In an Ancient Greek Port, a New Cultural Hub

On an exceptionally sizzling July night, a crowd was mingling and consuming wine at an artwork opening on Polidefkous Street. An unassuming thoroughfare lined with low-slung ship-repair and steel workshops in Piraeus, the economic port metropolis on Athens’s southeast facet, it’s not a place the place galleries have traditionally arrange store. But regardless of the derelict-looking buildings and the gap from Syntagma Square, the capital’s stately middle, a 25-minute taxi journey away, the scene — like one from Martin Scorsese’s 1985 movie, “After Hours,” which depicts the gritty however heady SoHo, Manhattan, of its time — exuded a zeitgeist-y glamour. A way of chance crammed the air. Indeed, Rodeo, the evening’s gathering spot and probably the most revered and progressive up to date galleries within the better Athens space, is amongst a handful of artistic forces which can be remodeling the Agios Dionysios district of Piraeus, not removed from the ferry docks, into one of many capital’s most enjoyable cultural locations.

Athens’s present popularity as an up-and-coming artwork hub was sealed in 2017, when the Documenta artwork truthful selected the town to serve, together with Kassel, Germany, as a host of its much-anticipated quinquennial exhibition. The transfer wasn’t with out controversy; simply two years earlier than, Greece had defaulted on its debt to the I.M.F. But along with the town’s low rents and value of dwelling, which have each been magnified by the nation’s financial disaster, the truthful made Athens ripe for an inflow of worldwide artists and designers on the lookout for an various to quickly gentrifying European capitals like Berlin and Lisbon.

A solo exhibition of labor by the Cypriot conceptual artist Christodoulos Panayiotou is up on the gallery till September 25. Shown listed below are “Awning” and “Untitled” (the desk), each from 2021. The 9 glass vessels within the window are named after totally different months of the 12 months.Credit…Stathis Mamalakis

The metropolis’s enchantment to artistic sorts is about greater than that, although, says Elena Mavromichali, 49, an artwork historian and cultural adviser for the Greek authorities, “I’m seeing a dynamic movement of contemporary artists inspired by and engaging with Greece’s ancient history and its archaeological sites.” She provides that Athens is presently working to higher join its metropolis middle to its seafront, of which Piraeus — a greater than four-square-mile space that dates again to the early fifth century B.C. — is a giant half. (A brand new metro line, scheduled to be accomplished earlier than subsequent summer season, will take riders from Athens airport to the port in simply over 20 minutes.) Mavromichali, who was born and raised within the Kastella neighborhood of Piraeus, says she’s excited to see each giant establishments just like the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, designed by Renzo Piano and opened close to Piraeus in 2016, and smaller entities deliver new vitality and new communities to manufacturing neighborhoods whose economies had been struggling for the final a number of many years. And she hopes the realm will handle to keep away from the everyday pitfalls of gentrification — the displacement of longtime residents and the lack of reasonably priced housing — by collaborating, she says, with a “variety of stakeholders including grass-roots initiatives.”

Inside Rodeo’s uncooked, loftlike 1,600-square-foot house was a solo exhibition of recent items by the Cypriot conceptual artist Christodoulos Panayiotou, identified for multimedia work that usually questions perceived notions of cultural and nationwide identities. A piped pink awning (his work “Awning,” 2021) jutted out from a tough concrete wall. Beyond a hallway was an set up consisting of a false brick facade, referred to as “The Fourth Wall” (2021), that minimize off the again half of the gallery and appeared to ask viewers to take a nearer have a look at their atmosphere: What was actual and what was false? Was this constructing — this avenue — actually as fragile and non permanent as a theater set? Alone in a room on the opposite facet of this divide, which might be entered by the gallery’s again door, was “Horseweed” (2021), a four-foot-tall silver sculpture of a flowering horseweed, a North American plant that has grow to be an invasive species in Eurasia, that gave the impression to be rising up by the ground.

Panayiotou’s “The Fourth Wall” (2021).Credit…Stathis MamalakisHis “Horseweed” (2021).Credit…Stathis MamalakisHis “Untitled (Spritz)” (2021).Credit…Stathis Mamalakis

In entrance of the constructing, Panayiotou was chatting with the Greek gallerist Sylvia Kouvali, 40, Rodeo’s founder. Kouvali, who additionally has an outpost in London that she opened in 2014, moved her unique house — previously primarily based in a tobacco warehouse in Istanbul — to Piraeus in 2018. While she cherished Istanbul’s up to date artwork scene, Turkey’s worsening political instability all however pressured her to go away and he or she ultimately returned to Athens. “At first, I considered a rural location,” she says, “but then I decided that Piraeus, with its sea and boats and industrial zone and history, was an interesting choice.” At the time, there was nothing on Polidefkous Street besides warehouses and Paleo, a informal however buzzy restaurant serving seasonal Mediterranean-inspired small plates and artisanal wines opened in 2016 by the acclaimed restaurateur Giannis Kaimenakis. “Everyone thought I was crazy,” he instructed me of selecting Piraeus. “But from the beginning I thought there was something beautiful about being among people repairing ships and engines not far from the harbor.”

