Goulandris Foundation: Is it worth the hype?

If you haven’t heard of it, there is a new museum in Athens that everyone is talking about. It’s Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation Museum in Pagrati. If you’re familiar with the area, you will probably know that there has been construction going on next to Agios Spyridon church these past few years. If you’re not, well, you’re hearing about it now. This new museum has been a long time coming and everyone’s hoping that it will bring a cultural renaissance to the neighborhood that is slowly gaining back its glory after a decade of severe struggles.

As soon as you start climbing Eratosthenous Str. towards Plastira Square you can see the building of the Foundation standing tall. A mix of contemporary and neoclassical architecture, it stands out against the dull blocks of flats that surround it. Its entrance is facing the newly reconstructed precinct of the church. The day we visited the museum the line was 10 minutes long, making it evident that the Athenians are as excited for this new art space as we are.

The entrance, minimal and sleek, is exactly what you would expect from a top contemporary museum. The building is dominated by the Foundation’s permanent collection that spans four floors and features works by the artists that shaped modern art. From the pioneer of Impressionism, Claude Monet, to the idiosyncratic sculptures of Alberto Giacometti, each floor is home to masterpieces that we’re not used to seeing in Greece. There’s no way you won’t see works of at least one or two artists that you deeply admire. The collection is that big!

The last floor is dedicated to contemporary Greek art, giving us a general idea of what the biggest greek painters were producing in the 20th and 21st century. This collection of greek paintings is impressive. Tsoklis, Moralis, Zouni are all making their own appearances making us gasp at the level of talent that exists in greek art. We would have loved to see even more artists of the 21st century and more audacious works of art. Will that be coming in the future? We hope!

For now, the small room right opposite the main space of the fourth floor is quite a sight. A velvet abstract portrait of Maria Callas and a sculpture that could be mistaken for a lamp make this small room the highlight of the whole museum. It would be unfair not to recognize the fact that a big part of the museum that highlights the works of greek artists. Greece has always had a tradition in the arts and the public needs to know about it. This Collection is exactly what Athens needs, as it tries to get out of the bleakness of this past decade.

So far so good. But it wouldn’t be The Art Stories without a bit of constructive criticism, would it? It wasn’t that big of a shock for us that women artists are for the most part absent from the Goulandris Collection. Out of 101 works of art exhibited, only 5 were created by women. This collection lacks female representation. Where is Sofia Laskaridou or Chryssa Vardea? What about Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’ Keeffe or Frida Kahlo? Was none of these artists interesting enough for the Foundation to buy? If you think that this is an exception to the rule and that women have an equal piece of the dessert, you couldn’t be more wrong. Women artists in Europe earn 4,600$ on average for a work of art while men earn 6,200$ for the same work. Even galleries such as Tate, are not playing their part, with only 27% of their exhibited works being produced by women. It shouldn’t surprise us that the Goulandris Museum fails to show more works by females, then.

Don’t get us wrong. We know that this is a private collection whose contents depend on the taste of its owners. However, if someone is willing to assume the responsibility of founding a modern art museum, they should be equally aware of the educational role they are called to take on with this brave new endeavour. What we consume shapes our world view. And whether the Foundation likes to admit it or not, they are not helping shift the reality that what we see as art is, sadly, predominantly male. 

We couldn’t help but feel a pang of bitterness observing all this. Still, this new addition makes it easier than ever to see works by world renowned artists. That is something we can say as of late. The Goulandris museum has already launched its educational programs for kids and adults and held an interesting talk about art and mental health with Auguste Corteau. We can’t say we’re mad about it! Is it worth the hype? It’s a yes from us.