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by Despina Zefkili
"Panic Room: Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection," Feb. 10-May 30, 2006, at the Deste Foundation Centre for Contemporary Art, Flellinon 11 & Em.Pappa Street, Nea Ionia 142 34, Athens, Greece

With the exhibition "Panic Room: Works from the Dakis Ioannou Collection," the Deste Foundation in Athens inaugurates its new premises in a low-key suburban area of the city. Organized by New York art dealer Jeffrey Deitch and Deitch Projects director Kathy Grayson, "Panic Room" presents more than 120 works that draw upon "the culture of comics, graffiti, music, psychedelia and fantasy." Largely done on paper, the art is hung salon-style on the walls of a sizeable gallery, whose center is occupied by a room-size rectangular volume that is covered by black-and-white wallpaper by Assume Vivid Astro Focus, featuring his signature neo-Peter Max illustrations.

Though organized by New York art insiders, the show features work from the substantial homegrown art scenes of two other American cities, San Francisco and Providence, R.I., scenes that are characterized by communal spaces, collectives, fanzines and touring bands, alternative routes of circulation of artistic products. But the collection has an international reach, and the roster of artists includes some of the most interesting new talent on the international circuit, ranging from Devendra Banhart, Hernan Bas and John Bock to Paper Rad, Kelley Walker and Ralf Ziervogel.

The art world’s renewed emphasis on artists’ collectives -- witness the current Whitney Biennial exhibition, which includes several -- was anticipated by the Deitch Projects program and its concentration on youth culture. In the December issue of Artforum magazine, critic David Rimanelli argues that Deitch Projects remains the grandest thoroughfare for the transmission of young scenesterism to collectors, curators and museums.

What’s more, the social roots of the art -- the theatrically bohemian scene from which it arises -- is alluringly documented by the extensive party pictures in Live Through This: New York in the Year 2005, a book about the same movement published by the gallery and edited by Deitch and Grayson, and on the Deitch Projects web site, which features a section devoted to photos from openings, with extensive shots of dancing and singing and close-ups of outfits and haircuts. 

Here in Athens, Joannou’s embrace of the Deitch program seems to bear out the appeal of both youth and street culture as an enduring motif of the haute avant-garde. The exhibition is presented as a museum-style survey of a particular moment, and is successful as far as it goes (in fact, the large number of works on paper makes it seem a little like a curatorial response to the Museum of Modern Art’s "Drawing Now: Eight Proposition" survey, which was mounted in late 2002 and could not be fading from memory at a faster rate).

More interesting, however, would have been a deeper examination of these decentered communal scenes. Shay Nowick’s drawing of a girl holding a lamb, for instance, is nice, but it gains meaning in the context of the San Francisco scene, where the artist co-edits an animal-rights ‘zine with Ashley Macomber. A mixture of artworks with fanzines, music and assorted other ephemera would situate the artistic practice in the social context that gave birth to it and that later became its marketing tool.

DESPINA ZEFKILI is arts columnist for the weekly city guide Athinorama and coeditor of Local Folk, a free art newsletter.