The most famous annual arts event in the world takes place every June in Basel, Switzerland. The most famous biannual program is set in Venice, Italy, in odd years. And the most prestigious exhibition of all, called Documenta (the small “d” is not a mistake), occurs once every five years in Kassel, Germany.
Once in 10 years, Art Basel, the Venice Biennale and the Documenta are at the same time, an alignment of the stars that makes a summer visit to Europe obligatory for those interested in contemporary art, provided When they have the means. 2017 is a year as I am the two boxes by the time I spent much of the last three weeks to see document 14, the 57th Venice Biennale and the 48th edition of Art Basel.
Adam Szymczyk, the Polish curator of this year’s Documenta, added a trick for the route by spreading his two-city program (instead of the stapler in Kassel). His job title, Learn Athens, tells you in which city he was united to our best places for our great tour. It was a city with which I had outstanding issues, I thought it would remain unresolved, because I had not liked the city on my first visit and I do not think I would stay again. But this is where our tour starts in 2017.
My first visit to Athens was in 2004, on the eve of the return of the Olympic Games in its original location. I thought I understood everything. The Greeks were reviewing the main sites for the Games, visiting earlier, we would like to know the restored sites without the crowds.
The National Archaeological Museum, for example, was open a month before the big event. However, when we arrived, it was well-gated. There was a bit of delay, we were told, but it was actually an opening in a week. I said, “I did not come to Athens to leave without seeing the gold mask of Agamemnon”, and we changed our reservations that we had one day in Athens at the end of our trip. And after the standard tour of Mykonos, Delos, Santorini and Crete, we returned to Athens and found the museum still closed. Almost done, it will be open in a week, they said.
Other highlights of Athens were in poor condition. The Parthenon was covered with scaffolding, the central square of Syntagma Athens was a huge confined tile site waiting to be asked, etc. When Greece entered a long recession four years later, I was sad, but hardly surprising.
In 2004, we paid 55 euros per night for a fairly large hotel room for us and our luggage fit. This time, thanks to the recession and the booming economy, the same amount that has allowed us to have an entire apartment with a dump outside. We were glad to see a Parthenon largely free of scaffolding and the wonderful new museum at the base of the Acropolis where the sculptures of the temple of Athena move.
The archaeological museum was open and its many interesting treasures. But the proof of the decade with nation-wide problems was palpable everywhere. It was obvious in some cases, to increase the number of beggars for example, but also in small things. One afternoon, I noticed a 30-year-old man learning to serve tables at the small restaurant where we had lunch. I noticed by the way he was doing that he was well educated and had started his career working on a white collar. So far, the poor boy was a servant without hope.