Beneath the Acropolis, Athens Is Teeming With Contemporary Art. Here Are 11 Galleries You Need to Know

A freedom to play and experiment is what the Greek capital's art scene is known for.

Stefan Rinck, Teckel Bench and Fuzzy, 2022 Photo by Isidoros Maskalaris. Courtesy of Allouche Benias

It’s impossible to disconnect Athens from history. Athens is history. After all, its main point of orientation is the Acropolis. But the cultural vibrancy of the Greek capital isn’t just about what happened 2,500 years ago—there’s a burgeoning art scene in Athens that’s exploring the city behind that well-worn image. In a town where something as mundane as driving becomes an adventurous exercise, a certain freedom from rules and strictures—however chaotic it may be—sets Athens apart in the art world.

This pulsing energy is visible in the relationship between neighborhoods and their galleries. Take the port of Piraeus, which has been a bridge between Athens and the world since 500 BCE; it is now home to several contemporary galleries. Metaxourgeio and Psyrri, industrial areas of textile production, are being transformed by art spaces conducting a different type of object-making. Posh Kolonaki has become the place for established names to find new homes in neoclassical buildings.

The ancient Greeks used the word kairos to mean “the right or critical moment.” Many of Athens’ most exciting or influential galleries embody a spirit of kairos, and are emerging at the right time, brimming with content and perspectives. Traditional galleries, intermediaries that host artists and other galleries, hybrid spaces, and guerilla-style collectives in abandoned buildings all provide different sites to exhibit work. Really, they offer the freedom to play and experiment that Athens is known for.

 

Alkinois

One doesn’t exactly just open an art gallery on a whim, but that’s not the case in Athens. Oftentimes, people already have a space or studio and decide to use it for exhibitions or residences, which is what happened with Alkinois. It was more of an organic decision than a commercial one, which is part of the space’s charm.

Housed in a former furniture warehouse, Alkinois feels warm and welcoming. It’s casual—a refreshing experience in the sometimes-intimidating gallery world. For example, for the recent opening of “Sto Kafeneio,” an exhibition of work by Mike Cornford, Alkinois brought in musicians to play rembetiko (Greek folk music), turning the space into an old-school café.

Currently on view is the heady group show, An Erratic Storm: Reaching Out to the Infinite, “inspired by humans’ relationship with the limitless magnitudes of empirically given things.”

Installation view of <i>A Midsummer Night’s Dream</i>

Installation view of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Courtesy of Alkinois

Alkinois is located at Alkinois 6, Athens 11852. It is open Thursday and Friday, from 7–9 p.m.

 

Allouche Benias

Silence in Athens can be a Sisyphean task, but at Allouche Benias, the sounds of vespas roaring, cars honking, and random strangers yelling at each other (it’s a thing, don’t ask) all fall away as you step into a marble sculpture garden and walk into this 1890 mansion. Eric Allouche, founder of the Allouche Gallery in New York, opened an Athens outpost with Greek American curator and art dealer George Benias in 2018 and this landmark building was designed by Ernst Ziller, one of Athens’ most significant architects in the 19th century. But what really sets the gallery apart is that it’s a peaceful oasis on the corner of one of Athens’ busiest streets.

In this tranquil space, you can take in the bold and energetic paintings of Greek artist Alexandros Vasmoulakis and the galactic, intricate collages, drawings, and mosaics by Theo Michael, all on display until mid-February.

Allouche Benias gallery exterior

Allouche Benias gallery exterior. Courtesy of Allouche Benias

Allouche Benias is located at Kanari 1, Athens, 10671, Greece. Opening hours are Tuesday–Friday 11 a.m.—7 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. —5 p.m.

 

Bernier/Eliades Gallery

One cannot talk about contemporary art in Greece without mentioning Bernier/Eliades. It was the first international modern art gallery in Athens, opening in 1977. Owners Jean Bernier and Mariana Eliades introduced international art to Greece at a time when the local galleries were only showing Greek work. The Greek identity had been fractured after several difficult decades, and it was time to bring in the outside world and piece some of the fragments back together. Bernier/Eliades did just that, showing works by artists including Richard Serra, Marisa Merz, James Turrell, and Marina Abramović.

The term “icon” is tossed around quite freely these days—used for anyone from Dolly Parton to a monkey in a jacket—so the word has lost some of its impact. But Bernier and Eliades really are Athenian icons and pioneers for bringing contemporary art to the public when no one else did.

From March 7–April 20, 2024, the gallery will present never-before-seen visual work of fashion designer Martin Margiela at their galleries in Athens and Brussels.

