EMST—National Museum of Contemporary Art

EMST—National Museum of Contemporary Art, photo: Mathias Völzke

The EMST–National Museum of Contemporary Art, which has collected Greek and international art from the postwar period to the present since 2000, initially presenting a program in various temporary venues, found a permanent home in 2014 on Syngrou Avenue in the former Fix Brewery. The brand of the first major beer brewery in Greece was established in 1864 by Johann Fix, né Fuchs, whose mining-engineer father had arrived in Athens from Bavaria in the mid-nineteenth century. The brewery was completed in 1961 by the visionary Greek architect Takis Zenetos (1926–1977), in collaboration with Margaritis Apostolidis (1922–2005), who designed it so as to display its inner workings to passersby—most spectacularly when lit at night. It was also designed so that further horizontal expansion would not interrupt production.

Production did stop, though. In 1982 the brewery was abandoned. In 1994, it was repurposed by Attiko Metro S.A., and the building’s northern half was demolished to make room for a metro stop, which opened in 2000. After EMST signed a fifty- year lease in 2002, a competition was held to turn the factory into a museum. 3SK Stylianidis Architects won, and with the collaboration of I. Mouzakis & Associate Architects, Tim Ronalds Architects, and Kalliope Kontozoglou, the eastern façade and interior were further transformed.

In dialogue with EMST’s staff, the curators of documenta 14 imagined an exhibition that injects the full vertical span of this building with a libidinal economy. Ascending its floors, one experiences the coupling of the bank and the museum (both machines for collecting surplus value); genders and genres (or the disciplining of valuable forces); and labor and love (including the work of the sun). For this quintessential public institution to be truly public, the aim of documenta 14 is to sustain a sense of polyvalence. Yet as one gets closer to the rooftop, with its views of Athens’s dense urban fabric, the inevitable Acropolis marking the distance, one finds artists articulating how to abstract and how to obscure.

We might also ask then what (kind of citizen) this factory can still produce? The figure of Diogenes—the Cynic and the cosmopolitan, banished from Sinope for the debasement of currency, and self-proclaimed citizen of the world—is with us. We find him on the ground floor, at the lower right of the original copperplate for an engraving of Nicolas Poussin’s Landscape with Diogenes. The wide river described in the inscription could be the ancient Ilisos River that once flowed past what is now the eastern side of the EMST. On the hill above, instead of the Parthenon, which Pericles built from tribute paid to the Delian League—banking precious ivory and gold in its massive statue of Athena—Poussin painted Rome’s Palace of Belvedere, which the Vatican used for storing a wealth of antiquities. Diogenes, meanwhile, observing a youth using his bare hands to drink water, dispenses even with his cup.

Posted in Public Exhibition

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