Founded in 2000 under the directorship of Anna Kafetsi, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST) existed primarily as a nomadic exhibition platform until the collection moved, in 2015, to its current location: a restored landmark former-industrial building designed by Takis Zenetos in 1957. Since then, the institution has suffered a series of financial and organizational setbacks that has resulted in only a fraction of the 20,000m2 premises being made accessible to the public. Having been without an artistic director since 2018, EMST announced last month that the Greek-born curator, art historian and educator Katerina Gregos will take up the post on 1 July, marking a new era for the museum. In her first international interview about her new position, Gregos spoke to frieze about her plans for the institution.
Chloe Stead: After enjoying a successful career abroad as a curator for the past 15 years, what prompted you to return to Greece to take up this position at EMST?
Katerina Gregos: The simple answer is that I was asked to. The institution has been without a director since 2018 and, after a national open call fell through two years ago, I was offered the position by the Greek government. I didn’t say yes straight away, however, because I knew it was going to be a big challenge. EMST is our flagship institution for contemporary art, and it’s a museum that has been in a constant state of becoming since it was first established. I suggested to the government that I conduct an initial audit of the museum – investigating all aspects of its operations, curatorial department, administration, staffing, finances and collection – which took me four months. I then submitted my findings along with a number of terms and conditions, most of which, happily, have been met.
CS: What were some of your findings and what terms and conditions did you set as a result?
KG: Let’s start with something very basic: I discovered that 75 percent of the museum’s collection comprised donated works, of which 96 percent were by Greek artists. This is extremely problematic because Greece does not have a strong art market, and whatever art market we did have was crippled by the financial crisis. There are no support structures for artists like the Mondriaan Fund in the Netherlands, Norway’s Office for Contemporary Art or Spain’s Acción Cultural Española. So, until now, contemporary artists working in Greece have been pretty much on their own and have had very few opportunities. This is something that I’m going to change. The museum will buy works, rather than rely on donations, and it will also pay artists’ fees.
Another example is that museum boards in Greece have absolute power. The artistic director of an institution makes proposals, but the board decides practically everything, which is a very unhealthy situation. I wouldn’t have taken this job without knowing that I had complete artistic freedom over the programme.
CS: What do you think are the current limitations of the Greek cultural scene?
KG: Until very recently, because we are a country with such a rich and illustrious classical heritage, the brunt of the Ministry’s efforts were focused on the antiquities and archaeology sectors. There’s never really been a coherent, long-term vision for our contemporary cultural sector. Luckily that’s changing now and a new department for contemporary culture was recently established within the Ministry of Culture. As I mentioned, there is lack of funding and support for the contemporary visual arts in Greece, which is not helped by a weak art market. There are plenty of great Greek artists who are effectively forced to emigrate because there simply aren’t the opportunities here for them to further their careers. Another problem is that, for the Greek artists who do stay, the gaze is very often focused abroad, whereas I think a much healthier situation would be to have an eye on what’s happening locally as well as internationally. Athens is a very interesting city, but there is a general lack of research-based practices that focus on topics specific to this region.
CS: The press announcement for your appointment emphasised Athens as a ‘top cultural destination’ and as ‘a major European centre for contemporary creation’. Do you think it’s possible for a museum to both attract an international art crowd and serve the local community?
KG: I think it is possible, as long as you not only address the needs of your community – in terms of curating exhibitions and events that bear a cultural, urban or demographic affinity to the place as well as the wider geopolitical region the museum is situated within – but also devise a museum with its own distinct identity. What I’m critical of is the idea of the franchise museum, where the profile of a pre-existing institution is simply transplanted onto another city. I want to address the challenges that Greek artists are facing here in Greece as well as draw on untold stories and narratives of the wider region that we inhabit, which is one of the most culturally rich and diverse in the world. Part of our core mission will be to look at the culture and histories of the Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa.
CS: In an interview with Greece Is magazine earlier this year, you stressed the importance of collaboration between public and private sectors in order to escalate the development of the art sector. What does this mean in concrete terms and how do you intend to help this along in your new position?
KG: I’m certainly not against public/private partnerships, but the important thing is that they should be on the museum’s terms, which means that anything concerning the collection or the artistic programme must be decided by the artistic team. ESMT is a public institution, so we need to be careful not to foster the vision and interests of an individual. That said, there is chronic underfunding of the arts in Greece so, as a public museum, we do need to find creative partners to support our vision.
CS: What can you tell me about your vision for EMST going forward?
KG: To answer that I need to tell you what my idea of a museum is. I believe that museums should be lively centres of knowledge production and critical thinking where ideas of social and civic consciousness are fostered; they should be places of dialogue and exchange where issues that matter – whether locally, regionally or internationally – are articulated. But we should also not lose track of the fact that museums are there to exhibit and promote visual culture – i.e., art. I say this because there’s a lot of emphasis now on activism, discursive programmes and public programmes, which is all well and good but, to me, the core issue, vision and mission of a museum of contemporary art is instigating thought-provoking exhibitions that visitors can enjoy. To my mind, the exhibition remains an incredibly interesting, challenging and rewarding format, primarily because I believe in the work of artists.