Thomas SCHÜTTE What a Shine, 1999-2001, Photo by Boris Kirpotin

Bernier/Eliades Gallery is located at 11 Eptachalkou Street Athens 118 51. Opening hours are Tuesday–Friday: 11:00–6:30 p.m.; Saturday: 12:00–4:00 p.m.

 

The Breeder

Stathis Panagoulis and George Vamvakidis began The Breeder as an art magazine in 2000, and their office space organically turned into a de facto gallery. The name is a cheeky reference to straight people and the owners’ desire to “breed” new talent in Athens—they started doing the latter on a larger scale when they opened the official gallery in a 1970s ice cream factory in Metaxourgeio in 2008.

It’s a serious gallery but not self-serious, a place where you’re warmly greeted by the staff in a building that’s a piece of art in and of itself. The Breeder often shows irreverent, political, or tongue-in-cheek work and the vibe is open and adventurous. For example, The Breeder Feeder was a pop-up restaurant within an installation by Andreas Angelidakis, while The Breeder Skin projects work onto the building’s façade. Vamvakidis attributes this approach to the location, explaining that what sets Athens apart is “you still have the freedom of choice. You don’t get into a system that is so rigid and unbreakable.” He sums it up, “You can still do things your own way,” and that is exactly what has kept The Breeder fresh and relevant for over two decades.

Until March 2, The Breeder is exhibiting Mocking Game, a series of unsettling, atmospheric paintings by Lyn Liu, and hosting painter Ireland Wisdom in its open studio.

 

Ireland Wisdom, The Breeder Open Studio 2024, Photo by Athanasios Gatos. Courtesy The Breeder, Athens

The Breeder is located at 45 Iasonos st, 10436, Athens, Greece. Opening hours are Tuesday–Friday 11–7 p.m., Saturday 11–5 p.m.

 

Gagosian

Gagosian first opened its doors in Athens in 2009 and moved to a larger neoclassical villa in Kolonaki in 2020. Kois Associated Architects both preserved and polished the 1920s space, maintaining original historic details like iron-wrought Art Deco balconies while incorporating a modern minimalist design.

It’s a great example of how the historic and contemporary can blend perfectly in Athens—a highlight being the room on the second floor where three large windows look out to Mount Hymmetus. It would be worth it to come just to gaze wistfully at the sunset from this spot, meditating on life and purpose.

Luckily, there’s a lot more to see here beyond its picturesque view—the gallery exhibits the type of exciting work that Gagosian is known for. The inaugural show at its expanded venue, where it moved to in 2020, was by Brice Marden.

On April 11th, the gallery will host a James Turrell presentation and in mid-June, an Anselm Kiefer exhibition will open.

Gagosian exterior detail, Photo by Giorgos Sfakianakis

Gagosian is located 22 Anapiron Polemou Street Athens 11521. Opening hours are Tuesday–Saturday 11 a.m– 7 p.m.

 

Gramma_Epsilon

History is at the heart of Gramma_Epsilon, a gallery that focuses on experimental female artists from the 1960s and ‘70s and their present-day counterparts. It’s in a building in Psyrri that once housed fabric shops and warehouses, a fitting connection since many of the artists shown here work primarily with thread and fiber art.

Co-founder Paolo Cortese was in charge of the archive of Mirella Bentivoglio, the influential Italian sculptor known for her concrete and visual poetry. He began showing her work at Gramma_Epsilon and branched out to other artists tied to Bentivoglio like Francesca Cataldi, Franca Sonnino, and Gisella Meo. The space follows a metaphorical thread from these women to others, showing work by current international artists like Anna Esposito and Greta Schödl, who have solo shows in March and June, respectively.

Directed by Andrea Bevilacqua and Carlo Canè, Le ragazze di Mirella, Courtesy of Gramma_Epsilon

Gramma_Epsilon is located Agathonos 6, 10551, Athens. Opening hours are Tuesday–Saturday 11–7 p.m.

 

Hyper Hypo

Hyper Hypo is an art and design bookstore whose name says it all: based on the Greek prefixes for “above” and “below,” the shop is about accessibility and bringing contemporary visual publications to audiences who are interested in art but may not be able to afford it. So, you’ll find beautiful coffee table photography books of Richard Kern and Agnes Varda next to issues of Butt and Interview with Lana Del Rey on the cover, which are just as coveted.

Hyper Hypo is in an old stoa and has a project space downstairs next to Athens’ most epic time capsule of a café, a fitting image of the old intersecting with the new. The store publishes work in collaboration with local and international artists and uses its event space to promote these publications. Zine launches, book readings, and queer poetry nights have all been hosted to gather people together to connect over (and buy) these titles. This hybrid approach has clearly worked and made Hyper Hypo into one of the most compelling non-traditional art spaces in the city.

