Dakis and Lietta Ioannou/DESTE Foundation/Benaki Museum/New Museum Art Event 2019

An impassioned patron of conceptual art and one of the most prolific collectors of a generation, Dakis Ioannou is easily the most generous in terms of sharing the evolution of his collection along with offering a fascinating insight into his personal relationship with both the works and their creators.  

Attending his annual event, which takes place over two days between Athens and his Deste Foundation outpost on the island of Hydra is an illuminating affair.  

Intensely focused on the art, it kicks off with an open house visit to Dakis and Lietta Ioannou’s home, a modernist building with a vast underbelly converted to a personal gallery of sorts.

The works on display there rotate from one year to the next and the event is always attended by several of the artists that Dakis collects.  Imagine being in a room with some of the most remarkable names in contemporary art today and you can get a sense of what an invitation to the event means.

One perennial is Maurizio Cattelan whose magazine, Toilet Paper, is supported by Dakis. Urs Fisher is another, as are Pawel Althamer and Roberto Cuoghi, among so, so many.   

Jeff Koons was there this year and drew crowds of admirers and one detractor, quite possibly the only fine art collector at the event.  Koons’ One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank is credited with being the seminal work that started Ioannou collecting contemporary art and he remains a close friend, having even painted the unique exterior of Dakis’ yacht, Guilty.

Evi Kalogiropoulou, Picking saffron in evening (2018). Marble and hair, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.

When I later mused on the scarcity of fine art collectors generally, Sydney Picasso observed that collecting contemporary art is Rock n’Roll. It has also the merits of being able to meet and cultivate the artists in person which, in Dakis’ case, is a reason for collecting the works in and out of itself.

Using Sydney’s analogy, Dakis Ioannou, I thought, is both a rock star and an impresario, having launched the careers of so many whose work he has been intrigued and/or smitten with over the decades. It is hard to overestimate his influence in the art world, which parallels and perhaps exceeds his prominence as an industrialist.

This year’s display at his house included works by Jakub Julian Ziolkowski, Hyon Gyon, Kaari Upson, Roberto Cuoghi, Wilhelm Sasnal, Isa Genzken, Lito Kattou, Francis Upritchard, Josh Smith, Urs Fischer, Tim Noble & Sue Webster and George Condo.

The undisputed “star of the show” was, however, Cuoghi, whose paper kiln-baked and variously yeast, protein, sugar, bird feed, and iron powder-painted crabs and crab claws dominated the exhibition. The crabs were originally part of the 2016 Putiferio installation at the Slaughterhouse, the Deste Foundation outpost on the island of Hydra.

Dionisis Kavallieratos, Robinsons Crusoes (2013). Pencil on paper, 100 x 141 cm. Courtesy the artist. (Photograph: Boris Kirpotin).

As a collector, Dakis Joannou likes to challenge the perception of what art is. What he collects is always conceptual, provocative, always pushing the boundaries, often raw and dark, with an underlying theme of the decay all things and all people are ultimately destined to.  

The Benaki Museum, where guests were treated to a private view, dinner and post-dinner party,  is the venue of an all-summer exhibition, “The same river twice”, paraphrasing Heraclitus’ aphorism, “one cannot step in the same river twice”.  The title of the exhibition is meant to reflect the ever-changing dynamics of the Athens’ lively art scene and certainly there were some show-stopping works there. Below* is a list of the artists exhibited at Benaki until September 2019.

Jeffrey Deitch, an erstwhile director of MOCA, eminence grise-cum-kingmaker of the contemporary art world, and an old friend of Ioannou’s was there, holding court with Nicolas Berggruen, another BBeyond interviewee of old.   Deitch’s distinctive round eye glasses are so mesmeric that I was compelled to ask if they had lenses at all, or were just a wearable artefact.

The band played on, the food and drinks flowed effortlessly and most everyone who is anyone in the contemporary art world celebrated Dakis Ioannou’s generosity, wit and peerless dedication to art and artists.

The Slaughterhouse, Hydra

If you haven’t been to Hydra, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Slaughterhouse is whimsically so named, but no, the building really IS a former slaughterhouse, built of stone and overlooking the spectacular coastline below.

Dakis Joannou has turned this into a miniature exhibition and installation space that hosts, each summer, something quite unexpected by way of an art project.

This year was dedicated to American artist Kiki Smith and the name of the exhibition was Memory

Below is what the artist herself has written about her project.

The gathering itself was as inclusive as it could be – alongside the demi-gods of the art world, titans of artists, collectors, curators, gallerists… were a vast number of Hydra residents, enjoying the extraordinary generosity of our host and the stunning blood-red sunset over the horizon.

Dakis Joannou’s event is quite unparalleled and quite iconic in its own right. 

The host’s absence of affectation and genuine delight at sharing his art projects (including those in print published by the Deste Press) are both compelling and surreal against the backdrop of yet another political turmoil brewing up in Greece and in his homeland of Cyprus.