By 9 p.m., lots of the gallery’s guests have been seated round a dozen tables on the road exterior, which have been being overseen by Paleo’s workers; plates of thickly sliced tomatoes topped with sea salt and contemporary mozzarella and a luscious eggplant salad have been served family-style. “There’s Stelios Kois,” whispered one visitor, nodding towards the Greek architect, who had simply completed designing Delta, the brand new restaurant within the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, which sits about three miles to the east and was, its co-president Andreas Dracopoulos later instructed me, “created as a symbol — and a very real engine — of hope for Greece in the depths of the country’s punishing socioeconomic crisis.” Locating it close to Piraeus, he added, was “part of realizing that vision.”

The facade of Carwan design gallery, with works from “Volax,” an exhibition of items by Objects of Common Interest, seen by the home windows.Credit…Giorgos SfakianakisObjects of Common Interest’s “Infinite Monolith” (2021), a sculptural acrylic and LED tube gentle that’s one of many items on view.Credit…Giorgos SfakianakisAn set up view of Objects of Common Interest’s “Volax.”Credit…Giorgos Sfakianakis

Leonidas Trampoukis, 39, who, alongside together with his spouse, Eleni Petaloti, additionally 39, runs the structure workplace LOT and the design agency Objects of Common Interest, was additionally within the crowd. The couple have for a while labored out of a studio in Brooklyn however 5 years in the past opened one other in central Athens. It was the thought of being nearer to their most popular makers and fabricators that drew them to Greece. Now, they’re constructing a manufacturing studio in an eight,000-square-foot former manufacturing unit a few blocks northeast of Rodeo that can concentrate on a distinctive method for casting acrylic. “We were looking everywhere for a big, affordable raw industrial space and we decided on Piraeus because of the vibe and the community,” Trampoukis defined. They hope to collaborate with native makers, experiment with larger-scale work and probably fabricate items for different designers and artists.

This month, a solo present of their sculptural wood-and-acrylic tube lights is up at Carwan, an avant-garde design gallery that relocated final 12 months from Beirut to a late-19th-century industrial warehouse subsequent door to Rodeo. Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte, 41, who co-owns the house together with his enterprise associate, the French architect Quentin Moyse, 33, had been considering Athens as a attainable residence for the gallery since visiting the town throughout Documenta; he discovered that the economic architectural panorama and the animated, transitory ambiance of Piraeus, particularly, reminded him of Beirut’s port. “We were very fortunate that we moved out at the end of 2019 before the explosion there,” stated Bellavance-Lecompte, “but we already felt a crisis coming and at the same time, our client base was becoming more and more global.” Collectors have discovered Greece simpler to succeed in than Lebanon, and delivery works in and in another country has proved extra simple.

The “inspiration room” at Blue Cycle, the place varied off-cuts are saved.Credit…Aspa KouliraA bit from chair Three-D printed out of marine plastic on the Blue Cycle lab.Credit…Aspa KouliraNylon ropes from aquaculture nets collected from over two dozen websites in Greece.Credit…Aspa Koulira

At one level within the night, Suzanna Laskaridis joined my desk. The 39-year-old entrepreneur, whose household owns the Laskaridis delivery firm, has sturdy roots in Piraeus. Both the clan’s Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation, launched in 2007, and her two-year-old manufacturing, analysis and growth firm, Blue Cycle, are primarily based within the port. The latter — which is housed in a 7,000-square-foot former manufacturing unit complicated that belonged to the Piraeus Gas Company till the early 20th century — collects discarded plastic, generated primarily by the delivery and fishing industries, from the Aegean Sea. That waste is then reworked into filaments or pellets that the corporate makes use of as supplies for manufacturing objects starting from colourful terrazzo-style tiles to trendy outside furnishings.

After we stopped by the Intermission, a close by up to date artwork house opened by the Los Angeles- and Athens-based artwork adviser Artemis Baltoyanni in 2019, Laskaridis took me on a tour of her facility, a five-minute stroll away. As we made our manner by varied buildings, she excitedly described the myriad attainable purposes for upcycled plastic and her hope that Blue Cycle won’t solely recycle the waste of the previous but in addition use it to create a extra sustainable future, each in environmental and monetary phrases. “I would love to show that this model of circular economy can work and put Greece on the map for innovation,” she stated. In the primary laboratory, she identified a big robotic arm, created by the Greek makers behind the Rotterdam-based design studio The New Raw, with a span of greater than eight ft. It stood immobile behind a glass window, able to make a futuristic-looking vase, maybe, or a sculptural solar lounger from the plastic nets collected from a close by harbor. On that evening, the way forward for Piraeus appeared stuffed with optimism and artistic prospects.