Tycoon Dimitris Daskalopoulos offers huge amount of modern art | Art

In his airy office in northern Athens, Dimitris Daskalopoulos likes to highlight his Ego piece which can easily go unnoticed on a back wall.

Viewed from afar, the three letters that are an integral part of the painting are barely noticeable, but what particularly appeals to the art collector is how they disappear when viewed at no distance. “Look,” he says, his eyes twinkling as he enjoys the close-up of the work. “The ego is gone, there is nothing to see, nothing at all.”

The trick sums up the state of mind of the Greek industrialist. Three decades after he began assembling his internationally acclaimed collection — initially while running his family’s food empire — Daskalopoulos decided to offload.

Few people in the contemporary art world have accrued such assiduity: Louise Bourgeios, Marina Abramović, Helen Chadwick, Sarah Lucas and Matthew Barney are just a few of the artists whose works he has purchased.

Determined to give them a future beyond his life – and in keeping with his belief in sharing art with the public – the entrepreneur donates “the best part” of his collection. It’s a decision that has ramifications for art lovers on both sides of the Atlantic and the public institutions set to benefit from the donation.

Of the 350 works by 142 artists Daskalopoulos will part with, 110 will go to the Tate in London; 100 will be split between the Guggenheim in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, with the rest held by the National Museum of Contemporary Art, EMST, in Athens. In terms of scale and scope, few donations have been so generous.

For a man who admits that his instincts played a huge role in selecting the pieces of some of the world’s best-known contemporary artists, that’s an extraordinary feat.

Dimitris Daskalopoulos with boxes from his famous <a class=art collection.” data-src=”https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/f303383590e287a7fb9d47467c1af84aad006a7c/0_292_2000_2500/master/2000.jpg?width=300&quality=45&auto=format&fit=max&dpr=2&s=3b797479f3a692015e39856cb4245523″ height=”2500″ width=”2000″ loading=”lazy” class=”dcr-1989ovb”/>
Dimitris Daskalopoulos with boxes from his famous art collection. Photography: Natalaia Tsoukalas

This donation is also accompanied by the creation of a network of curators which, he hopes, will encourage exchanges, in particular between the Tate and the EMST, at a time when contemporary art in Greece is showing dynamism and promise.

Other than that, no conditions were set. Instead, it was the art and the “dialogue” he attempted to create within the collection that had the final say.

“I never felt like I owned the works,” he explains with unexpected joviality. “The concrete decision that I was going to give to museums was taken at least eight or nine years ago. I have always felt like a guardian, a guardian of other people’s creativity.

In any country, the giveaway would make waves. In Greece, whose culture has long been dominated by the glories of its ancient past, the gift has been magnified by choices that have also inspired admiration. Daskalopoulos acknowledges that his collecting practices were inspired by the writings of Nikos Kazantzakis, the Cretan author who spoke of the “brightness of life” between the “dark abyss” before birth and the “dark abyss” after birth. dead.

From the start, the collection focused on the elementary. Representations of the human body as a vehicle for existential, social and ideological struggles have taken a prominent place. Highlighting the universal issues of the human condition, loss, anguish, grief but also optimism, hope and the joys of life are constant themes in the artworks that have been exhibited around the world. entire.

But the collector also emphasized large-scale installations and sculptures that public institutions could ill afford. Many, he said, would never return to his house. “If you collect contemporary art, you can’t exclude [works] because they don’t fit in your house,” he laughs. “You should collect what artists do…my criteria has never been what I can put on my wall and it has never been to buy hot artists. It was about buying works that I think speak well together and reinforce the main message about what this collection is trying to explore.

<a class=Credit Card Destroying Machine by British artist Michael Landy, 2010, at the Dream On exhibition in Athens.” data-src=”https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/cde915e92d2d2296034df561d49bc071da058561/0_0_2000_3000/master/2000.jpg?width=300&quality=45&auto=format&fit=max&dpr=2&s=d355d259d1ab21c2c1fb7158be743ad1″ height=”3000″ width=”2000″ loading=”lazy” class=”dcr-1989ovb”/>
Credit Card Destroying Machine by British artist Michael Landy, 2010, at the Dream On exhibition in Athens. Photography: Natalia Tsoukala

This month, 18 pieces – some taking up to three weeks to assemble – were brought together in Dream On, a sold-out show at an old tobacco factory in Athens. This will be the first and last time the majority, including works by Damien Hirst and Michael Landy, will be seen in Greece. Most had been stored in warehouses across Europe.

It’s the prospect of breathing new life into the works that excites Daskalopoulos, who in 2014 founded Neon, an energetic NGO whose sole purpose is to broaden local appreciation of contemporary art and exhibit there. young Greeks.

“They will be reborn,” he says, adding that his motive for donating the four museums was driven largely by the specter of exposure. “They will become accessible to an even wider audience and will receive the necessary care to be preserved for future generations.”

At 65, Daskalopoulos has spent nearly half his life working on the collection. The donation could be the natural end of a passion that he says was never pursued for financial gain – but his interest in contemporary art, at least initially, was unexplained. Until his early thirties, traditional Greek abstract painting of the 50s and 60s adorned his home in Athens.

It wasn’t until he bought a Rebecca Horn in 1994 that more modern works beckoned him. “I slowly veered into contemporary art because it was possible to collect, but then I was fascinated by it because it’s the art of our time,” he recalls.

“The value of art lies in what is created in your heart and in your head. In this sense, my collection was not born of knowing or reading. It was gut, which is easier. You don’t have to read all that crap that curators and critics write.

Tomato Head (Burgundy) by Paul McCarthy, 1994, will go to the Tate in London. Photography: Photography: Douglas M Parker Studio/Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth, London and Zurich

A titan of Greek industry, who led the Hellenic Federation of Business as the country was plagued by economic crisis, Daskalopoulos recounts how his father, Aristides, started the dairy company, Delta, from a small shop in Athens . It’s a story of fortune that the entrepreneur, who has run a financial services and investment company since the sale of the food conglomerate in 2007, has not forgotten.

He credits the arts with making him more curious and a bolder risk-taker. “It takes you away from your own fixed ideas. That’s why I’m so grateful to contemporary art.

Daskalopoulos knows every piece in the collection. Giving the artwork away wasn’t easy, either emotionally or practically – he personally bought 99% of it and remembers how he felt when he first saw the items time.

Knowing that he will be there to taste his civic engagement, and enjoy the future life of the works, is more satisfying than any feeling of rupture. While donating to four museums in three countries on two continents has not been easy – the paperwork has been painful – the idea that a private collection will soon become a public resource has been so much better than knowing that a much of it is hoarded in boxes.

“There will be exhibitions of works of art, there will be artists’ rooms. There will be dialogues and there will be joint museum initiatives…so I will see these works being active while I am still here.

And if there ever was a rainy day, there are another 150 pieces – including gems from Robert Gober and Bruce Nauman – in his wallet. Its offices, located on a suburban street, are furnished with artwork, including several US dollar coins staged partly as a joke because it is its financial services headquarters. “More, absolutely, is less, and less is more,” he agrees, looking at his track Ego. “I kept works with which I like to live… maybe [there’ll be] a second wave of donations some time later.

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