Her­ak­lei­don Mu­seum branches out

Pri­vately owned cul­ture and sci­ence in­sti­tu­tion in Thi­seio opens an­nex with photo ex­hi­bi­tion

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY SAN­DRA VOUL­GARI

New life seems to have been breathed into Apos­tolou Pavlou, the pedes­tian­ized street stretch­ing from Thi­seio train sta­tion to the turnoff lead­ing to the Acrop­o­lis ticket of­fice in cen­tral Athens. On a re­cent stroll around the area I ob­served street sell­ers ar­rang­ing their hand­made jew­elry and sou­venirs on por­ta­ble stands and wait­ers rear­rang­ing ta­bles and chairs at the nu­mer­ous cafes and restau­rants that line the cob­bled walk­way. Be­fore I turned down Irak­lei­don Street, my at­ten­tion was drawn to a beau­ti­fully re­stored neo­clas­si­cal build­ing on the right-hand cor­ner, at num­ber 37.

This is the new an­nex of the Her­ak­lei­don Art Mu­seum, which opened a few weeks ago just me­ters away from the flag­ship venue at 16 Irak­lei­don, thanks to Pav­los and Belinda Fy­rou, Greek-Amer­i­can art col­lec­tors and the founders of the new mu­seum.

“We waited seven years to get the li­cense to ren­o­vate the build­ing,” Fy­ros told me as we ap­proached the en­trance of the venue which of­fi­cially opened on Oc­to­ber 17 with a pho­tog­ra­phy ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled “Me­ta­mor­phoses of Athens: A Pho­to­graphic Itin­er­ary 18391950,” which shows the trans­for­ma­tion of the Greek cap­i­tal through ma­te­rial from the ar­chive of his­to­rian and pho­tog­ra­phy col­lec­tor Haris Yi­ak­oumis.

Tenth birth­day

The launch of the new space by the Her­ak­lei­don Art Mu­seum, best known for its col­lec­tion of works by M.C. Escher and Vic­tor Vasarely as well as its ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams draw­ing links be­tween the arts and sciences, comes as the in­sti­tu­tion cel­e­brates its 10th an­niver­sary. At the main build­ing at 16 Irak­lei­don I met up with the mu­seum’s di­rec­tor, Eleni Nomikou, who showed me around some in­ter­est­ing ex­hibits that are part of an up­com­ing ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram on the sciences. I heard the sound of chil­dren’s voices com­ing from the court­yard, where a sem­i­nar was un­der way.

“When we came back to open the mu­seum in Septem­ber after the sum­mer break we found that 12,000 chil­dren had made book­ings for our ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams in the new sea­son,” Nomikou said.

The an­nex

I was very im­pressed by my tour of the an­nex at 37 Apos­tolou Pavlou and by the ex­hi­bi­tion, a trib­ute to Athens on the 180th an­niver­sary since it was pro­claimed the cap­i­tal of Greece. Fy­ros and his wife showed me around the ex­hi­bi­tion, which points to the many sig­nif­i­cant changes that took place in the Greek cap­i­tal from 1839, when King Otto first en­tered the city, to 1950, or the start of post­war re­con­struc­tion.

“We spot­ted this build­ing 15 years ago. It was a res­i­dence, built in 1895. The owner had to leave it be­cause he couldn’t af­ford the up­keep and, be­cause he had asthma, suf­fered from be­ing on a road that was at the time very busy with traf­fic,” ex­plained Fy­ros.

“We bought it be­fore the build­ing on Irak­lei­don be­cause we orig­i­nally planned for the mu­seum to be housed here,” he added. “But when we started work­ing on it, we got a chance to pur­chase the other build­ing. We con­tin­ued with the ren­o­va­tions un­til we ap­plied for a li­cense, after which ev­ery­thing came to a halt. We turned our at­ten­tion to the other build­ing, trans­form­ing it into a proper ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion, but we no longer had the space to hold exhibitions as the teach­ing pro­grams needed to have il­lus­tra­tions of their own. In the mean­time we were granted the li­cense for the ren­o­va­tion and thought that [the Apos­tolou Pavlou venue] would be where we would hold exhibitions.”

Other than the ex­hi­bi­tion that is cur­rently on dis­play at the an­nex, it’s also worth vis­it­ing the build­ing to ad­mire the in­te­rior of the neo­clas­si­cal man­sion and es­pe­cially its or­nate ceil­ings, which have been fully re­stored.

“We wanted our first ex­hi­bi­tion to be a homage to Athens, to showcase how it has changed,” said Fy­ros. “The con­cept be­hind the new mu­seum is exhibitions that have broad pub­lic ap­peal. To bring the big artists you need to charge the re­spec­tive ad­mis­sion fee. Greece’s eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion is not very good right now; nev­er­the­less peo­ple still need good en­ter­tain­ment for their souls. We be­lieve that thanks to the lo­ca­tion of the venue and the af­ford­able ad­mis­sion fee [4 euros], a lot of peo­ple will come to Thi­seio, not just for a cof­fee, but also to visit the mu­seum.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion

“Me­ta­mor­phoses of Athens: A Pho­to­graphic Itin­er­ary 1839-1950” will be on dis­play at the new an­nex through the end of Jan­uary. The ex­hi­bi­tion con­sists of more than 100 orig­i­nal photographs, some of which date to the begin­nings of pho­tog­ra­phy. The jour­ney through the trans­for­ma­tions that Athens has un­der­gone is com­ple­mented by large-scale aerial shots of the Greek cap­i­tal, as well as a dis­play of old cam­eras and stere­o­scopes, two of which date to the turn of the 20th cen­tury.

There is also a sec­tion con­tain­ing photographs of present-day Athens taken by Kathimerini jour­nal­ist Nikos Vatopou­los, bridg­ing the gap be­tween past and present.

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