Hyper Hypo, Photo by Aaron Gaab

Hyper Hypo is located at Voreou 10, Athina 105 51, Greece. Opening hours are Monday–Friday 11 a.m.–8 p.m; Saturday 11 a.m.–6 p.m.; closed Sunday.

 

The Intermission

Housed in a former car garage in Pireaus on a street now lined with contemporary spaces like Rodeo and Carwan, the Intermission serves as a pop-up venue for visiting galleries. Art advisor Artemis Baltoyanni wanted to find a way to bring galleries to Athens for shows rather than opening up something more traditional. By working directly with artists and their representing galleries (if they have one), the Intermission offers a practical and economic solution for those who want to get their projects out there. Many of the artists they’ve worked with have never shown in Greece before, and Athens is a cheaper (and sunnier) option than New York, London, or Berlin, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

The programming is fluid, as artists may be invited with specific projects or to present something new. There’s a collaborative spirit, which feels necessary in Greece, where the dialogues in art school have become more stuck than Socratic. The next show is Alexandru Chira’s “Gestural Temples,” a collaboration with Parisian Fitzpatrick Gallery.

Running from February 13th until April 13th, this exhibition will showcase the Romanian artist’s avant-garde and sometimes mystical take on traditional motifs.

Exterior of The Intermission gallery

Exterior of The Intermission gallery, Photo by Stathis Mamalakis

The Intermission is located at Polidefkous 37A, Pireas 185 45, Greece. Opening hours are Wednesday–Saturday 12 p.m.–8 p.m.

 

Mona

Mona and its sister venue,  Shila, could be described as sensual art hotels (that smell really good). Eftihia Stefanidi is the creative director behind House of Shila, the brand behind these art-focused hotels. She describes them a bit differently: “From its inception, the concept has been to provide a blank canvas for creators and collaborate on reinterpreting the surroundings. We see art as an organic extension of our spaces.” This is most evident at Mona, housed in a former textile factory.

The living room and open kitchen area showcases soft curtains, curvy ceramics, and plush velvet seats set against cement columns and terrazzo floors. It’s curated but not alienating; everything is meant to be touched, used, and bought since the artwork and customized room objects (like robes and coffee and honey) are available to purchase.

Recently, House of Shila launched an artist residency program, where artists are invited to stay at Mona or Shila for a week to create work, and the brand will soon release an online magazine and printed visual newspaper as more outlets for artists.

Interior of Mona, Courtesy of Mona

 

Mona is located at 4 Kakourgodikiou Street, Psirri 105 54 Athens.

 

One Minute Space

One Minute Space, also known as OMS, offers two of Athens’ best qualities: energy and an Acropolis view. The name refers to the desire to make decisions spontaneously and to have a bit of freedom with what the space is doing. Shows can be up for a day or a week or a month; time is a construct anyway, so why not play with it?

There’s a collision of history and eras in this former alcohol storage warehouse. Walk in and check out the raised office area, which once overlooked the warehouse to make sure no one stole the alcohol.

Currently, One Minute Space is exhibiting “Shifting,” a group show curated by Florent Frizet. Up until February 17, this show explores the idea of movement by shifting work from previous exhibitions to relate to new pieces.

SHIFTING installation view, Photo by Thanassis Gatos. Courtesy of One Minute Gallery

 

One Minute Space is located at Marathonos 71 Athens. Opening hours are Wednesday to Saturday from 4–8 p.m.

 

Rebecca Camhi Gallery

Rebecca Camhi opened her gallery in 1995 when no one besides Bernier/Eliades was showing international or contemporary art in Athens. She filled in that gap, exhibiting work by artists like Nan Goldin, Julian Opie, Nobuyoshi Araki, and Tracey Moffatt. The gallery also represented major Greek artists like Konstantin Kakanias, Deanna Maganias, and Takis. Whether you’ve got Google alerts on for Athens galleries or not, chances are you’ve heard of Rebecca Camhi, an institution in the local art scene.

Located in a neoclassical building in Metaxourgeio, the gallery includes a downstairs shop, filled with ceramics, textiles, and works of art, including at least one Nan Goldin photograph on the wall. As it approaches its 30-year anniversary, Rebecca Camhi Gallery combines the past and present in this historical space that shows work by artists old and new from around the world.

Alexandros Georgiou, Installation view of From the point of view of Yes. Courtesy of Rebecca Camhi

Rebecca Camhi is located at Leonidou 9, Metaxourgeiou, 104 37. Opening hours are Wednesday–Friday 12-6 p.m.

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