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Ocula Conversation

Dimitris Daskalopoulos in Conversation

3 December 2013

Dimitris Daskalopoulos is a formidable collector, who famously started collecting contemporary art around the same time he bought an edition of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain in 1999. Since, then the D. Daskalopoulos Collection has grown to include seminal works, from epically large-scale installations such as Christoph Büchel’s Unplugged (Simply Botiful) (2006-7), to smaller, more delicate pieces such as Nikos Kessanlis’s Gesture (1961).

Daskalopoulos also co-owns Matthew Barney’s Chrysler Imperial (2002) with the Guggenheim, a feat Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Nancy Spector, described as a ‘coup’. Recent exhibitions staged by the D. Daskalopoulos collection in different institutions around the world include Keeping it Real at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2010 (curated by Achim Borchardt-Hume) and The Luminous Interval at the Guggenheim Bilbao in 2011 (curated by Spector). More recently in the summer of 2013, Daskalopoulos launched NEON, described as an ‘organization without walls’ directed by Elina Kountouri in Athens, Greece. The move reflects the mind of a collector known for an intellectual engagement with art as a social practice, as this interview discovers.

Why did you form NEON?

I formed NEON in the belief that, as a collector, I need to move away from the traditional model of collecting and exhibiting a collection. NEON realizes its mission through free exhibitions, educational programs, grants and scholarships, talks and events and a creation of a network of international partnerships. NEON constructively collaborates with cultural institutions and supports the program of public and private institutions to enhance increased access and inventive interaction with contemporary art. Though our action program we aim to have a strong local community outreach and involvement.

My ambition is for NEON to have a connecting value, an educational value and a transformational value. I would like to believe that our activities will steadily transform the platform of expression, dialogue, and cultural interaction and put forward Greece’s dynamic voice and intellectual cosmopolitan outlook to demonstrate its creative, liberal, forward thinking intellectual and operational capability. It is my belief that we will exit our present crisis – which we have conveniently labeled as ‘economic’ when it is primarily a crisis of civilization – only if we engage once again in the production of art, ideas, culture.

NEON has been described as an organization ‘without walls’. How did the idea form?

I am continuously fascinated with human creativity as a permanent constituent of human behavior and as the source of any achievement and progress. Through art I am able to involve myself more completely in the public domain of contemporary living in the problematic and the creativity that ignites change. I am bonded with art in a life-long symbiotic relation.

The inventiveness and originality that I demand of myself in all of my activities are fortified by my preoccupation with art. NEON is based in Athens, Greece. It realizes its mission through free exhibitions, educational programs, grants and scholarships, talks and events and a creation of a network of international partnerships. NEON constructively collaborates with cultural institutions and supports the program of public and private institutions to enhance increased access and inventive interaction with contemporary art – a much-needed interaction in the social and economic challenges that Greece faces at the moment.

NEON breaks with the convention that the role of a contemporary art organisation ought to occupy a specific location. Our space is where are activities are developed. Our space is open, diverse and within society, where information is disseminated and the relationship of the city, the arts and its inhabitants is reflected. NEON aspires to become a lively fulcrum that will foster the production of ideas and work of art and promote accessibility and interaction of the Greek public with contemporary art. I would like to fulfil my dream of seeing a long queue in front of contemporary art activities in Greece, to engage children and people who think they are ignorant about or ‘afraid’ of contemporary art.

I am confident that this belief has the potential to be embraced by everyone.

Do you believe art has a capacity to affect civil and political society?

The measure of success, and by that I mean the threshold for success on contemporary art and initiatives around art, in order to bring change, is not straightforward. It needs time to flourish as it is linked with advancing change and influencing mentality.

In regards to NEON, what are you most excited about?

It will be interesting to see how the curatorial exchange manifests and what the results will be of young, dynamic minds conversing and working together to share ideas about how we see contemporary art. I am also excited to see how the younger minds in Greece will interact with the art in schools programme. Education about art is one of the greatest gifts we can give our young audiences and this is something NEON feels very strongly about.

When it comes to your collection of contemporary art, what role do you play in terms of steering the collection’s thematic focus, for example, or in terms of participating in the organization of exhibitions featuring your collection in institutions around the world?

With regards to exhibitions and my role, I see the collection as a repository of works and therefore, leave the curatorial decisions to the curators and institutions involved. To put it differently, I see the collection as a resource that is to be utilized and therefore I leave the curatorial decisions to the curators and institutions involved. One of the benefits of having such an extensive collection is that a range of different people can access the works and devise their own way of interpreting what the art and artists mean to them. It has been intriguing and enlightening to read perspectives that I might not have been aware of before. This goes beyond the curators at institutions and extends to the curators of tomorrow as well. NEON has set up the Curatorial Exchange and Award with the Whitechapel Gallery in London, which invites students from London universities to visit Athens and vice versa. The students then have the opportunity to review the contents of the collection and devise a ‘virtual exhibition’ based on a theme of their choosing. In this respect the collection works closely with both established institutions and curators and also the minds of tomorrow.

How do you see the role of the collector, and by extension art organizations, in the 21st Century?

I consider the role of the collector to be that of a temporary custodian of the physical manifestation of great ideas and creativity. In order for those to achieve maximum impact, it is a necessity for art’s message to be shared and disseminated amongst an audience as wide as possible, a goal that I aspire to. - [O]

Dimitris Daskalopoulos was in conversation with Ocula correspondent, Stephanie Bailey
Image: Trevor Leighton

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