EXOUSIA 27 February 1997

27 February 1997

Katerina Papageorgiou

Not even our grandchildren will live to see a Museum of Contemporary Art

Seventeen years back she opened the “Medusa” gallery in Xenokratous St, Kolonaki. Five years ago, the “Medusa +1” anti-gallery was added on the same street. Several young artists began their career with her. The next step of Maria Demetriades will come soon, and will be unexpected; but it is certain to have to do with art.
Her flat in Kolonaki is austere. Artworks dominate every corner. The same is true of her country house in Paros, where Maria goes frequently throughout the year.

“I believe”, she tells, “that if I had not opened a gallery I would still have found a way to live with works of art around me. They add magic to my life, they give me peace. So whatever I end up doing in the future, as things are fluid, there is no way it won’t have to do with art.”

Till then, what is her aim?

“To promote my associates abroad; it is a financially challenging affair. Unfortunately, although we have some very good artists who can easily stand on their own feet abroad, the state does nothing to help. We are the only country in the Balkans without a Museum of Contemporary Art”.

Does she think that the Museum of Modern Art should share the same roof with the Lyceum of Aristotle?

“Of course. It would be good to have a Museum of Modern Art next to the Acropolis, so that we could see what Greece was then and what it is now”.

Until the museum opens, what does she think could be done to promote art?

“The collectors who love art and set up private museums next to their homes—among them, Vorres, Pierides, Dakis—could create a joint space by providing three works each. It needs private initiative, because it is clear that not even our grandchildren will live to see a Museum of Modern Art. Also, we could install works at airports, casinos, banks, as they do in Alpha Bank.
The Ministry of Culture could finance a few galleries—say, four—to go to art fairs every year. Unhappily, many people see gallery owners as merchants; the Culture Ministry and Inland Revenue treat us the same as those who sell shoes.”

Does all this have an impact on Greek sculptors and painters?

“Of course. This is the reason why many good artists, who embarked with dynamism on their career, have stagnated due to the absence of exciting prospects. They have become copiers of themselves”.

What is the game on the local market?

“So far it is an ‘old boy’ game. Most people (there are always exceptions) buy the works of those with whom they were drinking the night before. That’s why I would welcome the prospect of a dozen foreign galleries opening branches in Athens.

Do art prices usually reflect true value?

“No, to a large extent they reflect each artist’s public relations. We have come to the point where artists do not have the time to work because they have to run around doing their own PR campaign”.

Has she ever compromised her standards for commercial reasons, promoting the work of artists in whom she has no faith?

“I would be depressed if I had to spend a month seeing works I do not like in my gallery. Yet after fifteen years I still have to struggle to pay the bills. It is exhausting to keep organising anti-commercial exhibitions without help from anywhere”.

What is the profile of Greek collectors?

“There are those who love art, those who buy the names that are most often heard, and those who see art as an investment. We cannot ignore the fact that a Dimitrakis work which cost, say, 50,000 Drs three years back is now worth 300,000”.

What can be done by a young person who attends exhibitions and is interested in art but cannot afford to buy the works they admire?

“I keep my prices low and provide easy terms of payment, so that the works I promote can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. Indeed, 80% of my clients are young people”.

Is painting the art of minorities?

“Certainly not. I have clients from all over Greece. Besides, it is no accident that a small country like Greece has so many galleries. This means they find some response”.