The Greek art market, like the country's economy at large, is reeling. The latest victim is Athens's biggest art fair, Art-Athina. This year's edition of the annual event — which was launched in 1993 by the Hellenic Art Galleries Association and drew some 58 international exhibitors from nine countries last year — had been canceled.
"Art-Athina is reassessing its strategy," director Alexandros Stanas told the Financial Times, "taking into consideration the latest facts in [the] economy and the country in general." The fate of the fair, which typically takes place in mid-May, remains uncertain. Its 2012 cancelation is just the latest blow to the local art economy, which seemed to be bound for glory when gallery mogul Larry Gagosian opened an outpost in Athens back in 2009.
An article this weekend in the Greek newspaper TO BHMA noted grimly that Art-Athina has been a reliable barometer of the country's art market for nearly two decades. "After the collapse of Greece's economy, why not its art too?," asks Vlassis Frissiras, a collector and owner of the Frissiras Museum. "The collapse of [the art market] is a corollary of our cultural collapse. Collecting art is a luxury business, and a financial meltdown has tempered collectors' willingness to buy. If you take a look at the art galleries, you will see how squeezed they are. Many are on the verge of closing."
In the same article, the sentiment is echoed by Ileana Tounta, owner of the Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center, who faults the Greek art market for being too inwardly focused and — despite international events like Art-Athina — being overly reliant on domestic collectors, rather than promoting its artists to a more international set of collectors. "It is difficult however to promote Greek artists abroad," Tounta said. "There is so little outward promotion of their work, so very few people outside Greece know modern and contemporary Greek art."
Unfortunately the cancelation of Art-Athina has come at a moment when an international event promoting the country's contemporary art was more badly needed than ever. As Tounta concluded: "Our artistic scene cannot remain so isolated at a time of such internationalism."