Deste 2013: The System of Objects

Deste’s summer event on Hydra, Greece.

This summer 2013, the Deste Foundation showcased The System of Objects, the Dakis Joannou Collection Reloaded, curated by Andreas Angelidakis and Maria Cristina Didero. The System of Objects is a vast selection from Dakis Joannou’s different collections – from his first to his most recent acquisitions, hence, ‘reloading’ them.

Objects on display ranged from art, photography, furniture and fashion, each within their own private viewing space. Every room had its own design: a wood-beamed structure encompassing works by Christiana Soulou, Paul Chan, Sam Durant and Picabia. Separately, David Altmejd’s The Giant 2, 2007, dominated an entire room and had a spell-binding effect on the audience. Altmejd’s work consists of a large wax figure, at various stages of decay as nature takes over, with taxidermied species and vegetation ‘sprouting’ from its great hulk.

Walking through black corridors, lined by a photographic portrait of Yves St Laurent; a plane model flying overhead; past the ‘Floating Transporter for the Waste Product of its own Construction’, we enter a living room. Somewhat atavistic, the bed has a sheet of simulated grass over it; each furniture piece is bold and striking. A labyrinth exhibits Pawel Althamer’s dancing sculptures in separate booths.

From fashion photography and McQueen boots to Grayson Perry vases, this eclectic exhibition rejuvenates each object within Joannou’s collection, each as a distinct entity and concept yet in harmony with the rest of the collection, showing Joannou’s distinctive, idiosyncratic taste for art.The following day takes us to the island of Hydra where, in the old abattoir, Deste invites a different artist to create an exhibition every year. The honour in 2013 was Urs Fischer’s.

The participatory ‘Yes’ project invited locals, tourists and visitors to create objects out of coloured clay exhibited in and around the old slaughterhouse. A ‘symphony in clay’, the polyphonic themes really did stand out: Maurizio Cattelan had created a self-portrait, two locals laboriously sculpted a gas-masked mother clutching her infant, broken columns adorned the abandoned slaughterhouse… From the absurd to the erotic, sculptures lined the path to the slaughterhouse and beyond, the heat hardening the clay within minutes.

Both the exhibition and the project space challenged guests to observe art in a different viewing space, with the Deste foundation transformed into themed micro-galleries and the slaughterhouse into a venue for a dynamic and engaging project. The idea of dislocation and identitycombined was uppermost as a myriad of nationalities and ideas were interwoven in Urs Fischer’s ‘Yes’.

This chimed easily with Joannou’s own collection which contains different themes and multi-media works, all combining to make the Deste foundation what it is. This year’s exhibition is accompanied by a book: a 3D tour, overlaid on a page by page scan of Baudrillard’s The System of Objects.


A hydrofoil ride 1h40 m away from Athens, Hydra is a dream-like setting. A conservation spot, the island has no cars and is entirely pollution-free. The sea is the deepest clearest turquoise and Dakis’ yacht Guilty cuts a surreal but cheerful presence at its tiny harbour. In commissioning Jeff Koons to create the exterior, Dakis has insured that there would be no other like it crossing the seas.

This year, Urs Fisher had been invited to curate a very unusual production – anyone and everyone on the island (including guests at the event) had been given the opportunity and actively encouraged to mould a clay work of their choice. The result was staggering in its diversity and imagination, ranging from the graphically explicit to the decorous, but never dull or ordinary.

Dakis’ art

Dakis Joannou is no ordinary collector.

For starters, and unlike many other private collectors, he is a sharer rather than a hoarder.

Once a year, the good and the great of the art world are invited to his Athens foundation Deste and to its Hydra Island outpost to see new acquisitions, installations as well as perennial exhibits, and to celebrate contemporary art in great style.

Joannou has style in abundance. A veritable force of nature, he is at once generous and challenging – not only does he challenge perception and convention, he delights in inviting viewers to do likewise.

Mischievious and bold, he enjoys observing the reaction of his guests and even includes them in art installations. This year, visitors were confronted with pictures of themselves from previous years, combined as a massive collage covering an entire room, wall to wall, floor to ceiling.

The Deste Foundation galleries had, once again, changed dramatically in layout, theme and exhibits. Dakis and Lietta Joannou’s home is where their guests repair for dinner after the Deste tour. A testimony to his owner’s passion for art, it houses its own collection that changes from one year to the next in a vast underground museum setting. The stream of guests file past the exhibits and up to the roof terrace for a Gatsby-esque evening of food, drinks, dancing and exchanging views of this year’s Venice Biennale.