The 19,000 square-metre Former Public Tobacco Factory in Athens was constructed to host numerous tobacco factories and warehouses. The building later was used as a prison, a World War II air-raid shelter and workplace for several government departments. From 2000 until today, it houses part of the Hellenic Parliament Library and Printing House.
The restoration project was financed entirely by non-profit contemporary art champion NEON and its founder and art collector Dimitris Daskalopoulos, in order to host the foundation’s 2021 programme and the international exhibition Portals. His 500-work collection formed the basis for a show at Spain’s Guggenheim Bilbao museum in 2011.
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Portals brings together work from dozens of Greek and international artists—among them Steve McQueen, Ed Ruscha, and Do Ho Suh—in a show curated by Madeleine Grynsztejn of the MCA Chicago and Elina Kontouri, director of the Athens-based arts and culture organization NEON. Founded in 2013 by Dimitris Daskalopoulos, a Greek entrepreneur, NEON is a semi-nomadic institution, staging exhibitions and installations in spaces across Greece, from abandoned office spaces to the slopes of the Acropolis. In the case of the tobacco factory, NEON co-funded the latest phase of renovation alongside the Hellenic Parliament, a move Daskalopoulos calls a gift “to the city and its people,” given Greece’s celebration of 200 years of independence this year.
With a renovation cost of approximately 1.2 million euros this art hub is gifted back to Parliament for public use, the space remains under the management of the Hellenic Parliament and aims to make part of the former Tobacco Factory stand out as a permanent contemporary cultural and social space –open to all –that functions as a dynamic hub for meeting and exchanging ideas.
For the second consecutive year, NEON activates the emblematic building of the former Public Tobacco Factory as part of its collaboration with the Hellenic Parliament to present Dream On, a contemporary art exhibition that celebrates art in the public space. Curated by Dimitris Paleocrassas, Art historian and consultant of the D.Daskalopoulos Collection, Dream On brings together 18 large-scale installations from the D.Daskalopoulos Collection by Greek and international artists, as well as a newly commissioned work, and 20 drawings.
The exhibition follows the announcement of the D.Daskalopoulos Collection Gift, presenting some of the most important works of the Collection which will then be donated to 4 museums in 3 countries over 2 continents (EMST, Tate, and jointly to the Guggenheim and MCA Chicago). This is the first time that a crucial mass of the large-scale works of the D.Daskalopoulos Collection will be exhibited in Greece, gathered in the open, freely accessible space of the former Public Tobacco Factory.
According to the exhibition’s curator Dimitris Paleocrassas, Dream On is permeated by a sense of plenitude brought about by the realization of a great dream: an artist’s ambitious yet elusive goal attained through the unbridled creativity of large-scale installations. Similarly, through the D.Daskalopoulos Collection Gift, the dream of its owner becomes a reality: a private collection transformed into a public good to be preserved for future generations of audience and artists. Dream On features 18 large-scale installations by artists John Bock, Helen Chadwick, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Martha Dimitropoulou, Peter Fischli & David Weiss, David Hammons, Thomas Hirschhorn, Damien Hirst, Michael Landy, Maria Loizidou, Paul McCarthy, Annette Messager, Maro Michalakakos, Wangechi Mutu, Paul Pfeiffer, Alexandros Psychoulis, Matthew Ritchie and Anna-Maria Samara.
In addition, Kostas Ioannidis, a new commission by NEON, creates a large-scale audio work delivered in whistling language. Alongside the installations are 20 artist’s drawings of some of the works prior to their creation.
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NEON undertook renovations of the adjacent ground floor north and north-west wings, the atrium and the former customs office building: a total area of 6,500m2 which until now, remained closed and unused. All this means the project comes with a prevailing sense of a missed opportunity. The partnership of a well-endowed private foundation and the Hellenic Parliament on a fascinating, history-laden site might have signaled an opportunity for one of the city’s many talented young practices. Don’t miss the chance to get inside and admire the soaring atrium the next time the building opens to the public. The pastel-hued façade is also eye-catching.
Former Public Tobacco Factory | 218 Lenorman St. 104 43, Athens, Greece. Timing: Monday, Tuesday: Closed. Wednesday, Friday, Sunday: 11:00 – 19:00. Thursday, Saturday: 12:00 – 20:00
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