The Benaki Museum was founded in 1930 by the collector Antonis Benakis. Born into an important family of the Greek diaspora, Benakis’s father, Emmanouil Benakis, was a Greek merchant and politician who immigrated to Alexandria, where he made his fortune in cotton. Returning to Greece, Emmanouil would be elected mayor of Athens in 1914 and help resettle refugees after the war in Asia Minor. His six children included the writer Penelope Delta and Antonis, who was born in Alexandria and began his practice of collecting there. In the late 1920s, after he settled in Greece, Antonis Benakis donated his entire collection to the Greek state. The resulting Benaki Museum remains one of the most important museums in the country, with six branches, four archives, and an extensive library. The collection today consists of more than five hundred thousand objects, spanning the spectrum of Greek art and culture, as well as pieces from Islamic, pre-Colombian, African, and Chinese art. The museum offers a unique account of Greek civilization, interpreting its artistic and intellectual aspects by placing it in dialogue with the development of the larger world.
documenta 14 enters into a dialogue with four of the museum’s branches: the building complex in Kerameikos, which houses the Islamic art collections; the Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery; the Mentis Center for the preservation of traditional textile techniques; and the new building on Pireos Street that hosts a major part of the documenta 14 public exhibition. The exhibition halls of the architecturally inward-looking structure evolve around its perimeter, looking through openings to the central courtyard. At the Pireos Annexe, which thus far has been been used to present a diverse program of guest exhibitions, beyond the scope of the Benaki’s permanent collection, there is an opportunity to investigate untold, unfinished, or otherwise overshadowed histories and to take inspiration from novel museologies, such as those put forth by artists themselves.