Island Hopping: The Best Art Shows to See in the Greek Islands This Summer

Your ultimate summer guide to art in Greece.

Eva Presenhuber's location in Greece, Kastro, on Antiparos. Photo by ©Gertraut Presenhuber

In the wake of the worst heat wave in more than a decade, Athenians are decamping, as ever, to the Greek islands for the rest of the summer—and so is a good slice of the jet-setting art world. Cypriot collector Dakis Joannou pioneered a new trend by opening the DESTE Foundation space on Hydra in 2009, and new contemporary art projects have since been popping up all around the Aegean archipelago, providing compelling reasons not to miss the boat.

That also means that last-minute visitors to documenta 14 in its closing days have plenty of options for a seaside holiday with the excuse of seeing international art exhibitions on a number of alluring isles. Here are a few of the most captivating destinations to check out if you’re in the ‘hood (or to dream about if you’re not).


Kubrick’s Space Odyssey 2001 screened at last year’s drive-in event by Myrto Tzima, at Syros International Film Festival

Your first stop might be the Syros International Film Festival (July 14-19), co-founded in 2013 by young Americans Jacob Moe and Cassandra Celestin to occupy a distinctive niche among the art, music, and film genres. Curated around various meanings of the term “Cracking Up,” both comedic and tragic, this year’s program includes a drive-in double feature of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom and Nightmare, by Errikos Andreou; live scores for 1920s films performed by DJ Yves Tumor in a former tannery; an audiovisual performance by Elektronik Meditation; and a workshop by filmmaker Martha Colburn, all in traditional and unconventional sites around the elegant neoclassical city Hermoúpolis, capital of the Cyclades. The festival will close with a Balinese-themed celebration in a quarry, where avant-garde musician Mike Cooper and the Syros Gamelan Orchestra will contribute to a multimedia extravaganza.


Joe Bradley, Sculpture for Billy Hand, Installation view at Neokastro, Antiparos. Courtesy Eva Presehuber

Joe Bradley, Sculpture for Billy Hand, Installation view at Neokastro, Antiparos. Courtesy Eva Presenhuber

From Syros, a one-hour ferry ride to nearby Paros and a five-minute boat from Pounda will take you to serene Antiparos. Tom Hanks is a resident of the island, and Madonna is reported to be a fan, and yet the tiny island remains tranquil and unpretentious.

Swiss dealer Eva Presenhuber runs a space there called Kastro, located in the old town, that has hosted shows of artists Joe Bradley, Oscar Tuazon, and Sam Falls since 2014. This year the gallery presents five works playing out variations on a theme in different mediums by American artist Wyatt Kahn (July 23-August 31).

In Parikia, the port town of Paros, the Archaeological Museum will host the contemporary art exhibition “Orange Water 3,” curated by Apostolis Zolotakis, with works by Greek and Dutch artists Ad Arma, Αngelika Vaxevanidou, Katerina Kaloudi, Eugenia Coumantaros, Jan Mulder, Gert van Oortmerssen, Apostolos Fanakidis, and Dimitra Chanioti (July 16-October 21).


Guests at the opening of Kara Walker's Figa at DESTE’s Project Space, in Hydra. Photo© Maria Markezi.

Guests at the opening of Kara Walker’s Figa at DESTE’s Project Space, in Hydra. Photo ©Maria Markezi

Immortalized in Henry Miller’s travelogue The Colossus of Maroussi, Hydra has been a cosmopolitan cultural outpost since the 1950s, associated with longtime residents such as the late musician Leonard Cohen and painter Brice Marden as well as native artist Nikolaos Chatzikyriakos-Ghika, whose work is being shown in documenta 14.

Collector Pauline Karpidas has organized art shows on Hydra since 1996. This summer, the harborside Hydra Workshop presents six vivid new paintings by American artist Jamian Juliano-Villani, in the latest of many shows organized by Sadie Coles (on view July 22 to mid-September). If you make your way uphill on the winding stone streets, you will find the Hydra School Project, a former high school where artist Dimitris Antonitsis curates international group exhibitions every summer. (This year’s show, “Gestalt,” runs until the end of September.)

It was DESTE Foundation’s annual exhibitions—mounted around a former slaughterhouse overlooking the sea and opening with a post-Art Basel gala for art-world luminaries including Jeffrey Deitch, Massimiliano Gioni, and Jeff Koons—that established the island as an international art mecca. The very first project, Matthew Barney and Elizabeth Peyton’s unforgettable “Blood of Two,” required a sunrise hike to watch a glass vessel full of pencil-and-blood drawings of mythical animals being dredged from underwater and carried by fisherman to the slaughterhouse in a ritual procession, where a dead shark was barbecued. This was followed up with shows by the likes of Maurizio Cattelan, Doug Aitken, Urs Fischer, Pawel Althamer, Paul Chan, and this summer Kara Walker’s “Figa”: the disembodied hand of the sphinx-like sculpture A Subtlety, made for Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar Factory, tellingly reformed in a pointed gesture of the thumb, to be interpreted as spiritual or provocative (until September 30).


The rooftop terrace of Dio Hora, Mykonos

In 2015 Marina Vranopoulou, the coordinator of DESTE’s Hydra platform, started up Dio Horia, a residency and gallery space tucked among the designer shops in the main town of Mykonos, notorious for its gay party scene and notable for its proximity to the ruins of sacred Delos. In late July, summer resident Aurel Schmidt will show her filigree drawings, alongside an exhibition by David Adamo and Margarita Myrogianni, and “Build Your Own Home,” a structure by artist Jannis Varelas that will house works by other artists including Alex Da Corte, Oliver Laric, Alex Eagleton, Atelier van Lieshout, Carly Mark, Danai Anesiadou, and Sue Williams (July 28-August 22).


