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The international innovation of modern art “walks” this summer in the ancient paths around the Sacred Rock.

 

By Theophilos Tramboulis

 

Documenta, along with the Venice Biennale, is perhaps the most important contemporary art exhibition in the world. Since its inception in 1955 by German artist and curator Arnold Bode, it is held every five years in Kassel, a small town in central Germany, on the Fulda River. As its name suggests (document/file), Bode’s intention was to record and showcase art that had been banned and suppressed by the Nazi regime: Picasso and the cubists, Surrealism and Jean Cocteau, expressionism and the German New Objectivity movement. With Documenta, Germany wanted to weave anew its relations with culture, which had been destroyed by the rage of war. Since then, through its experimental, innovative and often combative political character, this exhibition serves as the primary expression giving voice to the European spirit.

 

2017 will be a milestone for Documenta, since for the first time, it will also be held in another city other than Kassel, namely Athens, a city that in recent years has become an international point of reference by reflecting the political, economic and social developments of the European community.

 

So, from the 8th of April until the 16th of July, modern art will be beating to the pulse of the Greek capital, whereas from the 10th of June to the 17th of September, its counterpart exhibition will be held in Kassel. Among the places that Documenta will be showcasing in Athens, is one that holds a key position in the heart of the city, a constant reminder that history is a continuous ubiquity for Athens. It is Dionysiou Aeropagitou and more broadly, the area that the great architect Dimitris Pikionis has developed around the Acropolis.

 

A monumental route

 

Dimitris Pikionis, an architect, painter and professor at the National Technical University, was the main representative of modernism in Greece and is considered the greatest Greek architect of the 20th century. Before Pikionis, the dominant architectural tendency in Athens was neoclassicism, which left its mark in the entire city with monumental buildings, such as the Panepistimio (University), the Academy or Zappeio, where the columns, statues and pediments resemble ancient Greek temples. It also left a mark in the humble houses below Plaka, in Keramikos and Metaxourgio, with the acroteria (crown tiles) and roof tiles like the buildings from the 5th century B.C., confirming that since Ancient Greece until today, the national and cultural continuity is ingrained in the city’s buildings.

Dimitris Pikionis shifted the focus from ancient Greek architecture to popular traditional architecture that was closer to nature, the earth and the sun. For him, the Athenian landscape did not only include the weight of history with its ancient and daunting temples. The landscape was principally the notion of experience and the senses, the heat of the sun and the scent of oregano on the slopes of Attica, the texture of the stone and the view of the mountains as one stands and sees the hill of Hymettus unfolding up to the sea.

 

Pikionis has constructed many buildings in Attica, the most famous being the primary school in Pefkakia near the square of Omonia, but his most exemplary work undoubtedly is the development of the area surrounding the Acropolis. The architect undertook the project design mandate in 1954 by the then Public Works Minister and subsequently powerful Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis. It was a time where Greece was making the first steps towards its touristic development, promoting the Ancient Greek heritage as the country’s main attraction, combined with the experience of the sea, the sun and enjoyment.

Indeed, anyone who has visited the Acropolis has walked on the cobblestone paths with the rough large stones and grass growing in between. Radii, intersections and various levels that give the impression of a never ending route, as the paths lead to the Acropolis and create a seamless way which increasingly sinks into the light. Pine trees, lentisk (schinus), stones and bird sounds are all an earthly construct captured and executed by the architectural genius of Pikionis.

 

The reflection of a procession

 

A part of the Documenta 2017 exhibition is organized in this area of Athens. More specifically, the exhibition will be inaugurated in Athens with a horseback procession mounted by men and women who will ride on the encircling cobbled pavement designed by Dimitris Pikionis around the Acropolis.

This procession is indeed a representation and revival of the Panathenaic procession as depicted on the Parthenon frieze. The Panathinaia was the most important festival of ancient Athens in honour of the goddess Athena, the city's patron. Portrayed on the Parthenon frieze were about 400 human and animal depictions, mainly of horses. The largest part was of men and women on their way to a sacrificial offering to the goddess. The original frieze had a length of 160 metres, of which 50 are in Athens and 80 in the British Museum in London.

 

By choosing to organise such a big artistic event in the area around the Acropolis, Documenta merges all the symbolisms together that could act as an exhilarating converging point for today’s world. The power of history along with the wisdom of the earth and soil, the significance of knowledge and the living experience, the animal and human element, the concept of a ​​global community parading under the sun.

 

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