ΕΜΣΤ holds the national collection of contemporary Greek art as well as work by international contemporary artists. The museum was founded in 2000 and thus highlights 21st century art, though it also collects Greek works from the post war era that capture the basic stages in the development of the avant-garde in the country and abroad. The focus is on conceptual art as well as works of a socio-political orientation. There are 1400 works in the collection to date.
With the expansion of the art world and with limited public funds, it is now even more necessary to re-examine what, and how, one collects. Unless a museum has unlimited funds, human resources and space, it is currently impossible to collect across five continents while following developments in all aspects of contemporary artistic production and media, especially considering the scale and breadth that the contemporary art field has expanded to in the last three decades.
As it moves into the future, ΕΜΣΤ’s focus will shift its emphasis from the concept of the “transcultural” – an idea that was the result of globalisation in the and concentrate more within the region and surroundings of the museum’s geographic location. Considering Greece’s position in the South Eastern edges of Europe, bordering Turkey and the Balkans, as well as being in close proximity to the Middle east and opposite North Africa, ΕΜΣΤ is uniquely poised to become a leading museum in the region and one that reflects the rich multi-cultural, historic and socio-political narratives of the Mediterranean and Southern Europe and the former Levant. Many parts of the region are in some ways terra incognita, as a result of Ottoman occupation, long-standing ensuing conflicts and geo-political tensions, and power struggles that have played out in a battle of master and marginalised narratives, with many stories being side-lined by master narratives of nation building and progress. New, more diverse and inclusive narratives now need to be unearthed, including ones that reflect the roots of Greece’s own tumultuous history and the cosmopolitanism of its diaspora. Ethnic myths need to be dismantled and minority voices heard.
Following the collapse of the USSR and the fall of the Berlin wall, there was a momentary interest in the art of the Balkans and Eastern Europe, but this was short lived and fragmented as a result of a temporary exotic interest in this European ‘other’. In the meantime, across Central, South East Europe, Turkey and the Middle East including North Africa, contemporary art has been developing and flourishing. Cities like Cairo, Istanbul, Beirut and Athens have vibrant art scenes, often growing independently of state structures that need to be supported and included in the cultural debate. The national museum will take this role upon itself.
Rather than collecting across the board, which is an impossible task nowadays due to the massively broadened scope of the contemporary art world in the last 30 years but also in terms of resources, the museum will prioritise artists of the region, the global south and the developing world, many of which are looking into questions of crises, and socio-political issues as well as economic disenfranchisement, a reality that Greece –a southern country that has also had its fair share of economic woes, has in common. The museum will therefore build on its existing collection of artists such as Kutlug Ataman, The Atlas Group, Mona Hatoum, Emily Jacir, Joanna Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, and retaining its socio-political context.
Finally, emphasis will also be given to a younger generation of Greek artists who have been disadvantaged and disenfranchised by years of economic crisis, austerity and lack of structural support, but also international artists who have conducted long-term research in Greece and have produced work that is relevant to the country’s recent history and culture.
Author: Katerina Gregos, artistic director ΕΜΣΤ.