Artist Alyssa Moxley in the green marble quarries. Photo by Petros Touloudis

Culturally rich Tinos, a Christian pilgrimage site next to Mykonos, was the home of late sculptor Yannoulis Chalepas, whose house is now a museum. In 2015, the artist-run Tinos Quarry Platform also opened on the eponymous island. Every summer the Platform hosts several artists in the village of Isternia to develop work related to the local context, culminating in an exhibition. This year’s “Reassembly” responds to the restricted movement of our paranoid era through immaterial artworks that employ musical notation and are digitally portable. The show features works by its curators, Petros Touloudis and G. Douglas Barrett, along with pieces by artists Adel Abidin, Francesco Gagliardi, Giorgos Koumendakis, Alyssa Moxley, Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec, Hong-Kai Wang, and Samson Young, among others (Cultural Foundation of Tinos, July 5-October 31).

In the village of Loutra, the Convent of the Ursulines will host the “Serviam Project,” a show of Greek contemporary artists including icon painter Konstantinos Ladianos, whose works will activate the history and spaces of the complex and nearby ancient baths (July 15-September 4).


Greg Haji Joannides, founder and artistic director of Sterna Art Project, photo Nyssos Vasilopoulos 2015

The geologically spectacular Nisyros, a volcanic island in the Dodecanese archipelago near Turkey, is home to the Sterna Art Project, a residency program run by artist Greg Haji Ioannides. “Living in a crater provokes strong emotions, feelings, thoughts—offering great ground to create,” he says. “I wanted to share this with artists from around the world and see how each responds to this extraordinary environment.” This year’s project, “Paradoxically Paradox,” kicks off the evening of July 27 with a violin performance by Michalis Hazoglou in the medieval Castle of Emporeios. The exhibition comprises site-specific interventions by Jason Karaindros and Virginia Mastrogiannaki in the suggestive ruins of Loutra Mandrakiou—a bathhouse set for subsequent restoration—that play with perception of the unnatural triggered, or echoed, by elements of physical space (July 30-August 25).


Art Space Pythagorion – the Schwarz Foundation’s exhibition space on the Greek island of Samos at the port of Pythagorion

The islands along the Turkish coast are in fact where its at in August, when Samos’s Art Space Pythagorion will host “Summer of Love,” curated by Katerina Gregos to reflect on the year 1967, when love entered into politics, and how we have strayed since. The show features new work by artists including Mikhail Karikis, Marko Mäetamm, Marge Monko, and Uriel Orlow (August 4-October 15). Established by the Munich-based Schwarz Foundation in a retrofitted hotel on the harbor of Pythagoreio, the space inaugurated in 2012 with “Between Eye and Hand,” a first-rate survey of politically charged videos by Harun Farocki.


Nicolas Vamvouklis, artist and director of K-Gold Temporary Gallery

The third largest island in Greece, Lesvos (aka Mytilene) is the birthplace of the poet Sappho and, more recently, the site of Ai Weiwei’s controversial work on the refugee crisis.

At the Municipal Gallery of Mithymna on Lesvos, K-Gold Temporary Gallery, a nomadic exhibition project initiated by artist Nicolas Vamvouklis in 2014, will present “Body Is Victory and Defeat of Dreams.” The show is curated by Athena Hadji with work by artists Orestis Lazouras, Alix Marie, Lito Kattou, Lydia Dambassina, Christos Mouchas, and HOPE (August 11-September 10). The hill town overlooking the sea is also home to the Athens Fine Art School residency, housed in an Ottoman mansion just below the castle that is worth visiting for its stunning period frescoes.


Dancer Lenio Kaklea performed sections of “Arranged by Date Alphabet” at unannounced locations such as a distant rooftop, executing the whole only once. Photo by Cathryn Drake

The biennial project “Phenomenon,” a residency and exhibition organized by Parisian collectors Piergiorgio Pepe and Iordanis Kerenidis, is well worth planning ahead for. Anafi, a remote island in the Cyclades, has evolved from a place of penance, as an exile outpost from ancient Roman to modern times, to a contemporary paradise—a rare retreat from the drudgery of daily life. With only 270 inhabitants, there is a sense of isolation and silence, with only the whoosh of the high winds through the empty streets of whitewashed dwellings, the sun so bright you can’t possibly see your electronic screen.

In its second edition this summer, the program considered the constant renegotiation of historical narratives through physical and ephemeral fragments that appear and disappear in a week of presentations—such as Christodoulos Panayiotou’s ever-evolving performance “Dying on Stage,” a moving consideration of tragic irony—and a surprisingly cohesive research-based show at the schoolhouse, along with site-specific installations (many produced in collaboration with residents) that will remain until they vanish naturally in the elements. The program runs through July 16, yet if you come later in the summer you will still find relics left behind or returned: Mario García Torres’s Once remembered is a postcard, now for sale in local shops, depicting an ancient statue taken from the island and exhibited in the Louvre. Julien Nédélec has painted a giant Z on a building as a tribute to the letter that disappeared from the Roman alphabet for two centuries.

View of Julien Nédélec, Dark Chaos, (2017). Photo by Cathryn Drake

Anafi, whose name derives from ἀνέφηνεν, or “to reveal,” is the perfect place to contemplate the wonders of life. Or nature—the island’s austere peninsular monolith, Mount Kalamos, is second largest in Europe to the Rock of Gibraltar.

If you need more convincing on where to spend your summer, I conclude with an observation from Miller’s Greek travelogue: “The light of Greece opened my eyes, penetrated my pores, expanded my whole being.”

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