire series of their work. Thodoros Stamos, Chryssa, included in the collection is the entire series of the 12 marble “Cycladic Books,” four of which are presented in the exhibition, and Dimitris Perdikidis are among those artists in the collection’s contemporary period.

The exhibition in Thessaloniki puts on view only a fragment of the collection’s range. It is a well-balanced and elegant exhibition that travels through the course of 20th century Greek art and shows the route that modern art took in this country.

For specialists, it aids research by making public works that belong to a private institution. For the general public, it indicates the cultural profile of a bank and suggests the growing role that the private sector plays in the domain of culture.

At the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, 154 Egnatia Street, Thessaloniki, tel 2310 240002.

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