Thumbnail: Katerina Gregos, 2020. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Kristina Madjare
Main image: EMST - National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Spyros Rekounas
Katerina Gregos is a curator, lecturer and educator originally from Athens. Her most recent exhibition, ‘Modern Love (or Love in the Age of Cold Intimacies)’, was presented earlier this year at Museum für Neue Kunst in Freiburg, Germany, and is opening 18 June at Tallinn Art Hall, Estonia and IMPAKT Media Arts Organisation, Utrecht, the Netherlands later this year. She is currently the artistic director of the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) in Athens.
These basics will help get your golf game on the proper footing.
Ilove teaching beginner golfers, and I’m so honored whenever I get to give a golfer their first lesson to learn the golf basics. Once you get a good handle on those, you’ll be able to launch the ball into the air and spark a lifelong passion for the game.
As a beginner, you’ll need to develop your skills, understanding and abilities. These are the basics to help you do that.
1. Nail the basic fundamentals
You can spot a good golfer before they even hit the golf ball. Their key fundamentals of posture, grip and stance are all good, and they usually have a very specific order which they do these things (known as a pre-shot routine) which helps them repeat these each and every time.
Put simply: Grip the club, step and bow, then adjust your feet.
2. Understand how the ball gets into the air
One of the greatest challenges beginners face is getting the ball in the air consistently.
The basic concept is that in order to get the ball in the air, you need to hit the ground. Get into good posture, bending from the hips, and feel like your extending both arms into the ground during your swing, like you’re throwing a ball (as you see me demonstrating below).
Even as a beginner, one of the golf basics you need to know is how far your clubs go. You may not think you’re consistent enough to know this, but you are.
Write all the clubs you have on a piece of paper, and when you hit a shot reasonably well, use an app like GolfLogix (an affiliate company of GOLF.com), a range finder like a Bushnell, or walk off the yardage yourself and write it down. These numbers will change over time, but knowing your distances will help your consistency on the course.
4. Have a reliable club from the fairway
Once you tee off and your ball is on the ground in the fairway, new golfers may have a comfort level with one club over the other — you may prefer your hybrid over a fairway wood, for instance.
The key is finding a club you’re comfortable with, and one that goes a reasonable distance to help build confidence and help you to have fun.
A great choice for a reliable fairway club might be your most lofted fairway wood, like a 7-wood. A 7-wood would still travel a reasonable distance and be more consistent than a lesser lofted option.
Find your “go to” club and build confidence and consistency.
5. Be able to hit a basic golf chip
As a beginner, you need to be able to hit a basic chip,
This shot doesn’t need to be perfect and as a newer golfer, I would not expect you to have perfect distance control. Your goal is to have a go-to shot when you’re close to the green.
For a basic golf chip: Hold the club lower on grip, with a more narrow stance, lean your weight and torso towards the target, and make a basic putting motion that brushes the grass. I would choose a pitching wedge for this shot, and practice getting comfortable with it.
6. Short game priority order
Simply knowing how to manage risk by choosing the right shot can be one of those golf basics that will help you succeed as a golfer.
Sand shots are some of the hardest for beginner golfers. And like we talked about earlier: Remember that to hit the ball up, you need to hit the ground. This means overriding any instinct you have to lifting the ball up, and commit to hitting the sand instead.
To help with this, dig your feet into the sand and play the ball more forward in your stance.
8. Know what equipment you need
Beginner golfers need to be prepared with the necessary tools that you’ll use on the course.
You should plan on having six to 12 golf balls in your bag, a golf glove (if you wear one) and tees and a ball marker in your pocket and ready to go.
Being ready to go when it’s your turn to hit is an important part of golf. Having all these things will help you do that.
9. Distance control in putting
Learning how to putt is one of those golf basics that is fun to learn, yet challenging.
A good, basic putting posture is to bow from your hips, have your eyes over the ball and your arms hanging below your shoulders.
After that, remember that your back stroke length controls distance. In other words, smaller strokes make the putter swing slower and larger strokes help the putter swing naturally faster. And while this may be extremely basic, it can help with the concept that stroke size controls distance and get you started.
You can use your feet to help you regulate stroke size, assuming your feet are about hip width.
For small putts, think about your putterhead going from big toe to big toe.
For medium putts, think little toe to little toe.
For large putts, aim for two-to-three inches outside each foot
Facing an extra large putt? Go six-to-seven inches outside each foot.
10. Lean rules and etiquette
Other than your skills, you need to know it’s important to fill your divots and fix any ball marks you leave behind. It is also not a bad idea to know a few of golf’s basic rules: Familiarize yourself with the official way to drop a ball, to take relief from an unplayable lie, what to do if your ball is out of bounds and what to do if you hit your ball into a hazard.