“The slaughterhouse connects the goats to the sea by their blood and entrails being offered. The Capricorn is a goat climbing a mountain whose snake-fish tail enters the sea. The milk is an offering to the goats and the sea. In the Hydra constellation, similar to the island and to the old island’s flag, sits the owl, the cat, the crow, the sextant and the offering chalice.

—-

“When the sky comes down from heaven and the blood shall fill the sea.”
That has been happening for time immemorial.

A woman yesterday told me she remembers as a child summering in Hydra the sea being red as blood.

I was once on the Island of Bequia, of St. Vincent and Grenadines, where they hunted whales from small boats and slaughtered goats. One day a goat’s entrails floated in the water as we swam, and then washed up on the sands.

I made photographs and drawings of the organs, which got me drawing again after several years of not doing so.

Later that month, a hurricane came and took away two or three meters of the sand beach.

Bring an offering to the Greek sea from New York.

The rooms should be bathed in pink light.

The basin can have water instead of milk as it will catch the pink, also.

Rubio Pink glass is the heaviest glass as it is made with gold.

The sea goat appears 21,000 years ago.
Primordial god of the sea.

Vocation.
North Star to guide.

The goat insides offered to the sea or disposed of into.
Give the blood and organs to feed the fish.

The fish, along the way, acquired the body of a goat, to allow it to span both realms, where somewhere along the lines between heaven and the sea, the snake of the earth maybe visited.

Hydra, the water snake, is the largest constellation.
The crow (Corvus), the owl (Noctua), the chalice (Crater), the sextant (Sextans) and the cat (Felis), all accompany her through the sky.

I made films of the East River in New York in 2005 of glints of light on the river. I made them into cyanotypes this year and from them into flags to fly back at the sea on Hydra.

Small elements will accompany the travel. One donkey, one clowder of cats, one owl, one observation look-out to the sea, and hopefully a lighthouse of sorts.”

© Kiki Smith 2019

*This year’s participating artists: Eleni Christodoulou (b. 1965, Athens) Anastasia Douka (b. 1979, Athens) Pavlos Fysakis (b. 1969, Athens) Eva Giannakopoulou (b. 1977, Athens) Delia Gonzalez (b. 1972, Miami) Lakis & Aris Ionas / The Callas (Lakis Ionas [b. 1974, Athens] and Aris Ionas [b. 1975, Athens]) Evi Kalogiropoulou (b. 1985, Athens) Dionisis Kavallieratos (b. 1979, Athens) Navine G. Khan-Dossos (b. 1982, London) / GTSA Katerina Komianou (b. 1984, Athens) Panayiotis Loukas (b. 1975, Athens) Petros Moris (b. 1986, Lamia) Rallou Panagiotou (b. 1978, Athens) Angelos Papadimitrou (b. 1952, Kiato) Vasilis Papageorgiou (b. 1991, Athens) Rena Papaspyrou (b. 1938, Athens) Eftihis Patsourakis (b. 1967, Crete) Anastasia Pavlou (b. 1993, Athens) Yorgos Prinos (b. 1977, Athens) Kostas Sahpazis (b. 1977, Thessaloniki) Socratis Socratous (b. 1971, Paphos, Cyprus) Eva Stefani (b. 1964, Alexandria, Virginia) Valinia Svoronou (b. 1991, Athens) Iris Touliatou (b. 1981, Athens) Dimitris Tsouanatos (b. 1944, Athens) Alexandros Tzannis (b. 1979, Athens) Amalia Vekri (b. 1983, Athens) Nikolas Ventourakis (b. 1981, Athens) 


About DESTE

The DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art is a non-profit institution established in Geneva in 1983 by collector Dakis Joannou. DESTE engages in an extensive exhibition program that promotes emerging as well as established artists and aims to broaden the audience for contemporary art, enhance opportunities for young artists, and explore the connections between contemporary art and culture. The flexibility of DESTE’s exhibition schedule enables the Foundation to respond to what is current in the art world, both nationally and internationally, and to embark on interesting projects as they emerge in today’s society.

About The Benaki Museum

The Benaki Museum is among the most extensive and innovative museum organizations in Europe. It was founded by Antonis Benakis in 1930 and subsequently donated to the Greek state. Arranged across a satellite network of six museum buildings, the Museum also features 5 archival departments and an extensive library, the Leigh Fermor House, offering residencies to scholars, and a collection currently holding a 500,000-strong inventory covering all periods of Greek culture as well as European, Islamic, Pre-Columbian, African and Chinese art.

About The New Museum

The New Museum is the only museum in New York City exclusively devoted to contemporary art. Founded in 1977, the New Museum is a center for exhibitions, information, and documentation about living artists from around the world. From its beginnings as a one-room office on Hudson Street to the inauguration of its first freestanding building on the Bowery designed by SANAA in 2007, the New Museum continues to be a place of experimentation and a hub of new art and new ideas.