An interview with Dimitris Daskalopoulos

Founder of the D.Daskalopoulos Collection

Dimitris Daskalopoulos is one of the most significant contemporary art collectors today. Yet unlike the vast majority of his peers, he doesn’t intend to incessantly keep adding works to his collection.

Having collected for a quarter of a century, his focus now is on planning and securing the future of the D.Daskalopoulos Collection beyond his own natural lifetime.

“Once you have built a sizeable collection, once the collection has expressed its message and achieved its consistency, there comes a point at which you should stop – because carrying on becomes accumulation for its own sake. And once you are gone, the collection in any case becomes a time capsule of sorts. In this last phase of my career as an actor in the art world, I prefer to spend my productive energy in organizing how this time capsule will withstand the test of time and remain in dialogue with the art to come. I think it is a responsibility of the collector – and I find it as creative and challenging as collecting has been for me.”

The collection itself is important both in terms of its size and its thematic message.

For an art collection to be a collection (as opposed to a random accumulation of works), it needs coherence and it needs validation broadly by the art establishment.

The D.Daskalopoulos Collection goes beyond that in the sense that it defines human nature at its best.

The website articulates it succinctly: its message ‘expresses this constant tension between life and death, between futility and immortality, an image of the human struggle and its propensity towards optimism and endeavour instead of nihilism and abandon’.

In conversation Dimitris Daskalopoulos  articulates it even better:

“For artists, Positivity is more difficult to express and joy and pride are harder to show. Torn and twisted bodies are easy to depict.  But putting aside the worst of humanity and its limitations, and expressing its main achievement: hope, optimism and our boundless capacity to create is what the D.Daskalopoulos Collection tries to depict. It is, in fact, about celebrating the best about humanity.”

Dimitris Daskalopoulos describes the compulsion to collect art as “the quest to make my own creation”, which differs in substance from other attempts to define this almost visceral urge.

With a degree of humility, he says he is happy and grateful it “happened” to him.

He developed an early aesthetic curiosity when, aged 12, he started visiting and spending time at museums.  At 17, while travelling through Thailand with his parents, he bought his first work of art, a statue that didn’t quite fit in his suitcase, so he ended up carrying it under his arm for a week.

This act developed into a collecting vocation, which  became “a way of channeling his own creativity”, he says.

With this creativity devoted, apart from his philanthropic foundation, NEON, to the future of the collection, he is busy evaluating options.

It is a hard task, Daskalopoulos says. You have to define what you want to achieve and as a collector, you have a responsibility to both the artists and the public as all  artworks were made to be viewed  He sees the value of private collectors in precisely generating initiatives for sharing the works in their collections with the wider public.

Which brings us neatly to NEON…

NEON is a non-profit organization that works to bring contemporary culture closer to everyone. It is committed to broadening the appreciation, understanding, and creation of contemporary art in Greece and to the firm belief that this is a key tool for growth and development.

When prompted to elaborate, Daskalopoulos volunteers that NEON represents a “political action for my country”.

And lest you consider the connection too tenuous, here is his rationale:

He harbours no grand ambition, he says, of changing the entire country or his compatriots’ collective mindset, but he does want to make a contribution to a positive and incremental change through contemporary art. Because art, with the questions it poses and the interpretations it offers, can be a valuable tool for changing people’s way of thinking.

Daskalopoulos, as head of the Greek Business Federation for 8 years,was at the forefront of trying to overcome the crisis Greece has faced in recent years.  He reckons the crisis was, and is, as much cultural as it is economical.

To appreciate  this, one needs to understand the deep-seated conviction of Greeks that their country is as relevant in the 21st century as it was at the height of Greek civilisation.

He wants his compatriots to come into contact with new and challenging ideas and learn to think and feel differently – about themselves and about the world at large today

The Greeks have great pride in their history and their ancestors’ contribution to culture, and rightly so. But being anchored to this glorious past does them no service, says Daskalopoulos.

Contemporary art does, of course, do precisely that and the creativity of contemporary Greeks is no less important than that of their illustrious predecessors.

Creativity is an individual responsibility every day. We must keep our intellectual curiosity alive in order to contribute to society, he says.

And so, Dimitris Daskalopoulos, through his foundation NEON, asks,

“Greeks of today, can we do what our ancestors did again? Can we create something that is equally valuable 1000 years from now? We may fail, but we must try, we must reinvent ourselves.”

Ultimately, NEON is about challenging preconceived thinking and exposing people, primarily the uninitiated public, to creativity.

As an organisation, it is both bold and original – very much like the man himself, in fact.

Forthcoming Events

NEON for the summer of 2018 presents a solo exhibition by New York-based artist Paul Chan, titled Odysseus and the Bathers at the Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens curated by Sam Thorne, Director of Nottingham Contemporary.

Odysseus and the Bathers brings together a major body of new and recent works by Paul Chan. Since the early 2000s, the New York-based artist’s wide-ranging activities have encompassed sculpture, animation, publishing, performance and education.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a full-colour English catalogue, co-published by NEON and Badlands Unlimited, and designed by Kobi Benezri.

Dates: 5 July-14 October, 2018